The Jewel in the Mess, the latest book by the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, was launched at the Spectrum Centre in north Belfast on Tuesday May 7.
Guest speakers were the Rev Dr Heather Morris, General Secretary, Home Mission Department of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and Professor David Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Education & Students at Queen’s University, Belfast. Both spoke in glowing terms about the book and its author.
This is Bishop Alan’s third book, and was written during a sabbatical he took in the early part of 2018. In it Bishop Alan, who has been Bishop of Connor since June 2007, examines how his years of leadership in the church caused him to lose sight of the original awe that called him to his faith.
Around 70 clergy and lay people attended the launch, and were welcomed by Mr Martin O’Brien from publishers Columba Press. “It has been a joy to see The Jewel in the Mess come to fruition. It is a very gripping and engaging read,” Mr O’Brien said.
In his words of welcome, Bishop Alan, who is currently undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, extended a thank you to many people, including the people in Connor Diocese. “I have been overwhelmed by the support and prayers of those in the diocese,” he said. He also thanked the Rev Clifford Skillen for proof reading The Jewel in the Mess, Bishop Tony Farquhar and Father Martin O’Hagan for their support and presence at the launch, and his ‘very, very special’ family, particularly his wife Liz.
Bishop Alan said this was his favourite of the three books he has published. “The Jewel in the Mess is Jesus,” he said.
“I have made many mistakes along the way, but he has never stopped loving me. I trust that when you read this you will find Jesus among its pages.”
Dr Morris said she was honoured to speak at the launch. She said how in the church one can feel isolated. “You grapple, think, act and pray and implement different programmes. This book addresses these issues and many other things, unhesitantly and unaplogetically bringing us to the feet of Jesus,” she said.
Adding that it explored the mess of the ‘tortured and beautiful community’ of Northern Ireland, Dr Morris said that the book was significant in its honesty, its courage and its challenge. She concluded:
“This book invites us to love, be dispensers of grace, and sit awestruck in the presence of Jesus.”
Prof Jones said he had found the book to be ‘such a personal journey, and one you cannot fail to be part of.’
“The Jewel in the Mess has allowed me to embrace faith in a way I never thought I could again,” he said.
“Many of us have had things happen in our lives, bad things. We want answers. We do not get those answers but you show us that you can take an alternative path, and God and Jesus are there to help us make that passage.”
Publishers Columba Press describe The Jewel in the Mess as a very personal book which looks at the idea of God without the institutions and hierarchy. The book instead refocuses on the figure of Jesus at the heart of the Bible.
The book explores how through his struggle with depression and his diagnosis with prostate cancer, Bishop Alan has come to find the message of Jesus in the difficult, dark and chaotic parts of life.
He pares faith back to its core beliefs, before the bureaucracy, to Jesus, with his messy, humble and human beginning, who blessed the people around him.
Using examples of biblical stories and examining the ways in which God shows himself in our ordinary lives, this book centres on Jesus while incorporating the complicated corners of life that Bishop Alan visited during his sabbatical, such as the mission centres of Church Army UK and Ireland.
Bishop Alan’s previous two books – Fulfilment and Frustration (2000) and Shadows on a Journey (2011), were also published by Columba.
Following the launch on Tuesday there was an opportunity to purchase The Jewel in the Mess, and Bishop Alan was kept very busy signing copies of the book.