The Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, has today announced that he is to retire on health grounds.
Bishop Alan said that, following medical advice, he had taken this decision with ‘a very heavy heart and spirit.’
Breaking the news to the diocese of which he has been bishop for more than 12 years, the 62-year-old said it had been ‘an amazing privilege and joy’ to have served Connor as its bishop.
Bishop Alan was diagnosed with prostate cancer during a sabbatical in 2018. His treatment began early in November, and the bishop has taken part in a clinical trial, knowing this may help others in the future. He announced his retirement on the day he had his final session of treatment.
In a statement to the diocese, Bishop Alan said:
“The last 12 months have been exhausting and it has been difficult to focus on anything other than my treatment plan. I have just received my last proton injection as part of the clinical trial and this stage of the journey is complete. I now need time to recover and regain my strength and energy.
“Having advanced prostate cancer means that I will be receiving quarterly hormone injections for the rest of my life and will have very regular checkups with my oncologist. There are no guarantees, but it is hoped that I will be free of further treatment for years to come.”
Bishop Alan said he and his family were incredibly grateful for the amazing care and support they had received from the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital. “We are also conscious that we have been carried by the love and prayers of so many people, especially the people of Connor Diocese. I cannot thank you all enough for your faithfulness and care in praying for me and my family,” the bishop said.
“My family have been amazing in love and support and they have also been carrying their own hopes and fears. We have also been very blessed by the peace and joy we have experienced, as Jesus has clearly journeyed with us on this strange and unwelcome journey. He has been with us, giving us hope and healing.”
Bishop Alan said that in the last few months, he has had various conversations with his oncologist, his GP and his family. “With a very heavy heart and spirit, it has become clear to me that for the sake of the diocese and my own long-term health, I should retire on health grounds,” the bishop said.
“My medical advice has been clear that I will not have the energy I used to have, and the ongoing treatment will affect my ability to fulfil the very demanding role as Bishop of Connor.”
Bishop Alan will retire on December 31 this year. “I am conscious that yet again the responsibility for the diocese falls to the three archdeacons and I am very grateful for their willingness to serve the diocese in this way,” he said.
“At this stage, my aim is to be in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, on Christmas Eve and in Lisburn Cathedral on Christmas Day. This will allow me to fulfil my ministry as bishop once more before I retire.”
The bishop concluded: “It has been an amazing privilege and joy to have served you as bishop.”
The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland, the Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke, said: “With our prayers, we all wish for Bishop Alan a happy and fulfilling retirement.
“We know that the decision to retire on grounds of ill-health has been a difficult and painful one for him. For well over a decade, Alan has given powerful, courageous and dedicated service to the Diocese of Connor and to the wider Church of Ireland, and now to relinquish office in circumstances of ill-health is inevitably far from easy for him.
“We thank him warmly for all that he has given us, and we wish him, Liz, and their family every happiness and God’s blessing into the future.”