Looking back on 2020

Friday January 15th 2021

The year 2020 is one that will long be remembered. We take a photographic look back at the year that was in Connor Diocese. Scroll down for further information on all the photos.

In January there was the happy news of New Year Honours for Alan Ross, Ballymena; and Simon Neil, Director of Music at St Polycarp’s, Finaghy. Both received a British Empire Medal (BEM). Carnmoney Parish held an Away Day, and Eglantine MU celebrated the 75th anniversary of the branch. Well-known Scout leader Billy Sholdis, 81, a parishioner of St Matthew’s, Belfast, visited Buckingham Palace to receive the MBE he was awarded last year.

In February we had the wonderful news of the appointment of the Archdeacon of Belfast, the Ven George Davison, as Bishop-Elect of Connor. The Rev Linda Cronin was instituted as rector of Glenavy, St Patrick’s Parish, Coleraine, hosted a thanksgiving service for the life of footballing legend and Busby Babe, Harry Gregg. There were snakes slithering around St Cedma’s Parish Hall, Larne, and Dean Stephen Forde handed out £170,000 at the annual Good Samaritans Service in Belfast Cathedral – proceeds of the 2019 Black Santa Sit-out. Kilbride Parish had a visit from Eco-Congregation Ireland’s Climate Justice Candle and young people in Holy Trinity Woodburn, Carrickfergus, were enjoying some musical fun. On Shrove Tuesday, Ballyclare Parish handed out freshly made pancakes to passers-by, and Relentless Prayer was launched for the second consecutive year in north and west Belfast.

In March we reflected on All Saints’, Belfast’s Parish weekend at Castlewellan Castle (Feb 21-23) which was attended by 180 people. Antrim Parish organised trips to the cinema, and Jordanstown MU also enjoyed a movie night. Work, led by Stephen Whitten from the Connect Base Centre of Mission, got underway on a new community garden in Glencairn. There was a big turnout for a men’s breakfast in St Paul’s, Lisburn, the Rev Tim Close was introduced as priest-in-charge of Cloughfern Parish Church. Kilbride Parish presented a cheque to Age NI. But with the announcement of lockdown by British Prime Minister Boris Johnston on March 21, clergy had to quickly make arrangements to move all services online.

April saw parishes involved in other forms of social outreach during the pandemic. COILS, in lower Shankill, provided activity packs for children, Lisburn Cathedral’s craft group ‘Nimble Fingers’ made face masks which for staff in a local care home and little hearts for residents. The importance of washing hands was emphasised, not least by mission agencies including Christian Aid. Maundy Money recipient Marie Anderson, Christ Church, Lisburn, received her Maundy purse in the post! Bishop-Elect George shared a series of online reflections of Holy Week.

The move to online ministry was reflected in the cover image of the May Church of Ireland Gazette (you may spot some familiar faces). ‘Zoom’ became a familiar part of our vocabulary with online meetings and even virtual parish lunches, as in Ballyclare! The Rev Dr Alan McCann stayed an outdoor exhibition for the VE Day anniversary, and Ballymoney parishioner Alicia Duncan helped her neighbours raise their voices – and their spirits, with a weekly garden singalong!

In June we heard of people doing amazing things to support others during lockdown – Mark Jamison, a Connor Lay Reader based mainly in St Paul’s Parish, Lisburn, set himself goal of running 5km a day for 100 consecutive days to support NHS Charities Together, and with their planned visit to Uganda cancelled, parishioners of Lisburn Cathedral set out to walk, run or cycle all the way to East Africa to raise funds for Fields of Life in the fight against Covid-17. The Rev Andy Heber successfully completed his Tearfund challenge to climb the height of Mt Kilimanjaro using only his staircase! History was made when Connor Diocesan Council met on Zoom. The Rev Canon Derek Kerr famously shared a video from his bathtub, having completed a sponsored walk in aid of Fields of Life. Ballyclare Parish hosted a drive-in service, and the Rev Tracey McRoberts, rector of St Matthew’s Parish Church, Belfast, and Mid Belfast Rural Dean, was appointed as Chaplain to the Lord Mayor of Belfast. A little piece of history came crashing down in the early hours of June 25, in the form of an ancient Spanish Chestnut Tree in the graveyard at St Patrick’s Church, Cairncastle.  Ben and Kiri were married on June 11 in the grounds of St Colmanell’s Parish Church, Ahoghill, after special permission was given for conducting the marriage outside of the church, but within the church grounds and with appropriate restrictions in place.

With the announcement at the end of June that Churches would be permitted to return to in-house worships – with restrictions in place – some parishes began to reopen in July. Streetreach moved online, and the easing of restrictions allowed a visit to Jubilee Farm, a Christian Care organisation outside Larne, where we met Desmond, a very happy boar!

By August, face coverings were a part of daily life – and an essential requirement at church services. Teenager Lauren set out to run 100 miles in one month for the Teenage Cancer Trust, and Ballyclare Parish received an award in recognition for the project’s community engagement during the coronavirus pandemic. The Rev Barry Forde, Chaplain of the Hub, the Church of Ireland Student Centre at Queen’s University, was appointed Archdeacon of Belfast, and Belfast Cathedral looked to the future with hope as Dean Forde announced the iconic building would reopen to visitors.

September saw the long awaited consecration of Bishop George Davison and services of ordination of deacons and priests – all conducted with limited guests and strict Covid-19 protocols in place, and shared online. Black Lives Matter was a focus of the news, with rallies in Belfast City Centre. Bassett Morwood retired from the choir of St Polycarp’s, Finaghy, after an incredible 59 years’ service. Clergy in Muckamore, Killead and Gartree; Stoneyford; and All Saints’, Antrim were coming together to livestream Morning Prayer on Monday to Friday each week during lockdown, and had fun in the process! Connor Mothers’ Union prepared toiletries and hampers for patients in local hospitals. And children in the Lower Shankill had great fun taking part in Baking Buddies online, presented by Children’s Officer Jill Hamilton and Church Army Evangelist Karen Webb.

In October, Bishop George dedicated the renovated hall of St Paul and St Barnabas Parish, and the Rev Bobbie Moore said farewell to St Aidan’s in Sandy Row. Mervyn Hempton, a parishioner of Belfast Cathedral was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. A Service of Choral Evensong was held in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, in thanksgiving for church and cathedral organists, church musicians and the work of the Down, Dromore and Connor Organ Scholarship Board. A Service of Introduction of the Rev Trevor Johnston as curate-in-charge of St Nicholas Church, Lisburn Road, Belfast, was held. Belfast Cathedral moved its annual Blessing of the Pets service outdoors onto the Cathedral steps, and Connor Mothers’ Union livestreamed a Service of Thanksgiving and Commissioning of Trustees and Executive Members, held in Antrim.

November saw a team of three from St Brigid’s, Mallusk, carry a seven-foot cross to the top of Slieve Donard raise funds for Crown Jesus Ministries. The community garden in Glencairn, which Stephen Whitten had been working on back in February, took a huge step forward with the erection of an outdoor shelter; and Belfast Cathedral launched its ‘Lives Reflected’ project, to remember those who have lost their lives during the coronavirus pandemic. The Rev Arthur Young, St Paul’s, Lisburn, shared a Remembrance Sunday service from the Ulster Aviation Society Museum. Connor Mothers’ Union members moved their annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign online, and a series of online reflections, from clergy right across the diocese and shared widely on the diocesan Facebook page, began on Advent Sunday. Connor’s youth and children’s officers launched online resources to support children, young people and families during Advent and Christmas.

And finally to December 2020 when springs of hope began to bloom with news of the roll-out of the new Covid-19 vaccines. But lockdown continued. And the work of the Church continued. Magheragall MU members donated hampers to the Barnardo’s Appeal, Belfast’s Lord Lieutenant held her Carol service in St Bartholomew’s Stranmillis, Black Santa began his charity sit-out, assisted by an increased digital presence, Angels of faith, hope and love graced the railings of St Michael’s and St Stephen’s churches, and we shared good news of Degrees for Development Team members Christina Baillie and Karen Webb and a funding grant from the National Churches Trust for St Peter’s in Antrim Road.

It was certainly a rollercoaster year! 

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