Connor Synod 2022 was held in the impressive surroundings of Belfast Cathedral on Thursday June 16, with around 250 clergy and lay members in attendance. [Photo Gallery below].
This was the first in-person Synod since June 2019, with the cancellation of the 2020 Synod due to the pandemic and the 2021 meeting taking place online due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.
The business of Synod was preceded by a Service of Holy Communion in the Cathedral and the meeting formally opened with reading and prayers, before the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev George Davison, introduced the assessor, Judge Alistair Devlin, who was formally invited to take on the role of Chancellor of the Diocese.
He succeeds Judge Derek Rodgers. Bishop George said: “The role of assessor is someone who has the aptitude to keep me on the right track. For many years, that role was filled very faithfully by Judge Rodgers, but when Bishop Alan [Abernethy] was retiring, Judge Rodgers felt it was also time for him to retire as Chancellor.”
Following confirmation of the minutes of Synod 2021, Bishop George Davison delivered his Presidential Address.
The Rev Canon William Taggart outlined Communications from General Synod, and various elections were held, before the Rev Peter Jones, rector of Mossley Parish, proposed the report of Diocesan Council, seconded by Norman Nixon.
Trevor Douglas, Diocesan Development Officer, drew Synod’s attention to a booklet highlighting funding opportunities which has been produced by the diocese and was circulated to all attendees.
Christina Baillie, Diocesan Youth Officer, gave an update on various diocesan events and introduced a new Youth Council initiative.
The Summer Madness youth festival has a new venue at Portglenone. “We are really grateful to have support from several parishes to provide catering for residential groups,” Chirstina said. “We will have at least seven parishes camping at the festival, with many more bringing a group for the day.”
Christina also spoke about Connor Streetreach taking place in Mossley. “We have young people and leaders from 10 different parishes coming together to take part in this local, missional opportunity,” she told Synod. “Please pray for us as we serve alongside members of the Parish in Mossley and seek to engage young people to follow God in a practical way, and help resource Mossley Parish as they reach out to their local community.”
Introducing Clusters, a new initiative from Youth Council, Christina said: “We are very keen to be more intentional in the ways in which we provide connection and community between adults who are passionate about youth ministry, both clergy and youth leaders.
“We recognise that at this moment, many of our regular leaders are discouraged or feel like they are on their own – that might even be true for some of us gathered today. Our youth leaders and you as clergy have faced abundant change and tirelessly continued to minister within your parishes. There are also new groups which have sprung up during the past two years with new leaders seeking to support young people in the midst of difficulty.
“While the context is difficult, we still meet many who are passionate about engaging young people in our local churches… We want to say thank you to those people, and to offer whatever support we can.”
Clusters, she said, facilitated an opportunity simply for encouragement to clergy and leaders. Christina urged anyone interested in being part of this initiative – which will be rolled out from September – to get in touch.
The Rev Danielle McCullagh, recently appointed Chair of Connor of Connor Youth Council, encouraged parishes to bring their young people along to the diocesan residential, Connor Takes the Castle, taking place in Castlewellan from September 23-25, and paid tribute to Christina – “In Christina we have a real gem,” she told Synod.
Standing orders were suspended for a presentation by Linda Abwa and the Rev Roger Thompson of Church Mission Society Ireland (CMSI), who brought greetings from Yei Diocese, South Sudan, from retired Bishop Hilary and his successor Bishop Levi.
As Connor’s 15-year partnership with Yei comes to a close next year, Linda said: “You have built real partnership. You have shared with our partners as they have gone through conflict and trauma and you have prayed for people and for peace.”
Connor Diocese, she said, had supported Mongo Primary School, Immanuel Model Secondary School, the Martha Clinic, helped fund school places for vulnerable children and more. “In all of this, God has faithfully used his Global Church to transform lives in Yei, but lives here have also been changed by the fellowship you enjoy with folks cross-culturally,” Linda said.
Roger spoke about the CMSI and SAMS Voices Together events in August, when global leaders from Africa and South America will visit Ireland. The value of personal connection, Roger said, was ‘beyond anything money can buy.’
As Bishop George paused proceedings for a coffee break, he was surprised to be presented with a cake specially baked to celebrate his 30-year ordination anniversary – complete with sparklers. Responding to the gesture, the Bishop said it was a privilege to be part of the ministry of the Christian Church, and said that others were also celebrating ordination anniversaries.
The first speaker after the break was Diocesan Children’s Ministry Development Officer Victoria Jackson, who said she had been encouraged and inspired by those working in children’s ministry in the diocese. She encouraged Synod members to visit the children’s ministry stall and to avail of the All Aboard Year 3 Sunday School resource. She also made reference to the Launch event for leaders in children’s and youth ministry, taking place in Broughshane in September.
Motions were passed relating to the Diocesan Financial Scheme, Diocesan Fair Share and Diocesan Regulations.
The Rev Peter Jones, Warden of Readers, drew attention to the Readers’ Report in the Council Report, saying that it was good news that 11 new Readers had been commissioned during the past year, and expressed thanks to all those Diocesan and Parish Readers in the diocese. He also drew attention to a new brochure on Vocations, Discerning Ministry, produced the Director of Ordinands, the Rev Canon Kevin Graham, and encouraged parishes to hold a Vocations Sunday at some stage in the year.
The Archdeacon of Belfast, the Ven Barry Forde, who is soon to step down as Chaplain at The Hub, Belfast, expressed the best wishes of Synod to Ulster University, which will this year move into the centre of Belfast. “This city is becoming populated by students. There are 13 or 14 new student developments between here and Donegall Pass that didn’t exist in 2017 and this is going to have a major impact on the life of the city with new opportunities and challenges,” he said.
He spoke of the excellent work of the student chaplaincies and parishes supporting students in Belfast. Thanking the Archdeacon, Bishop George said: “All of us recognise the exceptional quality of your work as Chaplain.”
Sally Cotter, President of Connor Mothers’ Union, outlined the activities and projects the MU had been involved in over the past year.
The Report of Diocesan Council was accepted.
Before closing Synod, Bishop George thanked all those who had participated, his staff team, the Cathedral MU for refreshments and Dean Stephen Forde and the staff of Belfast Cathedral for hosting the event.