Proposing the Report of Connor Diocesan Council to delegates at the 2023 Connor Synod held in St Patrick’s Parish, Ballymoney, Mrs Alberta Miskimmon said it was a ‘comprehensive report of a thriving, growing diocese.’
The sun shone as around 250 clergy and lay members of Synod joined Bishop George Davison and the Connor staff team for the annual Synod on Thursday June 22. The day began with a Service of Holy Communion in St Patrick’s Parish Church, followed by refreshments served both inside and under a large gazebo outside the parish’s beautifully restored Old Schoolhouse. [Full photo gallery below].
The business of Synod was held in the main parish hall. It opened with a reading from Mrs Lorraine Ogilby, Bishop’s PA, and prayers led by the Rev Louise Bowes.
Following the nomination of an assessor, and the confirmation of the minutes of the last Synod meeting, Bishop George delivered his Presidential Address which is covered in full in our earlier report.
The Rev Canon William Taggart reported on Communications from General Synod, and elections to vacancies were held. They included the election of Mr Stephen Addis, Glenavy Parish, as Diocesan Lay Secretary, succeeding Mr Ken Gibson, Lisburn Cathedral, who stood down at the end of last year.
Lunch was served in a separate hall within the Parish Centre, with delegates having the opportunity to enjoy the glorious weather and explore Ballymoney’s Quiet Garden, recently established within an old walled garden close to the Rectory and open to the whole community.
The Report of Diocesan Council was seconded by the Rev James Boyd. As the reports were considered, Bishop George drew attention to the various clergy anniversaries in the diocese, making particular mention of the Rev Canon Ken Ruddock who will have been ordained 70 years this year. Offering the congratulations of Synod to Canon Ruddock, Bishop George commented that was ‘quite some achievement.’
Archdeacon Stephen McBride, Vicar of Antrim, introduced Mr David McGrory who has been appointed Safeguarding Compliance Officer for Connor Diocese, taking up his post in April. Archdeacon McBride said that, in light of the weight of compliance that is necessary in relation to safeguarding, the dioceses of Clogher, then Armagh and then Derry & Raphoe had already created this safeguarding compliance role.
Mr McGrory had already made a ‘significant impact’ since his appointment, the Archdeacon said. Addressing Synod, Mr McGrory outlined his previous experience, and spoke about his role, highlighting the key areas of vetting, training and audits. He said he was looking forward to supporting parishes as they worked towards safeguarding compliance.
Bishop George said: “We are very pleased to have David on board. He is someone who will assist you and encourage you as you work to make sure everything in your parish system is as it should be.”
A number of Synod members spoke in relation to reports from Diocesan Youth Officer Christina Baillie and the Rev Philip Benson, former Chair of Connor Youth Council, and from the current Chair, the Rev Danielle McCullagh.
The Rev Dennis Christie, rector of Ahoghill and Portglenone, spoke about the annual Summer Madness camp which has relocated to Portglenone. “Connor does a wonderful job of providing a hub to bring people together so we get physically and spiritually fed,” he said.
The Rev Andrew Campbell, rector to Skerry, Rathcavan and Newtowncrommelin, paid tribute to Christina and Children’s Ministry Officer Victoria Jackson for the Launch event held in Broughshane last September, which he said had reminded youth and children’s leaders that they are not alone in this ministry.
The Rev Peter Jones, Mossley Parish, thanked the Connor ‘Streetreachers’ for the partnership they had enjoyed for two years (with a break for Covid-19). “I am still hearing the outworking of Streetreach and the partnerships we shared,” he said.
The Youth Council report stated that Streetreach would be partnering with the grouped parishes of Ballyrashane & Kildollagh, the Grouped Parishes of Ballintoy & Dunseverick with Rathlin Island and St Patrick’s Coleraine and St Andrew’s Ballysally for the next two years, with Streetreach 2023 taking place from July 4-7.
Emily Thompson, a youth worker in Lower Shankill, spoke about Connor Takes the Castle, the annual youth residential in Castlewellan, which is attended by around 100 young people annually and is, she said, ‘one of the most anticipated events of the year.’ This year’s event will be held from October 6-8.
The final speaker on the Youth Council reports was Lucas Todd, who shared how important Connor Youth had been to the development of his own faith. He spoke about events and resources including Destination, organised by the young members of the Connor Youth Forum, the SERVE leadership training course, and the Resonance resource.
Bishop George commented that if anyone needed testament to the work of Connor youth, they had heard it in the last few speeches.
CENTRE OF MISSION
In respect of the report from the North Belfast Centre of Mission, Ms Joanne Martin, the United Parish of St Nicholas’ and All Saints’, highlighted the Baby Basics project, thanking parishes for contributing to this work to help vulnerable and new families in the community, adding that it was a great way of making connections with families outside of the Church.
Sister Karen Webb, Evangelist at the Centre of Mission, said that 40-50 baskets were being delivered to families each month. She thanked parishes who contribute to Baby Basics, project co-ordinator Heather Gibson, and the ‘exceptional’ volunteers who give of their time.
Mrs Heather Carson told Synod of the impact of the Transforming Lives for Good (TLG) project, which offers one-to-one mentoring to primary school children. More volunteers are needed, she said, adding that training and resources are available. “For one hour a week, that child is the most important person in the room, and where I live, that’s incredible,” she said.
After Mr Richard Cotter, Connor Finance and Administration Manager, reported on the Diocesan Accounts, the Rev Rob Jones, from the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, gave a presentation on Pioneer Ministry, something Bishop George had referred to during his Presidential Address.
Synod members also watched a video presentation from the Church of Ireland Marriage Council, introduced by the Rev James Boyd, Derryvolgie, and featuring the Rev Jonny Campbell-Smyth, rector of Ballynure and Ballyeaston and Chair of the Marriage Council.
Two notices of motion, one in relation to the Diocesan Financial Scheme and one relating to Fair Share were passed unanimously.
During the year, the Parishes of St Nicholas, Lisburn Road, and All Saints’, University Street, came together as a United Parish. Joanne Martin took to the microphone to thank Bishop George for his guidance through this process, adding that she hoped this union might be an inspiration for other parishes in a similar situation. “We are excited for the gospel opportunities in the Lisburn Road for locals and others in the area,” she said. “Uniting is not as terrifying as it sounds, it can be a very positive experience.”
Bishop George said the formation of the United Parish of St Nicholas’ and All Saints’ had been ‘a real encouragement’ in the diocese.
Speaking to his report, the Rev Canon Kevin Graham, Director of Ordinands, urged those present to encourage anyone who may be called to Ministry, and the Rev Peter Jones, Warden of Readers, reported that interest in Parish Readership continues to grow within the diocese, with 43 Readers now in Connor.
Connor Mothers’ Union’s many activities were outlined by Diocesan President, Mrs Sally Cotter, and there were comprehensive reports written by Dean Sam Wright on the activities of Lisburn Cathedral, currently celebrating 400 years of worship in the City, and by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde, in relation to St Anne’s Cathedral.
In his detailed report, Dean Forde, revealed that plans are advanced for developing the Cathedral’s ‘Unheard Voices’ project focused on the ‘Centre for Acknowledgement, Learning and Memory’ (CALM) – a project referenced during Synod.
The report stated: “This project will see the crypt of the Cathedral repurposed as a major visitor centre and a centre for memory and healing. It will acknowledge the cost of violence to the community and society from the 40 years of The Troubles, told through the experiences of Victims and Survivors, and expressed through a range of creative mediums.”
It continued: “Making use of wide-ranging research and with a growing support from across every spectrum in this society, the Cathedral is working towards offering a unique place of remembering and healing within the context of the Cathedral’s call to minister to all. Achieving this ambitious and challenging project will require courage and perseverance and significant fund raising over the coming years.”
Mrs Judith Cairns, Lisburn Cathedral, took the opportunity to address Synod in relation to the Hub Chaplaincy report, saying she was speaking as a parent whose son had been resident in the chaplaincy for three years.
“Young people are negotiating challenging times, and the chaplaincy team is there helping them. I am thankful that the Church sees the importance of investing in our students,” Mrs Cairns said.
Chair of Connor Council for Mission, the Ven Paul Dundas, reflected on the visit to Northern Ireland by a global partners of CMS Ireland and SAMS Ireland, including Bishop Levi of Yei Diocese in South Sudan, for the Kingdom Voices event last August.
He recalled how he had first met Bishop Levi when he was running training for ordinands at the Bishop Allison Theological College in Uganda. “Realising one of those ordinands is Bishop Levi is really inspiring,” he said.
As Connor’s formal partnership with Yei, which dates from 2007, ends this month, Archdeacon Dundas sent the greetings of Synod to Bishop Levi and Yei Diocese, and said that new partnerships had grown out of Kingdom Voices.
He spoke too about Christ Church Parish’s visit to St Apollo School in Uganda in February (reported in the summer issue of the diocesan magazine Connor Connections), saying that that trip, along with Bishop Levi’s stay in Connor, had been supported by the Connor Mission Support Fund.
The Rev Malcolm Ferry, rector of Agherton, recalled how Bishop Levi had experienced his first walk on a beach and his first swim in the sea when he stayed in the parish in the summer.
A parish harvest appeal had raised £9,000 and this was to be used to bring a priest from Yei to Agherton where they will be upskilled in business management, and will return to Yei with two years of salary to run the diocese’s new coffee growing project.
“We want to give them the skills to do things well, all with the blessing of Bishop Levi,” Malcolm said.
The Council for Mission was also acknowledged by the Rev Jonny Campbell-Smyth, who said the Council had supported his recent trip with CMSI to Ballynure and Ballyeaston’s partners in a ‘slum’ in Nairobi, and that in a few weeks, an Exodus team from the parish would be going to do mission work in Spain.
The Report of Diocesan Council was adopted. Bishop George thanked the Rev Andrew Sweeney, rector of Ballymoney, and all those in the parish who had worked to host Synod and those who had provided the catering. Archdeacon Paul Dundas expressed thanks to Bishop George for guiding members through the business of Synod, and the day closed with The Grace.