Former Dean revisits Belfast Cathedral to launch latest book

Thursday September 28th 2023

At the launch of Journeying to the Light are from left: Fr Eddie O’Donnell, Bishop George Davison, Journeying in the Light author John Mann and Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde.

Former Dean of Belfast John Mann described his return to St Anne’s Cathedral on Thursday September 28 to launch his latest book as ‘a very happy occasion.’

Journeying to the Light; Daily Readings Through Advent and Christmas was launched by the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev George Davison, and the Very Rev Canon Edward O’Donnell, PP of St Brigid’s, Derryvolgie, and Ecumenical Canon of St Anne’s. [Picture Gallery below].

Bishop George said: “We are all thrilled to be here today and delighted to welcome John back to familiar territory.” To John, who was Dean from 2011-2017, the Bishop said: “We always feel you are part of us here in Belfast, and it is a privilege be asked to launch what is genuinely a lovely book. I look forward to taking time and meditating with the passages of Scripture as we go through Advent.”

The Bishop described Journeying to the Light as ‘an accessible and practical book for any Christian person preparing for Advent.’

“It is accessible because it recognises that Advent is a busy period for us all and we don’t necessarily have time to read pages and pages, but a few paragraphs from John in which he gives of himself can earth us in the Scripture we have read and in our daily lives.”

He said the book provided insights into John’s own life, his Christian ministry, and years of theological reading and reflections. “This book does what it sets out to do incredibly well. The reflections connect you to Scripture. Lots of little things drew me in and connected the Scripture with my own life experience,” Bishop George said.

“I found within the book carefully chosen, often beautiful words. At times, the language borders on poetic. The brevity of each reflection should not be mistaken for lack of depth, these well-chosen paragraphs capture the imagination.

“We are invited to engage with the paradox that we live in the darkness of a world with many challenges and at the same time we live in the presence of him who is the light.”

John Mann signs copies of his book.

Fr Eddie referenced a Seamus Heaney poem, saying that in Journeying to the Light John had brought back ‘those wonderful rhymes and music of Emmanuel.’

“Those who truly engage with the reflections in this book will find them transformative,” Fr Eddie said.

“A very attractive feature of Journeying to the Light is its conversational tone. John talks about himself and his family experiences. He shares insightful observations about the morality of the modern world.

Fr Eddie concluded: “These meditations are a series of conversations best read slowly, and in doing so, we will find ourselves joining in the conversation.”

Journeying to the Light; Daily Readings Through Advent and Christmas is intended to be read daily through the period from Advent Sunday to the Epiphany. It is largely based upon one of the Eucharistic readings each day.

It contains a forward by Bishop Brendan Leahy, Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick.

In a commendation on the back cover, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev John McDowell, writes: “These meditations on Scripture by John Mann explore the realities of light and darkness as they are found in Scripture, in human life and in Christian discipleship.

“They are the fruit of a lifetime’s pastoral ministry on these islands, chiefly in Belfast, where the lambent glow of John’s ministry was felt for 30 years.”

Following the launch, John took time to sign copies of Journeying to the Light, and books can be purchased from The Book Well, with copies also available at Belfast Cathedral.

John said it was lovely to be back in the Cathedral. Thanking Bishop George and Fr O’Donnell for their ‘very generous’ words, he said it had been ‘a very happy occasion.’

About the Author

John Mann was born in London and ordained a deacon in 1979 and a priest in 1981. A graduate of Queen’s University Belfast, he trained for ordination at the Church of Ireland Theological College, and was curate assistant at Cloughfern Parish, Diocese of Connor, from 1979-1982 and at Knock Parish, Diocese of Down, from 1982-1985.

In 1985 he was appointed rector of the grouped parishes of Ballyrashane and Kildollagh, Diocese of Connor, where he remained until 1989 when he went to the Diocese of Winchester as rector of the Parishes of Bentworth, Shalden and Lasham.

In 1993 John returned to Connor and the Parish of Cloughfern as rector, and in 2002 he moved to St Jonn’s, Malone. He was appointed Dean of Belfast in June 2011, and in September 2017 left Belfast to take up the post of team rector of the Parish of Swanage with Studland. He retired in spring 2021 and he and his wife Helen are living on the Isle of Man.

In addition to Journeying to the Light, John has just finished writing a book on the Seven Words of Christ from the Cross which will be published in time for Lent 2024. Both books are published by Messenger Publications.

Journeying to the Light; Daily Readings Through Advent and Christmas is available from The Book Well at a cost of £11.95.

Book Description

Journeying to the Light is intended to be read daily through the period from Advent Sunday to the Epiphany. It is largely based upon one of the Eucharistic readings each day. There are variations, and it can be adapted to be used whatever the length of Advent, and for individual or group use.

The author weaves contemporary trends with biblical themes and with events of his own life. It has at its heart the Incarnation; anticipated by the prophets; joyfully experienced through the words of Luke, and proclaimed to the nations through the visit of the Magi, as recorded by Matthew. The author is an Anglican priest, but as this book is based upon the the Revised Common Lectionary, it is ecumenical in its reach, as many of the readings coincide with those appointed for both the daily Mass in Roman Catholic Churches and in Anglican Churches. Equally, the daily reflections, may be of use to all individuals who are seeking to establish a regular period of contemplation and space through Advent and Christmas, which is traditionally full of distraction and busyness.

Bishop Brendan Leahy is joined by Archbishop John McDowell of the Church of Ireland in commending the book for our use, and two Church of England bishops add their voices to suggest that a deepening of our reflection, throughout these days of joyous hope, helps us to seek further the source of the light that was coming to humanity, that is Jesus, son of Mary, redeemer of the world.

A churchgoer, a seeker after truth or, quite possibly in these tumultuous days, a Christian soul whose path has become darkened or distracted in recent years will find something in these pages to encourage them beyond written texts of any kind to set their eyes towards the light and their heart to the divine.

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