‘Engage, empower and enable’ are themes of Connor Vision Strategy
Wednesday 08 February 2012
Clergy from parishes across the diocese attended the launch of Connor’s Vision Strategy in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, on Wednesday February 8.
They came from parishes big and small, urban and rural, to hear the Bishop of Connor speak about how the diocese proposed to help them engage with their communities, empower them in their ministry, and enable them to bring about change.
The Rt Rev Alan Abernethy said: “It is time to put together some thoughts on how we go into the future. As a church we have been talking about decline and we are struggling to make sense of what is happening today.”
The launch of the Vision Strategy follows a survey of parishes in Connor Diocese during 2011 which produced a 93 per cent response rate. Plans for a vision strategy were announced at Diocesan Synod last October, and a working group has been meeting to drive the strategy forward.
Speaking at the launch, which was attended by clergy from virtually every parish in Connor, Bishop Alan said that parishes had to work together to tackle problems. “I sat in a rector’s chair for a long time and I know how lonely and isolated it can be,” he said.
“This strategy is not aimed at making life more difficult, but at empowering, encouraging and enabling you in what you have to do and to help you do it together.”
The Vision Strategy, he said, was inspired by the word ‘connections,’ or ‘disconnections.’ “Parishes are often disconnected from the local community,” he said. “When I was growing up everything was church based. How do we now find connections in our own communities?”
The Bishop continued: “We have to discover how we incarnate the presence of Christ in our parishes.”
He outlined three themes to the strategy – engaging culture, empowering ministry and enabling change.
Relating to changing culture, Bishop Alan said the key point was ‘things aren’t the way they used to be.’ The pace of change just in a lifetime has been ‘staggering’ he said, but added that there are people looking for a spiritual but not religious life. “How do we engage with that?” the Bishop asked.
“People are looking for a connection with God and there is a real need for the church to engage with that culture so people see something they want to be part of. We cannot run away, as we have in the past, and hide in our spiritual sanctimonious bubble.”
Bishop Alan outlined ways of empowering clergy in their ministry. These included Quiet Days and a clergy conference later this year. He urged clergy to do things creatively in their parishes, adding: “Our parish structures cannot continue with a just clergy ministry.”
Bishop Alan admitted that making change was ‘very, very difficult’ but stressed that change was going to happen. “We need to find ways to manage change carefully,” he said.
Looking ahead, Bishop Alan said he would be addressing the subject of the Gospel and Culture today in his three Lent seminars. After Easter, he will visit every Rural Deanery to share this vision with all parishes and their select vestries and to engage them in addressing the issues facing our churches.
“I will give you direction, but it won’t work unless you engage with it,” the Bishop told clergy at the launch. “This will allow people to work together for the good of God’s kingdom and his Church.”
The diocese is looking at the possibility of employing a development officer to work with parishes and establish where they need help.
Bishop Alan said that following the rural deanery meetings, which will take place from April until September, the strategy will come before the next diocesan synod. “Let’s do this together and let’s enjoy the journey,” he said.
A Pastoral Letter From The Bishops Of The Church Of Ireland
For some time the bishops of the Church of Ireland had planned to undertake a review of their Pastoral Letter of 2003 on human sexuality. The recent debate in the Church of Ireland on issues of sexuality has given added impetus to the bishops’ process of reflection. We also hope, in a structured way, to engage the church at every level in this endeavour.
It is helpful, at the outset, to affirm clearly the teaching of the church on marriage. The Book of Common Prayer describes marriage as ‘part of God’s creation and a holy mystery in which man and woman become one flesh.’ It is to be monogamous, with a publicly declared intention that it be life–long. The church’s teaching has been faithfulness within marriage as the normative context for sexual expression.
The state, in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, has provided in law for civil partnerships between persons of the same gender. Such partnerships are one means of conferring specific legal rights, but may not necessarily involve sexual expression. It is clear that they are not recognised by the church as marriage. Indeed they are not recognised by the state as marriage in either jurisdiction. However, because civil partnerships are narrowly limited to people of the same gender, they are often perceived as an equivalent to or imitation of marriage for same sex couples.
Recent well–publicised events within the Church of Ireland concerning the issue of serving clergy and civil partnerships have caused considerable hurt and confusion to many. Others saw what had happened as a positive development. In the Church of Ireland as a whole, in consequence, this has led to a painful experience of disunity. We as bishops take very seriously our responsibility at this time to act in a way that will help to further the unity of the church in truth and love. These issues reflect the difficulties experienced within the wider Anglican Communion, which in recent years has found itself tragically divided by the debate concerning human sexuality.
The bishops’ Pastoral Letter of 2003 ended with the following words:
‘This is an area of life where deeply held views, powerful emotions and the potential for causing great harm hold sway. We may have to learn how or whether we will be able to live peaceably and with integrity with very different viewpoints within the family of the Church and the household of faith.’
While the 2003 Pastoral Letter laid out the situation, it did not put in place a means by which the church could adequately engage with the challenges expressed in the document, and find a way forward. We are now commending a means by which the church can work through these issues and hopefully come to a common mind. This will involve sustained and committed work for the bishops and for the entire membership of the General Synod in particular.
We plan to organise a major conference in Spring 2012, to which members of the General Synod and some others will be invited. The purpose of the conference is to discuss the content of this Pastoral Letter, to assist the church in becoming more fully informed, and to explore wider issues related to human sexuality. In preparation for this conference, we commit ourselves, as bishops, to additional meetings, including a retreat, where we will study and pray together. The conference is not envisaged to be an end in itself. Study in biblical, theological and legal issues, both before and after the conference, needs to be encouraged and undertaken.
We urge people of all shades of opinion within the Church of Ireland to refrain from any actions or the use of emotive or careless language which may further exacerbate the situation within the Church. Such restraint will greatly facilitate the work ahead.
We commend this entire process to the prayers of the Church.
The Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland
The Most Revd Alan Harper, Archbishop of Armagh
The Most Revd Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin & Glendalough
The Most Revd Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath & Kildare
The Rt Revd Harold Miller, Bishop of Down & Dromore
The Rt Revd Paul Colton, Bishop of Cork, Cloyne & Ross
The Rt Revd Ken Clarke, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh
The Rt Revd Ken Good, Bishop of Derry & Raphoe
The Rt Revd Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel & Ossory
The Rt Revd Alan Abernethy, Bishop of Connor
The Rt Revd Trevor Williams, Bishop of Limerick & Killaloe
The Rt Revd Patrick Rooke, Bishop of Tuam, Killala & Achonry
The Rt Revd John McDowell, Bishop of Clogher