My dear friends,
As we move into the summer period, I am beginning a series of visits to our Rural Deaneries, as a follow-on to the visits that the Rural Deans paid to parishes over the past year to take soundings on how and where parishioners might understand God leading us as we move together into the future with Him. The reports of these meetings have been discussed with the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, among the Rural Deans and Archdeacons, and with the clergy as a whole. The purpose of these Rural Deanery visits is not to consider individual parishes, but to look at the broad sweep of what we have learnt and to listen to responses to this. Without preempting the content of these visits (and they will be continuing into the early autumn), there are a couple of points that I believe would be of use to summarise at this point.
The first thing that was reported back from the parish visits was that there was - for the most part – very little negative reaction to the idea of looking - as a Diocese - into the future with real confidence in God, and there was also a genuine sense of realism, in that most people are fully certain that the future cannot simply be a reenactment of a golden past. Some of the things that came up in discussion are already being put into effect. We now have a part-time Diocesan Youth Officer, Gareth Campbell, whom we welcome to his new post, and (as you know) we also have a new Diocesan Communications Officer, Jonathan Hull. They are both willing to give any help they can to the life of local parishes.
Smaller parishes are inevitably concerned that their identity will be maintained, and it is very much part of the vision that this sense of identity will remain. What is intended is that every community in the Diocese – large or small - will be vibrant and effective in witnessing to the faith we hold. There are also future possibilities in training for outreach or in enabling our people to be more confident in communicating their faith to others, being real evangelists in their own right. This will of course be dependent on people of the parishes being ready and enthusiastic to engage with such possible ventures. My hope is that we will all see the future as a place of hope rather than of threat. God is there in the future waiting for us. Do we wish to meet him there?
It is also a pleasure to welcome a couple of newcomers to the Diocese of Armagh. Rev Glenn West was instituted as Rector of the Parishes of Carnteel and Crilly and Revd Matthew Milliken as Rector of the Parish of Milltown. In August, Revd Rosie Diffin will be returning to this, her home Diocese, as a diocesan curate (under the direction of Archdeacon Andrew Forster) with responsibility for the Parishes of Kilmore and St Saviour’s. We wish them and their families every happiness and blessing as they embark on these new ministries to which God has called them.
May I wish all of you a good summer. I hope and pray that it will be a time of refreshment and of renewal in every aspect of your lives.