News
News
Press Releases
Archives

Show me items from:


 

Other pages in News:

Press Releases

Diocesan News

Committee News

Bishops' Advisory Commission on Doctrine

Bishops' Appeal Committee

Bishops' Selection Conference

Board of Education (N.I.)

Board of Education (R.O.I.)

Broadcasting Committee

Central Communications Board

Christian Unity Committee

Church in Society Committee

Commission on Ministry

Council for Mission

Disability Working Group

Hard Gospel Committee

Literature Committee

Liturgical Advisory Committee

Marriage Council

Parish Development Working Group

Priorities Fund

Standing Committee

Synodical Reform Committee

Irish Times Notes

RCB Library Notes

Upcoming Events

RSS news feed

View latest news as RSS

Printable version

Sermon at the Consecration of the Revd Canon Alan Abernethy as the Bishop of Connor

Press Releases

Added on 29/06/2007

Introduction to the sermon given by the Reverend Helen Houston at the consecration as Bishop of Connor of the Reverend Canon Alan Abernethy Connor’s new Bishop is a team builder who shares ministry and allows those around him space to find their own giftings, guests at the consecration of Bishop Alan Abernethy were told. The Revd Helen Houston, preacher at the service in St Anne’s Cathedral on Friday, 29 June, said the people of Connor had a new friend and listener. Chaplain of St Rocco’s Hospice in Warrington, Cheshire, Revd Helen Houston worked with the new Bishop in his former parish of Ballyholme from 2002 until 2004. Commenting that the consecration was taking place on the 25th anniversary of Bishop Abernethy’s ordination, the theme of Revd Helen Houston’s address was hands –  based on John 21 verses 15 – 17, ‘Hands minister and receive grace, helping us to participate in God’s story.’ She said the Bishop was wearing an Episcopal ring he was honoured to receive from the family of the late Bishop of Connor, Jimmy Moore. “On this ring, Alan has had inscribed the question Jesus posed Simon Peter: “Do you love me?” reminding himself that God’s call today is firstly a call to relationship with God through Christ, and then, flowing from that, comes his calling to be a Bishop. “Those of us who know Alan, and who have worked and worshipped with him would want to testify to the importance of Alan’s relationship with God.  Faith really is the bedrock and foundation on which his life and ministry are built.” Revd Helen Houston said the new Bishop was also not afraid of saying ‘I don’t know’.  “Like Peter he is comfortable to be seen as a man making sense of the love of God in a contrary world.  He allows you to see the struggles, the weaknesses, the joins in the jar of clay where the light seeps through untidily. “As a leader you will find Alan to be a team builder who shares ministry and allows those around him to have the space to find their own giftings.  He will support and affirm you, clergy and lay leaders alike.  He is always prepared to hear the views of others and to work with difference and conflict.  He’s fair-minded, he’s fun, he’s loyal, and treats all people with respect and without prejudice. “For also dominant in Alan’s ministry is the image of a God of lavish and unconditional love.  And it is this image which informs both his teaching and his practice as a Christian.” Revd Helen Houston added: “To plagarise St.Augustine, Alan will be a ‘Christian with you and a Bishop for you.’” Full text of sermon follows: 
Consecration of the Reverend Canon Alan Abernethyas Bishop of ConnorSt Anne’s Cathedral, BelfastFriday, 29 June 2007 - St Peter’s Day Sermon given by the Reverend Helen Houston, Chaplain of St Rocco’s Hospice in Warrington, Cheshire  Text: John 21 vs.15-17The big idea: Hands minister and receive grace, helping us to participate in God’s story. Good afternoon, everyone. I bring with me greetings from the Bishops of Chester and Liverpool to you Archbishop, to Alan and all those gathered here this afternoon.  If I may introduce myself, I’m Helen Houston.  I’m currently the chaplain of St.Rocco’s Hospice in Warrington, Cheshire.  It was my privilege to work with Alan and other colleagues in the parish of Ballyholme, Bangor, between 2002-2004.  Alan’s asked me to say a few words this afternoon as someone who has shared part of his journey with him and seen his ministry close up.  I’ve also taken the liberty of talking to Alan’s friends, parishioners and colleagues from Ballyholme; what I offer next is said on behalf of a number of us.  First, let us pray. Prayer  HandsI’d like to begin by drawing attention to our hands.  You might want to take a moment to have a look at your own hands.  We use our hands a lot in palliative care.  A hospice is a very practical and tactile environment. The nurses use their hands to show human warmth, to offer pain relief, to help make patients comfortable, to convey a sense of worth and dignity.  The nurses say that you can tell a lot by someone’s hands.  Fingers, nails and skin can tell a story.  They can tell you what kind of life a patient’s had, what kind of employment a patient might have been in, and whether they’ve treated themselves or others have treated them with due care and attention.  The nurses read that story with the patient’s help and then participate in writing the next part.  It’s become my observation that hands are a channel for the kind of generous, unconditional love that God delights to show us.  They can both minister and receive grace, helping us and others to participate in God’s wider story. This holds true as much for a context such as an ordination, as it does for a hospice context.  Today God’s grace is being ministered through our hands whether they are clasped in prayer, raised in praise, stretched out for the laying on of hands, cupped to receive communion or extended to welcome our new Bishop.  Our hands are the means by which grace is ministered and received and another page is written in the story of God’s work in the Church of Ireland, in the Diocese of Connor and in the life of the former Rector of Ballyholme. Peter’s HandsBut let’s begin writing this part of the story by looking at St.Peter on this his feast day.  Let us imagine Peter’s hands and think about the story they might tell.  For a start they would have been calloused and chafed from the demanding manual labour of his job as a fisherman.  Peter was an ordinary man, a strong man, working in a difficult environment.   Peter’s hands in our story would have been cold from a night spent fishing and they were now wet.  You may recall in his enthusiasm to greet Jesus, Peter had jumped out of the fishing boat as it made its way to shore.  But then that was Peter.  He could be impulsive, affectionate and courageous. One can almost imagine him in a classroom setting being the little boy who is always first to put up his hand.  And, who knows, Peter’s hands might have even had a slight tremor that morning by the Sea of Galilee as he recalled the last time he’d caught the heat of a charcoal fire, some days previous in the high priest’s courtyard.  That time fear had overcome courage, brave statements and good intentions had given way to denial.  What sort of reception would he receive from Jesus now?  Then one can almost imagine Christ’s wounded hands reaching out to him as Jesus offers Peter the generous and unconditional love of God. “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?” Jesus asks.  And notice that Jesus didn’t ask this question of Peter the rock and foundation of the church, the Peter of church tradition and legend, but of Simon Peter. “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?”   It’s as if Jesus is drawing attention to an important ordering of priority: first comes Simon Peter, the disciple, the follower of Christ, and then, secondly, flowing from his discipleship comes the call to “feed my lambs”, “take care of my sheep”, “feed my sheep”.  And you can see Peter desperately reaching out to receive that grace, as he replies,  “Lord, you know all things.  You know that I love you.”  And from the giving and receiving of grace Peter is called to move forwards into God’s wider story.  A story which, if we’d read on in the bible, would one day see Peter stretching out his hands to hold the unkind hands of those who would lead him to places where he wouldn’t want to go.  What a story Peter’s hands would have to tell in the future! Alan’s HandsBut now let us come back to today and to this place and think for a moment about Alan. Today, I know, is the 25th anniversary of your ordination.  Through your life to date you will have known the giving and receiving of God’s grace through the hands of much loved family members, through friends, students, parishioners, colleagues, ordinands and many others.   Over the years you have also been ministered to through the church as Bishops’ have laid their hands upon you at confirmation, deaconing and priesting, praying for the gifting of the Holy Spirit to help you in your journey with Christ.  And now God’s story moves on in you again, Alan, as your hands become the channel for God’s work in the administering of confirmation and holy orders. Let’s think about Alan’s hands for a moment - which may very well be trembling a little bit this afternoon – I’m sure we could all understand if they were.  One of the fingers on Alan’s hands is to wear / is wearing a new ring, an episcopal ring he was honoured to receive from the family of the late Bishop Jimmy Moore, much loved by you, I know, in the Diocese of Connor.   On this ring, Alan has had inscribed the question Jesus posed Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” reminding himself that God’s call today is firstly a call to relationship with God through Christ, and then, flowing from that, comes his calling to be a Bishop. Those of us who know Alan, and who’ve worked and worshipped with him would want to testify to the importance of Alan’s relationship with God.   Faith really is the bedrock and foundation on which his life and ministry are built.  Alan is someone who takes time out to reflect on his relationship with God which he does with the help of a spiritual director.  Hence one theme that will emerge early on in his ministry is the encouragement to clergy and laity alike to cherish and nurture that vital relationship with God. Alan’s also, unusually for a leader, not afraid of saying ‘I don’t know’.  Like Peter he is comfortable to be seen as a man making sense of the love of God in a contrary world.  He allows you to see the struggles, the weaknesses, the joins in the jar of clay where the light seeps through untidily.  Not for nothing was Alan's first book entitled ‘Fulfilment and Frustration’ or is his second to be on the subject of doubt. As a leader you will find Alan to be a team builder who shares ministry and allows those around him to have the space to find their own giftings.  He will support and affirm you, clergy and lay leaders alike.  He is always prepared to hear the views of others and to work with difference and conflict.  He’s fair-minded, he’s fun, he’s loyal, and treats all people with respect and without prejudice. For also dominant in Alan’s ministry is the image of a God of lavish and unconditional love.  And it is this image which informs both his teaching and his practice as a Christian.  Colleagues, friends and parishoners, have seen it demonstrated in the caring and compassionate way he can be with people, especially those in difficulty.  We're conscious of the time Alan will give, his calm presence, and his ability to be in the moment with you.   So may I say to those of you who might be struggling with faith or hurting from your experience of the church, today you have a new friend and listener.  And to the church leaders of Connor Diocese, God is gifting you a pastor who wants to come alongside you personally and professionally to support you and to help you.  To plagarise St.Augustine, Alan will be a “Christian with you and a Bishop for you”. Human HandsBut before we lay a heap of expectations at Alan’s door, let us return to where we started, thinking about our own hands.  Some of them will be frail, some will be large, some will be subject to the whims of an illness, some will be strong, some will have been injured, some will be soft and well groomed, some will be calloused and chafed, but all will be finite.  And a Bishop is a finite creature.  Bishop James Jones of Liverpool writes this about his experience of being a Bishop, and I quote, “I have been a teacher, a producer, a curate and a vicar and I have never worked so hard nor loved a job so much in all my life.  I shall never forget being told at the outset that I had probably learnt by this stage to say ‘no’ to unimportant things but now I would have to learn to say no to important things!  This has proved very true.  It is simply not possible to meet the expectations of everybody….It is my testimony that as a Bishop I have never stopped learning nor learnt so much!”  No wonder then that in their wisdom the writers of the consecration liturgy remind us that it is God and God alone whose hands are infinite.  I quote, “none of us can bear the weight of this ministry in our own strength, but only by the grace and power of God.” So my sisters and brothers in Christ when we go home from the cathedral today, please take with you in your prayers the new Bishop of Connor, "praying earnestly", as the liturgy puts it, “for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on him”.  Please place into God's hands, too, the Abernethy family, and pray for Liz, Peter and Ruth, who are so vital to Alan’s ministry. And finally to Alan may I encourage you to treasure this day (I know you will!).  Please take in the faces, the messages of good will, the love and the prayers, and know we are all here because we affirm your calling.  Remember in the words of The Message’s rendition of Matthew 28 v.30, Jesus says to you, Alan, “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.”  Amen. For further information please contact the Diocesan Communications Officer for Connor, Karen Bushby, Tel: 028 4066 0798 or (m) 07766 103880