The Down and Dromore Diocesan Synod met in the Jethro Centre, Lurgan, on Thursday 20 June 2019. It will be remembered as Rt Revd Harold Miller’s last as our bishop, but also for the sense of thanksgiving that pervaded the day.
Bishop Harold is 69 and celebrates 43 years of ordained ministry next week. He has spent over 22 years as Bishop of Down and Dromore – the longest serving since Bishop Robert Knox who retired after 37 years in 1886.
In his Presidential Address, Bishop Harold looked back with gratitude over his episcopal ministry and spoke warmly of the diocese and its people.
He said, “As I look back over two decades, I truly give thanks for you, followers of Jesus Christ, in the diocese of Down and Dromore, whom I have had the privilege of getting to know and serve alongside. We have loved one another as a family, and it has been a joy to call this wonderful diocese my home.”
The bishop recalled attending the Lambeth Conference as a new bishop in 1998, an experience he described as “ one of the highlights of my entire life.” It was also at Lambeth that Down and Dromore forged the link with Albany Diocese through Bishop Dan Herzog, and soon after with Maridi Diocese. Bishop Moses (Maridi) and Bishop Bill (Albany) both plan to visit the diocese at the end of the summer.
As Bishop Harold gave thanks for different aspects of the life of the diocese, he issued a fresh challenge to continue to give, to grow, to evangelise, to disciple, to engage locally and worldwide, to call, ordain and commission and to remain faithful to the scriptures. The bishop also gave thanks for the many people with whom he had served over the years and last, but not least, he thanked his wife Liz. Liz, he said, had given up her career and uprooted herself many times for the sake of his ministry and the family. ‘ She is my rock, he said, and I could not have done it without her.”
The bishop will give his farewell charge to the diocese at the annual Bible Week in Shankill Parish Church Lurgan, from 27–30 August. He will retire on 30 September.
Guests at synod included the preacher at Holy Communion, the Rt Revd Samy Fawzy, Area Bishop of North Africa
Bishop Samy reminded us that there is a great need today to preach the true gospel of Christ with zeal and with spiritual power. “ There are so many who need to hear the good news,” he said. “ People are ready to hear the gospel. They don’t want to hear human wisdom or philosophy but of Jesus’ precious blood.” He encouraged us to pray earnestly for labourers to the harvest.
Other guests included representatives of the Church of South India congregation which meets once a month in Drumbeg, Bishop Ken Clarke and the former Methodist President, Revd Dr Heather Morris. Dr Morris thanked Bishop Harold for being a strong advocate of the Church of Ireland/Methodist relationship.
Canon Bryan Martin (Dromore) presented the Report from General Synod. At Synod’s request, Down and Dromore voted to amend its Diocesan Regulations in preparation for a change to its representation and to enable the triennial elections to General Synod to be held in 2020. As we are a united diocese, Diocesan Council will determine how the reduction in membership is divided between the Diocese of Down and the Diocese of Dromore.
The Report of the Diocesan Council was proposed by the Dean of Dromore, The Very Revd Geoff Wilson and seconded by Canon Lady Shiel (Down).
Synod voted to adopt a new and more equitable method of calculating the General Fund Assessments. To enable parishes to budget for the change the new model will be phased in over three years from 1 January 2020.
Standing orders were suspended to allow Diocesan Communications Officer, Annette McGrath, to give a preview of the new diocesan website. The site is close to completion and should offer visitors a better user experience, especially on a mobile or tablet. She thanked the Diocesan Council for authorising the project.
Mr James Bunting proposed the Report of the Down, Connor & Dromore Board of Education. The Board will be reconstituted with smaller numbers and James invited those with experience in banking, property and investment to serve.
Following lunch, synod heard three presentations. PSNI Chief Superintendent Simon Walls spoke about the Scamwise NI campaign and alerted us to one of the biggest crimes facing our society and one to which any of us may fall, the victim. Ruth Koch (right), Northern Ireland Director of Tearfund, presented ‘A Rubbish Campaign’ and urged us to join the campaign to reduce plastic waste and its impact on the poor. Finally the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, Revd Adrian Green gave a presentation on Vocation Sunday (15 September) and the Exploring Vocation Retreat (7–9 February 2020).
Time was also given to the upbuilding of the church through the ‘ Conversation on the Work of God’ and there was a steady stream of contributors.
Some of the encouraging things we heard:
- Exciting growth and outreach at the Church on the Hill, Maghaberry
- The amazing impact of 30 years of Summer Madness
- Growth and celebration in Ballywalter
- St Brendan’s Sydenham not just surviving but thriving
- 200 families helped over ten years of the Lurgan CAP Centre
- The valuable ministry of the hospital chaplain
- A Church of South India congregation meeting together in Drumbeg.
- Church plant growth in The Glen
- A St Finnian’s Life Group providing a cookery course for residents in a Simon Community Hostel.
Bishop Harold invited Bishop Ken Clarke to sum up the day.
He said: “The three words I’m taking away with me today are privilege, thanksgiving and growth. The bishop said there’s no greater privilege than to preach the Word of God and I honestly think we’re going away sensing it’s been a privilege to be here.
“We’ve heard about the priority of God’s Word, the care of God’s world, and the building up of God’s people. We’ve heard about new initiatives, stepping out, creative projects. One of the phrases I’m taking away is, “Build it and they will come”. So step out in faith, take the risks and obey God.”