Covering County Antrim and part of County Londonderry, the Diocese of Connor is one of the busiest and most populated dioceses in the Church of Ireland. There are two cathedrals in the diocese; Christ Church Cathedral Lisburn is the Cathedral Church of Connor, and St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast, is shared with the Diocese of Down and Dromore. The Diocese of Connor is also home to three universities – Queen’s University, Belfast; the University of Ulster at Coleraine and Jordanstown; and Stranmillis College.
Included in the diocese is North and West Belfast which contains the Shankill road area of the city. This area is one of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland and has suffered more than most from sectarian violence, with over 1,000 people killed in a two square mile radius. This has left a legacy of hopelessness within the local community. There is a massive educational under-achievement issue and a culture of drug/alcohol abuse together with a large suicide rate particularly among young people.
In the 21st century, all churches are facing similar challenges across most inner cities. How to engage and most importantly help those on our doorstep who are suffering from social hardships? To help the local parishes, the diocese, in partnership with the Church Army, set up a Centre of Mission in the heart of the community on the Shankill road.
This initiative came out of a desire to try something different, to re-engage with the community and to do so through the parishes, who may have wanted to reach out but lacked the resources to do so themselves. The support and partnerships we have with different organisations within the Centre of Mission has given us the ability to reach more people than we ever could have by ourselves and has encouraged the local parishes to engage with their local communities through several different ways.
The Centre of Mission team, consisting of a development officer, two evangelists, a children’s officer and a youth officer, have developed several partnership programmes aimed particularly at the most vulnerable young people in society.
Transforming Lives for Good (TLG) is an organisation and programme which works with struggling or under-privileged children in the area who are at risk from exclusion from school. This is done in a partnership between the team and the school. TLG intervenes in these children’s lives to bring care, education and support in one-to-one mentoring with our staff. This mentoring project also impacts on the families of the young people and provides them with much needed support as they try to deal with all the issues around exclusion from school.
Baby basics is another partner organisation within the Centre of Mission with the aim of supporting new, single mothers, some of whom may still be children themselves. Baby basics links up with midwives in the area and arranges to deliver a Moses basket to the new mother, containing all the things that a new-born would need.
Baby Basics also helps female asylum seekers who may be vulnerable, as well as women who may be victims of domestic abuse. This project is supported by parishes across the diocese who supply all the baby clothes, blankets, etc. In this last year, this project has helped over 60 mums in the local area.
Although the Centre of Mission is based in North Belfast, it serves as a template for parishes across the diocese and indeed the Church of Ireland.
Underpinning all the work of the project is solid missional values, with the local church spearheading engagement with the most vulnerable, helping them at their point of need and sharing the love of God in their lives in real and practical ways.
CONTACT: Trevor Douglas, Connor Diocese Development Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org