About ten years ago there was an approach to our diocese made by the Irish diocese who were looking for a UK diocese to companion them. The Connor Diocese had already links with one in Sweden and we of course have similar ties with the Diocese of Dunedin in New Zealand.
After the initial suggestion, the relevant committees on both sides of the Irish Sea met to work out what such an agreement might involve – what each diocese could offer to the other, what scope there was for parish links to be made and what resources, skills and expertise might be shared.
In October, 2004 after much preparation and several reciprocal visits by the various committees, the formal agreement between the dioceses was signed – first in St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast and then the following Sunday in our own cathedral in Edinburgh.
It says a little about the nature and purpose of the venture.
What will this in practical terms mean for the future? Already there has been considerable sharing at diocesan level – in mission initiatives and in ideas on training. For example several of the Irish parishes have embarked on the Mission 21 programme. Other opportunities have already arisen for shared events – clergy conferences, retreats, youth gatherings.
But perhaps the most exciting development could be the links that will be forged between individual parishes and charges. Along with some other twenty charges in our diocese, St. Mary’s has expressed interest in taking this opportunity further. We have now been given the names of two suggested congregations in the Connor Diocese. These have been selected for us by a small group from each diocese working together with information from parish profiles and from the individuals’ local knowledge.
It’s now up to the parishes themselves to make contact, exchange information and then send a small group of folk on an exploratory day visit across the Irish Sea. After all the collecting of information, it’s then the decision of both charges whether to establish a link. Each link forged is individual with different facets, but it may mean that one of the congregations will invite folk over for a weekend one year and then there will be a reciprocal visit the next. Or it may be that your congregation twin is invited to something particular such as a joint retreat, a centenary event, the opening of a new hall etc. In the intervening time, there will be other contacts by email, phone or letter and one of the very important aspects may well be the developing informal friendships of individuals from each congregation.
[Extract from a sermon given in St. Mary’s Dalmahoy on 17 April 2005 about the companion link between the Diocese of Connor in Northern Ireland and the Diocese of Edinburgh.]