Build-up of CoI hierarchy changes in Ulster dioceses

The Church of Ireland hierarchy in Northern Ireland has seen significant changes over the past year with vacancies for bishops in all four of its Ulster dioceses arising in an unusually short space of time.

Saturday, 1st August 2020, 7:00 am
The Right Reverend John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh

The appointment earlier this year of the Rev John McDowell to the all-Ireland primacy and archbishopric of Armagh to succeed the Rev Dr Richard Clarke has left a vacancy for bishop in Clogher diocese.

However, this is expected to be filled at a meeting of a church electoral college in St Macartin’s cathedral, Enniskillen on September 2.

The new bishop of Connor - the church’s largest diocese taking in a large part of Belfast and Co Antrim - will have a new bishop with the consecration of Carrickfergus rector the Rev George Davison at a service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh on September 3. Mr Davison replaces Bishop Alan Abernethy, who retired in 2019 due to ill-health.

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Last year, Dungannon man the Rev Andrew Forster took up office in Londonderry and Co Donegal as bishop of Derry and Raphoe to succeed the Rev Ken Good, who also retired.

In January this year, East Belfast rector the Rev David McClay was also consecrated as bishop of Down and Dromore, succeeding the Rev Harold Miller, another retiree.

It is unusual for the Church of Ireland to have so many changes of bishops in such a short period of time and, with the coronavirus pandemic and curtailment in cathedrals and churches, it is posing difficulties for church administrators in arranging special services.

“Archdeacon Davison was elected as bishop of Connor in February and it has been very unfortunate that the restrictions around assembly and movement have prevented a consecration service from taking place sooner,” said Primate McDowell.

Interestingly, Archbishop McDowell, while now residing in Armagh after a move from Clogher several months ago, has still to be consecrated and enthroned at a service in St Patrick’s cathedral. No date has yet been confirmed for this service.

Archbishop McDowell says that while it is likely that churches will still be operating under strict rules of social distancing until the autumn at least, attendance at special consecration services, like the one planned for bishop-elect Davison in Armagh, will be limited to family, close friends and colleagues.

He said there would be opportunity for a more expansive liturgical event at a future date in St Anne’s cathedral, Belfast.

A service would also be held in Lisburn Cathedral, which is in Connor diocese.