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Dad's gambling robbed us of our family home and I fought depression, reveals Church of Ireland bishop

By Rebecca Black

Published 14/03/2016

Rev Alan Abernethy
Rev Alan Abernethy
Rev Alan Abernethy with wife Liz

A Church of Ireland bishop has revealed how his father's gambling led to his family being kicked out of their home when the cleric was a child.

The Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, who is originally from east Belfast, also told how he had struggled with depression shortly after being appointed Bishop of Connor.

During a sermon on the theme of living with uncertainty, the 58-year-old cleric confessed that the Church can find it difficult to deal with "messy" personal situations.

His revelations were made during a moving sermon at St Peter's Church of Ireland in north Belfast and broadcast live on Radio Ulster yesterday morning.

Bishop Abernethy's parents separated after the family lost their home, and said at that difficult time the Church had not found it easy to "dispense with grace".

"The details of that day are very sketchy in my memory, although I do remember it was cloudy and dry," he said.

"My brother and I set out for school as normal assuming we would return to our home that evening. I was never to see inside of that house again.

"We were collected from school and brought to our grandparents' house next door to our school. We could walk out of the back door of our grandparents' house and be at one of the school gates."

When he was older the bishop learned more about what had actually happened that day, including his mother being confronted by bailiffs.

"Others tell me some of the details of this part of my life. My father had been gambling heavily for some time, and he had managed to work his way through the family inheritance he had received," he said.

"That particular morning the bailiffs arrived to inform my mum that we had lost our home because of my father's debts.

"She took the two of us to her parents and they were incredibly supportive and gave us a secure and loving environment.

"From a very young age I observed unwittingly that my mum, with strong, personal and gentle faith, remained humble and thankful for what she had. For her faith helped her at what must have been at times a lonely road.

"I also learned from an early age that having faith did not protect us from difficulties and that life could be painful and hard. However, it was also a strange realisation that the Church found it hard to cope with our situation - she and my father were separated through no fault of hers.

"As bishop, I do recognise the Church can find it difficult to deal with situations which are messy and untidy. The Church does not find it easy to dispense with grace. I know that from first-hand experience."

Bishop Abernethy also spoke about his recent struggle with depression.

"A few years after I was ordained bishop I found myself quite unwell, at first with gallstones, but then as I physically recovered I had to recognise I was struggling with a heavy heart and what I would describe as a bruised spirit," he said. "I was suffering from depression.

"I was given great help from my doctor, which included antidepressants and cognitive therapy.

"Recovery was slow and frustrating, but with the love of my family and the professional help I received and the countless prayers offered for me, I was able to return to work, but only after I had learnt some very important lessons."

St Peter's rector, Rev Brian Lacey, said because the service was being broadcast live on Radio Ulster there was not the usual congregation in the church during the sermon, simply the choir, himself, the bishop and the broadcasting team.

He paid tribute to the bishop's style of preaching, saying he often revealed sections of his life, and it was a style that very much worked for him.

Belfast Telegraph

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