Rev Canon Ian Ellis is Church of Ireland Bishop-elect for Clogher. He is married to Heather and they have three grown-up children and three grandchildren.
Q. Can you tell us something about your background?
A. I am 63 and I was brought up in the Lisburn area, where my mother, Alice, still lives. My late father, James, was maintenance supervisor at the Lagan Valley Hospital. I attended Lisnagarvey High School and Friends' School Lisburn. I graduated from QUB with a physics degree and a PGCE and taught in Antrim Grammar School.
In 1986, I began training for ordination in the Church of Ireland, then was ordained for St Mark's Armagh in 1989 by Archbishop Robin Eames. I was rector of Loughgall and Grange parishes from 1991 to 2002, then secretary to the Church of Ireland Board of Education in Northern Ireland until 2015, when I was appointed rector of Rossorry parish in Clogher diocese. I am married to Heather and we have three adult children who are married and living in Dublin, London and Dumbarton in Scotland. We have three grandchildren. I also have a brother, Colin, who is an attorney at law and lives in LA.
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
A. I was brought up within a traditional Church of Ireland family in Eglantine parish in the Diocese of Connor. There I was baptised, went to Sunday School and was confirmed. I was nurtured in this cradle-Anglican way and came to understand in my early teens that faith has a personal element and that Jesus calls us individually to follow Him.
Happily, that stirring of faith occurred at roughly the same time as my confirmation and so was very significant - a time of commitment and confirming what had begun at my baptism. When I look back, there were so many influences and I am so grateful for all who have helped me on my faith journey.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis, or a gnawing doubt, about your faith?
A. If we are honest, there are days when the shadows darken our path of faith and questions arise, but we ultimately believe that light has conquered the darkness and, despite what is happening all around us, God is eternally loving. In Jesus, we have assurance that our lives are secure.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God and, if so, why?
A. In parish life, you come across pastoral situations which are very challenging, particularly the death of a young person, a terrible accident, or a degenerative disease. We naturally ask, "Why?" There is no easy answer, except to reflect that God has entered our messy world in Christ, who also experienced its cruelty and injustice. I believe He is present with us in times of darkness and suffering in a very real way to bring us hope and light.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. If we look back over the history of all our denominations, we can find episodes and attitudes which today we would approach differently.
We believe that the Holy Spirit moves in the course of history, so Churches should be open to challenge and transformation.
Q. Are you afraid to die?
A. No, when I am with parishioners in end-of-life settings, I encourage them to place their hand into the hand of Jesus and to entrust their lives to Him and not to fear. I apply that to myself, too. I find great comfort in Psalm 23: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." I do not pretend to understand how resurrection life will be, but I believe that our lives are "hidden with Christ in God" and as He is resurrected, then so shall we.
Q. Are the Churches here fulfilling their mission?
A. No Church is perfect, but each is responding to the call of Christ to follow Him and to make Him known in loving words and deeds. Organised religion often tends to fall into a trap of becoming focused on the institution and a bit complacent. At times, we need a good stock-take and to be willing to re-energise the vision - the coronavirus has forced us to rethink our core values.
Q. Why are so many turning their backs on organised religion?
A. Church is just one option in a plethora of lifestyle options - the Churches may have lost the ability to connect with people and the culture of today. Some onlookers have concluded that the Church is unattractive and irrelevant. That is a great challenge in reaching out to the wider community in ways that make faith real.
Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A. Some people believe that our Troubles were a religious war, but it is not as simple as that. The factors that contributed to the Troubles are complex and connect our history, religion and identity. Churches have a role in fostering peace and helping develop mutual respect and understanding.
This is especially important in our work in schools with the rising generation. There are Church representatives who serve as school governors and we can, with others, help shape a Christian ethos in a school community and encourage a shared approach to education.
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music?
A. I tend to fall asleep in the cinema. I keep coming back to the singer-songwriters of the 1970s, such as Paul Simon, and guitar-based groups of the 1980s ,like Dire Straits. I also play the guitar in an amateurish way. I find inspiration in poetry, especially our Irish poets - Yeats, Heaney and Longley.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. There are some beautiful places in Co Fermanagh, where the majesty of the scenery evokes awe and wonder of God the creator - the viewpoint at Lough Navar, for example, or on top of Cuilcagh mountain. I find Rossorry Church such a beautiful building in which to enjoy the peace and presence of God.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone, if any?
A. I haven't thought about that at all.
Q. Finally, have you any major regrets?
A. Many people have what Paul Simon calls a "catalogue of regrets".
However, someone once told me not to look to the past, because it is gone; tomorrow may never happen, we only have the present.
That's a helpful way to deal with regret and overthinking your life. I do, however, have a small regret that I gave up piano lessons too hastily.