In the first of a new series, The Impartial Reporter talks to local religious leaders and people of faith. Here, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Ian Ellis, Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher, shares insights into his own belief, his role, and how his faith has shaped and directed his life.

Can you share with us your personal journey of faith and how it has evolved over the years?

I was brought up within a traditional Church of Ireland family; we were parishioners of 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 the same time as my confirmation and so was very significant – a time of commitment and confirming what had begun at my baptism.

What does your faith mean to you, and how does it influence your daily life and decisions?

Followers of Jesus Christ are ‘disciples’ – in the original Greek language of the New Testament, that is mathetes, or ‘a learner’ (we get our word, 'mathematics', from it).

Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Follow me’; Christian faith is about following Jesus Christ through each day of your life.

Every day will present challenges and learning opportunities – our goal is to allow the mind of Christ our Saviour to live within us and direct our path.

How do you find solace and comfort in your faith during challenging times or difficult situations?

Clergy can find themselves dealing with many complex and challenging life situations. You share with your parishioners in their joys and sorrows.

It can be particularly tough in times of great suffering or loss.

Clergy are often called upon to stand in places where others are unable to stand, and say what others are unable to express.

Words often fail, and being with people in terrible times is often all we can offer.

When I have been in difficult situations, I offer a prayer that God will be with me and to inspire my thoughts and words and to strengthen me in my weakness.

That verse from Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ is one in which I find great reassurance.

Also, there is a line from a poem that I find helpful to say to myself: ‘I steadier step when I recall, that though I slip, though dost not fall’.

Could you describe some of the most significant moments or experiences that have strengthened your belief in your faith?

There are some beautiful places in County Fermanagh where the majesty of the scenery evoke awe and wonder of God the creator – I feel that for sure at the viewpoint at Lough Navar, for example, or atop Cuilcagh mountain on a clear day.

I find as I visit many of the parish churches in this diocese, they provide wonderful spaces to enjoy the peace and presence of God.

The occasions of my ordination as deacon and priest over 30 years ago, and my consecration as a bishop in 2021, were very significant moments where the offering of my weak human commitment was strengthened by the grace of God for service in His Church.

Those were amazing moments of nearness to the presence of God.

Who or what do you typically pray for, and how does prayer impact your life and mindset?

A very common help in prayer is to use the ACTS method – Adoration of God, Confession of our sinfulness and seeking forgiveness, Thanksgiving for the many good things we have, Supplication or asking for those things we need the help of God to achieve.

This pattern of prayer helps set priorities and helps me to be less selfish!

I once read that prayer is really a transforming friendship with God our heavenly Father, whose will we seek to find.

I have found over the years that prayer changes the one who prays, and helps me discern what it really is I need changed in my life.

What rituals or practices do you follow in your faith, and how do they contribute to your sense of belonging and connection?

Christian faith is a daily walk following Jesus Christ, and so it is important to find time for prayer, and reflection on scripture or some other spiritual reading to keep close to Him.

I try to begin each day at my desk with some moments for devotion.

In our Church of Ireland tradition, we have a wonderful devotional resource in the Book of Common Prayer, and it is a practice of many Anglicans to read the Daily Office, or Morning Prayer.

Usually, each Sunday I try to attend a service of Holy Communion, as this provides a special opportunity to be united with Christ in the sacrament.

For many years now I have found the Christian classic book on prayer, entitled 'A Diary of Private Prayer' by John Baillie, a great inspiration to my personal prayer life.

How has your faith community played a role in supporting and nurturing your spiritual beliefs?

When I look back, there were so many influences – parents, clergy, my aunt who was also my Sunday School Superintendent, youth leaders, and teachers.

I am so grateful for all who have helped me on my journey of faith.

I think that the church should always have a strong focus on engaging children and young people in faith and spiritual development.

Pastoral care of families is an important feature of the mission of the church, and historically is one of the strengths of the Church of Ireland.

In society today, there is an increasing number of people with little or no connection with church.

This has been recognised by our church, and we have begun an initiative called Pioneer Ministry to help parishes reach out and make better connections with those we are currently not reaching.

Can you recall your earliest memories of faith and how they have shaped your understanding of spirituality?

See above.

Has there been a particular event or encounter that profoundly impacted your faith journey?

A landmark moment in my life was when I sensed the call of God towards ordination.

It came very simply through hearing a letter read out in church from the bishop appealing for people to consider that God might be calling them to ministry in the church.

I felt as though God was directly addressing me in that open letter.

It was the beginning of a faith journey of change in my life as I eventually left my career in teaching to begin training for ordained ministry in the Church of Ireland.

It was a big step of faith for Heather and I, and after selection for training I resigned from my teaching post and began life as a student in the Theological College in Dublin.

Those were challenging years, as I left Heather in Lisburn with our first child, and only returned for weekends – Heather has always been amazingly supportive, and God did meet our personal needs and guided our paths at many perplexing moments!

How do you navigate the intersection between your faith and the modern world, particularly in matters of ethics and morality?

In our Anglican way of making moral or ethical decisions, we use scripture, tradition, and reason.

We look at the scriptures as a foundation for decisions for living and aim to interpret them with integrity.

We then reflect on how the church has traditionally understood and responded to the issue, and because we believe God has given us minds for reasoning, we pray for the Holy Spirit to help us think out a balanced response to the problems of today.

Often there may be a range of responses to issues, and we seek to find a consensus.

As a bishop, I have a special duty to seek unity where there is a division of opinion, and that is not easy at times.

Are there any specific scriptures, texts, or teachings that hold deep significance for you? If so, what aspects resonate most strongly?

I have always found a verse from the book of Proverbs really helpful: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.

Of course, the Gospels in particular are golden books to read, which tell us of the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

How has your faith influenced your perspective on life, purpose, and the greater meaning of existence?

Jesus said that he came "that they may have life, life in all its fullness”, John 10:10.

I have discovered that a life of faith or trust in Him brings a wholeness to life.

I believe we are created for an eternal relationship with our heavenly Father, and we find that through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Through His death and resurrection, He holds out gifts of grace – forgiveness and assurance of a life to come in the divine presence.

Many people search for meaning and significance in life – some have described an inner emptiness like the space at the centre of a shaving of wood.

I have found that a simple childlike trust in Christ has filled that space for me, and my life has meaning, direction, and purpose.

The prayer of St. Augustine is very profound: "O God, thou has made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee".