A former curate in Magheralin Parish Church has taken up a new role with the South American Mission Society.
Until last year, 66-year-old Ken Clarke was the Church of Ireland Bishop of Kilmore, Alphin and Ardagh, which covers counties Cavan, Leitrim, Sligo, Longford, Roscommon, a little of South Donegal and part of County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland.
However, in January of this year he began a new ministry as mission director of SAMS, or the South American Mission Society, following longstanding connections with and a deep interest in its work and in South America in general.
“SAMS is a wonderful mission agency which has been developing and evolving over many years,” explains Ken.
“It began through the inspiration of Captain Allen Gardiner, who died of starvation in 1851 on a remote beach in Tierra Del Fuego. He and his fellow missionaries were shipwrecked in one of the most remote parts of the world. They never even met the Indians they desired to share the Gospel with. It seemed their whole mission was a spectacular failure and yet out of their lives and deaths the South American Missionary Society was born.”
“My mother grew up near Clough, Co Antrim, and was a member of Clough Presbyterian Church,” recounts Ken.
“My father was a member of Willowfield Church of Ireland Parish until marrying my mum. My grandfather was sexton (caretaker) of Willowfield Parish for many years. I am an only child. Apart from the death of my father when I was eight years old, I have very happy memories of my childhood and teenage years. They were married in Glanmire Parish Church in Co Cork on June 26, 1971 and have four daughters and five “adorable” grandchildren.
However, it was many years before meeting his wife that Ken had decided that God must be his first love.
Ken says that since his conversion to Christ as a boy, he “sought to live a life of mission and service”. In June 1972 he was ordained to serve as a curate in Magheralin Parish Church. He served a second curacy in St Elizabeth’s, Dundonald, and in St Mary’s, Ballybeen.
“We then served in church planting work in Chile, and in January 1982 we moved to Crinken in Dublin,” says Ken, taking up the story.
“In April 1986 I was instituted rector of St Patrick’s Coleraine, where we lived for 15 years. In November 2000 I was elected Bishop of Kilmore Elphin and Ardagh.”
As well as his involvement in SAMS, Ken has experience of cross-cultural mission stretches across most continents and denominations, and has served in various mission engagements in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe.
And he adds with fervour: “My commitment to seeking first God’s Kingdom and His mission is as hot as ever.”
And there is one other high point of his walk with God which he shall never forget.
He reveals: “Thanks to the kindness of the Argentine Navy, I had the privilege of visiting the cave and beach where Captain Allen Gardiner died. I will never forget it.
“On the 15oth anniversary of his death it was deeply moving to share with a few others a short service of thanksgiving in a cold, damp cave in the southern tip of South America.