NEWS

Moderator: Shortlist to succeed Dr Bruce unveiled

20.1.2022 | General Assembly, Moderator, Church Life, Presbytery News.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) announced today the names of four ministers that will go before the Church’s 19 regional presbyteries on 1 February, when they meet to select the all-Ireland denomination’s next Moderator.

Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland explained that in February of last year, Dr David Bruce became the first Moderator since 1894 to serve a second consecutive term, his having been the only name forwarded by presbyteries for formal consideration. This year, however, presbyteries will have a choice of four potential nominees for the post of Moderator of the General Assembly for the year 2022-2023.

The names of the four ministers who will be considered for nomination when presbyteries meet at different locations across Ireland are:

Rev John Kirkpatrick Dip Th (PTFI), BSc (NUU)

John Kirkpatrick has been minister of Portrush Presbyterian Church since 1993. Born in 1956, John was ordained assistant minister of Megain/Mersey St Presbyterian Churches, Belfast in 1985, before being installed as minister of Garryduff Presbyterian in 1987.


Rev Dr Colin McClure BSc (QUB), BD (QUB), MSSc (QUB), D Min (PTFI)

Colin McClure has been minister of First Larne Presbyterian Church since 2003. Born in 1962, he was ordained assistant minister of Fisherwick Presbyterian Church, Belfast in 1990 and installed as minister of Loughbrickland and Scarva Presbyterian Churches in 1993. Colin was convener of PCI’s Personnel / Planning Committee (2000-2004) and State Education Committee (2010-2014). He has been Clerk of the Presbytery of Carrickfergus since 2014.


Rev Dr Trevor McCormick, BA (CNAA), BD (QUB), D Min (Covn)

Trevor McCormick was installed as minister of First Kilrea Presbyterian Church in 1986 and with Boveedy Presbyterian (Stated Supply) in 2009. Born in 1958, he was ordained assistant minister of First Carrickfergus Presbyterian Church in 1984. Trevor was convener of the Presbyterian Residential Trust Committee (1996-2003) and PCI’s Council for Social Witness (2015-2020). He has been Clerk of the Presbytery of Coleraine & Limavady since 2016.


Rev Alastair McNeely, BA (UU), BD (QUB)

Alastair McNeely was ordained assistant minister of Ebrington Presbyterian Church in 1991. He was called to Richhill Presbyterian Church in 1993, where he has served as minister for nearly 30 years. Alastair was born in 1962.


Reflecting on the last time presbyteries met for this purpose, Mr Gribben said, “In February 2020, when presbyteries ‘met normally’ and nominated David Bruce for what was to be his first term as Moderator, no one knew what was just around the corner, and how the pandemic would impact so much of our lives, including the process of electing our Moderator the following year.

“I genuinely give thanks to God, that the rhythm of our church life is gradually returning, and once more ministers and elders from our 500-plus congregations the length and breadth of this island can come together to prayerfully select a colleague to be nominated as our next Moderator,” Mr Gribben said.

Made up of ministers and elders drawn from local congregations in a particular area, each presbytery meets between five and eight times a year and is responsible for overseeing those congregations in their local area. While undertaking other important tasks, by convention the annual selection of the minister who will be proposed to the General Assembly as Moderator, takes place on the first Tuesday in February.

The process to find PCI’s Moderator begins in the late autumn, when members of presbyteries begin to suggest the names of ministers who they would like to see considered. The Clerk of the General Assembly then approaches those on this ‘long list’ to see if they would be willing to have their names go forward to the next stage in February.

Mr Gribben explained that any of this year’s four names may be proposed, seconded and voted on in a presbytery. If more than one is proposed and seconded the presbytery will continue to vote by secret ballot until one name has received the majority support of those voting. That minister then becomes the person for whom that presbytery has registered their vote. The minister who receives the support of most presbyteries becomes Moderator-Designate, and will be nominated to the General Assembly for election as Moderator.

The Clerk concluded by saying, “Having been elected for a second term by the October 2021 General AssemblyDr Bruce told us that he sincerely hoped that the extension of Moderatorial terms of service would not become ‘habit forming.’ In sharing that hope, I look forward to working with whoever succeeds David this coming June, as they continue to serve the Lord Jesus Christ by taking on this important role in the life and ministry of PCI. As always, they will certainly be deserving of our prayers.”

The name of the Moderator-Designate will announced on the evening of 1 February. They will then be formally proposed to the General Assembly as Moderator for the year 2022-2023, when it meets on Wednesday, 22 June 2022.


PCI podcast reaches milestone

17.1.2022 | Congregational Life, Ministry, Church Life, Resources, COVID-19 Emergency.

One of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) digital resources reaches a significant milestone today with the release of PCI’s 50th episode in its ‘Refined’ podcast series.

The Refined digital hub was created to support and develop congregational life and witness across the all-Ireland denomination during first lockdown in March 2020, when the familiar rhythms of church life had been turned upside down.

Initially under the banner ‘These Three Remain: Stories of Faith, Hope & Love’the bundle of resources made available at the time sought to draw together practical examples of how congregations were responding to the lockdown and the unprecedented challenges of continuing ministry and mission at the time. Today, the Refined hub on the PCI website continues to provide a range of updated content that is focused on supporting congregations and their members in responding to the impact of the pandemic.

Explaining the background to the podcast series, Rev David Thompson, Secretary for PCI’s Council for Congregational Life and Witness, which has responsibility for resourcing PCI’s 500-plus congregations said, “While the disruption of the pandemic to church life at all levels has seen so much coming apart, it’s good to step back and see how God has also been at work bringing new things together.

“The podcast series was born as an agile response to a moment when we could not be together in church and in person, but even as those restrictions have eased the podcast has become an ongoing expression of our togetherness in heart, mind and spirit as the family of Irish Presbyterians,” David Thompson said.

The first episode, which was hosted by PCI’s discipleship development officer, Rick Hill, aired on 1 April 2020. For the first of the weekly podcasts three ministers, two from churches in Belfast and one from County Monaghan, joined him to talk about how their congregations were adapting given that churches were closed and activities have ceased.

Lasting between 30-45 minutes, since then he as hosted the majority of the now fortnightly podcasts, with colleagues Ruth Bromley, PCI’s Children’s Development Officer, Graeme Thompson, Youth Development Officer, Neil Harrison, Mission Development Officer and Sarah Harding, editor of the Presbyterian Herald, also hosting a number of episodes.

Together they have been joined by over 120 guests from inside and outside of PCI, in conversations ranging from mental health, parenting in a pandemic, and rebuilding community in congregations, to making the most of small church groups, engaging with the Bible, children’s ministry, climate change and supporting people in a crisis. With over 400 listens per episode, the podcasts to date have attracted nearly 22,000 individual listens since the first one aired in April 2020.

Since then, ministers, church staff and volunteers from congregations across Ireland, global mission workers, the Moderator and Clerk of the General Assembly, to name but a few, have contributed to over 32 hours of discussion. Thanking everyone involved, Rev David Thompson said, “Across the first 50 episodes the podcast has been a place in which a conversation across the whole church has been hosted, with a rich variety of voices from around PCI, and beyond.

“Each podcast has sought to encourage listeners to look to God for grace, joy and hope in this unusual season of life. The conversation about how we develop the podcast medium further is already under way and I have no doubt that it will continue to flourish in the future.”

Episode 50, which is out today, is entitled ‘Renew: Our vision for reaching the lost’. Neil Harrison is in conversation with Donna Jennings from Evangelical Alliance NI and James Cochrane, PCI Global Mission Worker in Porto, Portugal. Together they share their insights into the growing cultural gap between church and society and discuss how this makes it more difficult to reach new people with the gospel.

You can listen to the 50th podcast here. All episodes of the Refined podcast series can be found on here on audioboom.com. This feed also contains audio from various PCI addresses, lectures and events. Listeners can subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, TuneIn, RSS, or other audio streaming services by searching for ‘Podcasts from the Presbyterian Church’.

Photos (1) some of the episodes in the Refined podcast series that have aired on audioboom.com since April 2020 showing the contributors in each podcast (2) Episode #50 with left to right Neil Harrison, James Cochrane and Donna Jennings.


To PCI Ministers in Congregations in Northern Ireland, along with Vacancy Conveners, Stated Supplies & Clerks of Presbytery.

Dear Colleagues,

I trust you coping in the busyness of this period. Just like any other family, manse families know all of the joy, hustle and hassle of Christmas. However, this particular season in the church year brings its extra level of stress to ministers, especially in the midst of a Covid19 pandemic. Like many families throughout PCI, a number of manse families have been facing up to Covid infection and its aftermath – our thoughts and prayers are especially with you at this time. All of us in ministry are no doubt also anxious about what the coming days and weeks might bring, with the anticipated rise in infection levels here in Northern Ireland.

During this past week therefore, we have been engaging with officials and having many conversations, culminating today in a meeting that I and other church leaders had with the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Prof Sir Michael McBride, and the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA), Prof Ian Young. Let me say at the very outset that in the midst of all that is going on, this was a very positive and affirming engagement. I’m writing this evening to share with you some salient points from that meeting.

A challenging fact:

  1. Though the level of infection of the Delta variant of coronavirus is still at a very high level in Northern Ireland, through a combination of vaccinations and mitigations we are in what was described as “a relatively good place.” However, the new Omicron variant of coronavirus is rapidly spreading at an exponential rate and will shortly be the dominant variant. It is at least 2.5 times more transmissible/infectious and will lead to a greatly increased level of infections over the next few weeks, likely peaking in mid-January. Though infection with the Omicron variant may be less severe for many (but this is not yet confirmed) the significant increase in the numbers infected is really concerning.

Some welcome affirmations:

  1. Both the CMO and CSA spoke very positively about the sense of responsibility that has been displayed by most churches. The procedures and precautions put in place to minimise and mitigate risk have, they said, been well thought through and effective. The message is not to ‘close down’, but rather to have in place the wise precautions necessary to keep going, while at the same time considering if in the current circumstances there are some meetings and events that might not be a priority.
  1. Church representatives stressed the importance and vital nature of in-person gatherings for worship. The CMO and CSA responded positively and agreed. They stressed that far from advocating the closure of services of worship, both of them strongly believed that there was significant benefit in services worship, in safe settings and forms, continuing to be held. They encourage churches to ‘keep on keeping on’, exercising wisdom and paying particular attention to the measures and mitigations we already have in place:
  • Encourage members not to come to services or other meetings if they have (or think they might have) any of the symptoms of Covid-19, or are just generally feeling unwell.
  • In all services of worship everyone aged 13 and over, apart from those exempted, must wear face coverings on entry and exit and during the entire service, apart from when leading from the front.
  • Small groups leading singing from the front do not have to wear face coverings when singing, but should be a minimum of 4 metres from the front row of the congregation and ideally a minimum of 2 metres from each other.
  • Maintain a minimum of 1 metre social distancing between household groupings (or very slightly less between fixed pews), with a greater distance being better if possible in local situations.
  • Good signage, encouraging social distancing, along with hand sanitising facilities.
  • Ensure that the building is as well ventilated as possible – open windows and doors and encourage people to wear warm clothes, coats etc.
  1. Again both the CMO and the CSA stressed the importance of pastoral care during the incoming period. They clearly indicated that, while routine pastoral visiting should not be seen as a priority in the incoming weeks, in person visitation was possible when it was felt necessary and appropriate. Wise precautions should be taken – social distancing, small numbers in a room, good ventilation etc.
  1. It was also emphasised to us that the sort of ‘caring ministries’ carried out by churches are important at this time. The CMO said clearly that ‘these should continue’. This includes organisations that enable people, who otherwise could be isolated, to relate to others in a safe setting and form (face-coverings, social distancing, large room, good ventilation, hand sanitisation etc). These sorts of meetings can resume in the new year, though wisdom should be exercised regarding specific gatherings as the situation continues to evolve. In that regard, we need to consider the following questions:
  • ‘What are the priorities with regard to in-person meetings and activities?’
  • ‘Can some things be held outside, or perhaps in a much larger well ventilated room/hall than normal?’
  • ‘What might we be wise to leave out?’ – not every meeting or organisation needs to take place, especially during the month of January and perhaps February.
  • ‘Might a phased return to activities after the Christmas break be wise?’
  1. The CMO and CSA recommended that ministers (and indeed other pastoral visitors) should takea Lateral Flow Test before commencing a day’s visiting, or generally moving from one setting to another. This is a wise precaution to take over the coming number of weeks – Lateral Flow Test Kits are free of charge and easily obtainable in Northern Ireland (see www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/free-rapid-lateral-flow-tests-available-collection).

It was also indicated that it would be a useful additional precaution to encourage leaders and others with an ‘upfront role’ in activities to take a Lateral Flow Test in advance e.g. the welcome team at church, those who will be moving about serving/assisting others etc. However, there was and is no general requirement or even recommendation for the use of Lateral Flow Tests for access to Church services and activities. Indeed, the officials recognised that many older people would struggle to use such tests and they could therefore be a barrier to the positive benefits of corporate worship and fellowship in a safe setting and form. Likewise there was clarity that there should be no requirement for ‘proof of vaccination’ for access to worship and that this was not under consideration.

These are challenging days and we are going into a particularly challenging period which is likely to last for the next month or so. However, I was struck this morning by the positive nature and tone of our engagement with the CMO and CSA. I was anxious about what we were going to hear, and indeed how I was going to pass that onto you! However, there was a genuine recognition of the important part that churches play in society and an affirmation of the benefit of worship, fellowship and pastoral care for the spiritual and mental well-being of men, women, young people and children. Far from simple warnings of doom and gloom, there was a sense of looking forward to better days, when much of what we are now facing will be past. This was combined with an encouragement not to ‘shut down’, but rather to be wise as we seek to carry on making a difference, in ways that are as safe as possible.

Yes, of course things can a bit depressing as we listen to the news (perhaps we should use the off button a bit more), and things also are likely to worsen over the next few weeks. But let us not despair as those who have no hope. We are people of hope, because ultimately we have come to know the hope that is in Jesus Christ. At this Christmas season, and in the weeks immediately after, let us of course be wise in our measures and mitigations, as we and our fellow leaders seek to keep our people safe. But let us also declare in Word and Worship that the Light has come and that the darkness has not overcome it – so that our people might know the Light of the World who alone is our hope. I know that we believe this – but let’s be sure our people hear it, even as we talk about our necessary mitigations, and see it as we give positive, encouraging and wise leadership in these days.

May God bless you and your people this Christmas,

Rev Trevor D Gribben

Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
17th December 2021.

PCI centenary initiative goes ‘Beyond these Steps’

21.12.2021 | Church in Society, Public Affairs, Commemorations, Resources.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) is continuing to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland with a series of four seminars, the first of which has taken place in Ballykeel Presbyterian Church. The seminars explore the themes introduced at PCI’s principle centenary event, ‘On these Steps’, which was held in September at Union Theological College in Belfast.

Entitled ‘Beyond these steps – reflecting on challenges and opportunities for the next 100 years’, the seminars are primarily aimed at the Presbyterian community in Ireland. Taken together, all four forums will provide a framework for an internal conversation that seeks to recognise the shared history that there is on the island of Ireland, while promoting a thoughtful and open dialogue within the denomination itself.

The seminars will focus on different audiences from young adults and border communities to urban, working class, loyalist communities – the latter being the focus of the Ballykeel seminar. The final event will involve key decision makers within PCI. Learning from each of the previous three seminars will feed into this final session, with discussion centred on what challenges the Church’s reflections on the centenary might have for it and how they might be addressed in light of changing relationships on the island of Ireland, and between the rest of the UK and the island of Ireland.

Rev Dr Tony Davidson, convener of PCI’s Peace and Reconciliation Panel, which is organising the seminars, said that he was looking forward to the series and that the Ballykeel seminar set a high standard. “From 1921, for 11 years, PCI’s Union Theological College was home to the Parliament of Northern Ireland before it moved to Stormont. A century on, we wanted to acknowledge the role that the College played in the momentous events of 100 years ago with a special event there,” he said.

In holding ‘On these Steps’ in September, we had a broader aim beyond the commemorative, as we wanted to provide a space to reflect respectfully on how we deal with the legacy of our shared past and how it affects current relationships today. In doing so, it was also an opportunity to hear different perspectives and build relationships while looking in hope to a shared future.”

Dr Davidson continued, “During the event we heard the views of political representatives from across the UK, Ireland and locally on this significant anniversary. We also heard a wide-ranging and thought-provoking address that spoke to all traditions represented at the event from our Moderator, Dr Bruce, while Professor Ian McBride presented an historical perspective. As we embark on ‘Beyond these Steps’, we want to explore through these seminars the themes that came out of September’s event with the wider Irish Presbyterian community.”

The first seminar involved a dialogue with a panel of three ministers working in urban, working class, loyalist communities across Northern Ireland and Debbie Watters of the restorative justice programme, Alternatives NI. Rev Dr Martin McNeely, minister of Ballykeel Presbyterian Church, welcomed just over 30 key listeners within the denomination and other interested parties to his church to reflect on how the events of 100 years ago still play out in regard to political and community expression.

He was also joined by Rev Dave Clawson, minister of West Kirk Presbyterian Church on the Shankill Road in Belfast and Rev Dr John Coulter of Ballysally Presbyterian in Coleraine. The panellists also looked at current opportunities and challenges faced by Protestant unionist loyalist communities.

Dr Davidson explained that the remaining seminars would take place in the New Year. “As we begin to go beyond the steps of Union College with these events, I was very encouraged by our first one in Ballykeel. During our time together, I read from Isaiah 61, which is often read during this Advent season. In verse four it says, ‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.’

“Throughout this process, we want to listen and reflect on what that may mean in the different contexts we will be exploring together, in the streets, houses, schools and estates like Ballykeel. As we reflect together, we seek to remember truthfully, therapeutically and helpfully in an attempt to use this anniversary constructively, so that in Jesus’ name, we may see the outline of a better future.”

On these Steps was livestreamed from Union Theological College on 17 September. You can watch the recording of the event, from 10 minutes & 35 seconds, here.

Photos (1) Rev Dr Tony Davidson, convener of PCI’s Peace and Reconciliation Panel, welcomes panellists and participants to the seminar and gives a brief overview of ‘On these Steps’ (2) Left to right, seminar chair, Jaren Jardine, PCI’s public affairs officer, Rev Dave Clawson, minister of West Kirk Presbyterian Church, Belfast, Rev Dr John Coulter of Ballysally Presbyterian Church, Coleraine, Debbie Watters, Alternatives NI, and Rev Dr Martin McNeely, minister of Ballykeel Presbyterian Church (3) Following the seminar participants and panellists visited Ballykeel Primary Schook at the heart of the estate where principal, Mrs Sheeran, talked about the school and the local community it served.


Moderator’s 2021 Christmas Message

16.12.2021 | Moderator, Statements, Christmas, COVID-19 Emergency.

In his Christmas Message, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, recalls the time earlier this year when he was asked if he had a theme for his second year in office. On finding out it was ‘Hope’ his inquirer responded, “Hope? Catch yourself on!”

Dr Bruce writes that “At the time, we were living through one of the most hopeless moments in our history…” citing how the pandemic was not going away, businesses were under threat of closure, the health service north and south, were under enormous pressure, and how the big issues facing political leaders in both jurisdictions often appeared to be impossible to resolve – “all this and more”, he says, “might suggest there is no hope for the future. I beg to differ.”

Dr Bruce reminds us that the Christmas story is “saturated with hope” and how hope is the very “essence of Christmas” – from the hope Mary experienced as a young teenage mum through her an unexpected pregnancy, to how the young couple never gave up, or lost their vision for the future on the run from Herod. “Hope kept them going – and they survived, eventually returning home to their village, where their son Jesus would grow up.”

Then as now, for people of faith like Mary and Joseph, the Moderator says that “hope is not mere wishful thinking. Hope is the realistic and gritty trust that promises made by God, will be kept. It strengthens your back, lengthens your stride and lifts your head. It focuses your eye, gives you ears to hear and eyes to see that God has not gone away – even in these exceptionally challenging and uncertain times.”

Dr Bruce concludes his Christmas Message, “At Christmas, it is as if God whispers in our ear – “catch yourself on…” and through this astonishing act of love from Bethlehem, flows all the power that gives us hope for the future. Happy Christmas.”

Full text of the Moderator’s 2021 Christmas Message
“Catch yourself on…There is Hope”

When I started my year as Moderator, I was asked if I had a theme. “Yes”, I said. “My theme is Hope!” “Hope? Catch yourself on” they said. At the time, we were living through one of the most hopeless moments in our history.  Furlough payments were being reduced and would soon end. Businesses were under threat of closure. The pandemic was not going away. People were dying in hospital. The health services, north and south, were under enormous pressure. There was even violence on the streets of Belfast, where buses were burning. hope? Really?

The big issues facing our political leaders might appear to be impossible to resolve. The future of the Northern Ireland Protocol; legacy of the northern troubles; A delicate coalition in Dublin; Managing Covid-19; the challenges to community mental health; the strained relations between governments across all these islands, to say nothing of international tensions, migration and the perennial threat of war – all this and more might suggest there is no hope for the future. I beg to differ.

The Christmas story is saturated with Hope. Mary was a young teenage mum, far from home and uncertain about the future. But she insisted “God has remembered me… he took one good look at me, and see what happened! I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!” Hope transformed a tough time dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, into a deep blessing. Later, to save their baby’s life, the young couple fled their home becoming refugees on the run. But they never gave up, or lost their vision for the future. Hope kept them going – and they survived, eventually returning home to their village, where their son Jesus would grow up.

For people of faith, hope is not mere wishful thinking. Hope is the realistic and gritty trust that promises made by God, will be kept. It strengthens your back, lengthens your stride and lifts your head. It focuses your eye, gives you ears to hear and eyes to see that God has not gone away – even in these exceptionally challenging and uncertain times.

Hope is the essence of Christmas. This year I had the privilege of visiting the Ulster Memorial Tower at Thiepval in northern France. It commemorates the courage and sacrifice of so many thousands who fought and died in the sheer carnage of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Earlier, in that first war-torn Christmas of 1914, it is well known that the guns fell silent and just for a time, British and German soldiers came out of their trenches and met in no-man’s land to exchange gifts, and even play football together.

This informal truce continued for several days. War ceased. Peace reigned. It was miraculous. When we catch ourselves on, and think about what truly matters to God and each other, war can cease – the guns can fall silent, as they largely have in Northern Ireland. God steps in. We catch ourselves on. There is hope.

I love Ireland, in all its parts because it is my home. But I hate our short-sightedness which pushes kids on to the streets to burn buses, and I lament our evident lack of capacity to see common humanity in the ‘other’. At Christmas, it is as if God whispers in our ear – “catch yourself on…” and through this astonishing act of love from Bethlehem, flows all the power that gives us hope for the future. Happy Christmas.

As we prepare to welcome family and friends to our homes – ‘bubbling’ safely within the necessary restrictions – let us be open-handed so that the blessings we have received can be generously shared. As we also remember those who can’t be with us this year, let us remember and celebrate, even in these dark, yet hope-filled days, the birth of the one who is the light of the world.

         Rt Rev Dr David Bruce Moderator Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Lisburn County Antrim 16 December 2021