Commissioning abortion: ‘regrettable & deplorable’

5.12.2022 | Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs.

Following Friday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that he has formerly commissioned abortion services, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), has described his decision as ‘not only deeply regrettable, but deplorable’, saying that ‘Mr Heaton-Harris has chosen to give life to the most destructive and liberal abortion regime in these islands’. The Church also expressed its astonishment at the lack of consistency on the part of the Secretary of State in choosing to take action in this particular area while leaving Permanent Secretaries to take unaccountable political decisions in most other areas.

Speaking following the latest development, Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church said, “Today, hard-pressed doctors and nurses begin a new week caring for people across a desperately under-funded and pressurised NHS in Northern Ireland, a week that also sees the dawn of fully commissioned and funded abortion services, following Friday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

“The fact that Mr Heaton-Harris has chosen to give life to the most destructive liberal abortion regime in these islands is not only deeply regrettable, but deplorable. It is a sad and distressing day for everyone who values the sanctity of life, and is devastating for those who will not live to experience it,” Mr Gribben said.

“There are many challenges facing Northern Ireland and its Health Service in particular, including lengthy waiting lists, staff recruitment and retention, and other services that are under resourced. It is particularly curious to note that no interventions appear to be forthcoming in these areas – no ‘ring-fencing’ of resources for the real priorities of those who work in and are served by our NHS.

“Given the pressures on education, within the police service, infrastructure projects, and with the energy support payment still not available to people in Northern Ireland, it is not only astonishing, but also deeply disappointing, that the Secretary of State has taken this decision while seemingly unable to take others around the prioritisation of budgets, passing what is a political responsibility instead on to Permanent Secretaries.”

Mr Gribben continued, “We recognise that women, their partners and families, do not take decisions about terminating a pregnancy lightly. We note therefore that the Secretary of State has not ring-fenced resources to actually support women and their families experiencing a pregnancy crisis situation, or care for mothers carrying children who have been diagnosed with life-limiting conditions, or for women experiencing mental ill-health during pregnancy or after giving birth. Neither has thought been given to support the provision of comprehensive perinatal care services that involve practical, emotional and spiritual support for women.

“Whether the Secretary of State was obliged to take this action now is debatable and a matter of interpretation. We should not forget that 79% of people responding to the UK Government’s 2019 abortion proposals opposed the introduction of these measures,” Mr Gribben remarked.

“Not only have these developments been an abuse of the fragile devolution settlement, but their genesis came about by a shameful manipulation of the democratic processes of the House of Commons in 2019, facilitated by the then Speaker. It is worth noting that in the recent debates on the latest Northern Ireland Executive Formation etc Bill, amendments relating to this matter were correctly rejected by the current Speaker of the House of Commons, a notable departure from the actions of his predecessor.”

Mr Gribben concluded by saying, “There are many staff across the health and social care sector who will not want to participate in the abortion process for reasons of conscience – Christian staff, those of other faiths and none. There appears to be little guidance, or instruction in this regard. Perhaps the Secretary of State has not had time in his busy schedule to address these particular and very real concerns.

“Many people today will be rightly angry that the Secretary of State has prioritised the commissioning of abortion services in the midst of an economic crisis. The result will be the creation of a ‘new normal’ in Northern Ireland, with the implementation of the most extreme abortion regime across these islands. As a Church with a strong pro-life position we want to make clear that this is not only an affront to democracy, but also to the sacredness of life.

“Finally, it is ironic that these services have been commissioned by the Secretary of State in the run up to Christmas – a time when we remember that a baby was born who went on to change the world in ways that continue to unfold. It is devastating to think that, as a result of this announcement, there are many other babies who will never have an opportunity to realise their full potential. It is not too late for Mr Heaton-Harris to do another U-turn,” he said.

Church leaders meet the President

28.11.2022 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Church leaders.

Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, along with the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Methodist Church in Ireland and Irish Council of Churches, met the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins today at Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin.

In a statement issued by the Church Leaders following the meeting, they said, “We were delighted to accept the President’s invitation and very much welcomed the opportunity to spend time with him in what has been a focussed, but relaxed and informal conversation across a wide range of issues. The context for today’s meeting was our shared commitment to reconciliation and peacebuilding on the island of Ireland.

“While recognising the obvious challenges, we acknowledged that the important and vital work of peace is still an unfinished work, but one we are all committed to actively pursuing for the common good of all the people of Ireland.

“We were also keen to discuss together the difficult economic situation and its impact across the island. At the same time we spoke of its wider international implications, especially for the Global South when coupled with the devastating effects of Climate Change and famine, including in the Horn of Africa, which is particularly close to the President’s heart.”

The Church Leaders concluded by saying, “At the start of this Advent Season, when as disciples of Jesus Christ we look forward to celebrating the arrival of the Prince of Peace, it was positive and worthwhile to meet with the President and his wife Sabina today.”

Attending today’s meeting were Rt Rev Andrew Forster, President of the Irish Council of Churches, Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, Most Rev Eamon Martin Roman, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, and Rev David Nixon, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. Also in attendance were the Co-Secretaries of the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Rev Dr Heather Morris, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

Photos (1) Photographed in the Drawing Room of Áras an Uachtaráin today with President Michael D. Higgins are (left to right) Rt Rev Andrew Forster, President of the Irish Council of Churches, Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Most Rev Eamon Martin Roman, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins and Sabina Higgins, Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland and Rev David Nixon, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland with the Co-Secretaries of the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) Rev Dr Heather Morris, General Secretary of the Methodist in Ireland and Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (2) President Higgins greets the Moderator (Photo credit: Maxwell Photography/Áras an Uachtaráin).

Safe Access Zones Bill

24.11.2022 | Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs.

As the Oireachtas Committee for Health undertakes its pre-legislative scrutiny on the General Scheme of Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD’s Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services (Safe Access Zones)) Bill 2022, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has taken the opportunity to submit its views on the draft legislation to the Minister and the committee.

In its submission, the all-Ireland denomination states that while it is important that women seeking to access services should be protected from harassment ‘… a sincere desire to help women and their families in crisis has arrived at a misguided and unwise proposal’. It goes on to express concern that  ‘the law as proposed and framed is unnecessary, impractical, and likely to be counter-productive, undermining public order and curtailing the freedoms of expression and religion that are necessary for a constitutional republic.’ It concludes by urging the Minister and the Committee to reconsider the legislation and recommends that it is withdrawn completely.

Explaining the reasoning behind the Church’s position, Rev William Hayes, the Convener of PCI’s Council for Public Affairs’ panel that assesses various aspects of government policy and legislation going through the Oireachtas, summarised its position. “As a church we are committed to a pro-life for the whole-of-life position. We also recognise the matters reflected in the draft legislation are not only sensitive, but cut across the lives and personal experiences of women and their families who have experienced a crisis pregnancy situation in the past, or who may do so in the future. This is not simply a theological or academic exercise for us within PCI, as many of our ministers, and others in congregations, have journeyed alongside women and families who have experienced a pregnancy crisis and been presented with very difficult decisions. That the bill relates to questions of the right to life is distinctly secondary to how it relates to the right of freedom of expression,” he said.

The minister for Tullamore Presbyterian Church in County Offaly continued, “Our opposition to this legislation certainly does not stem from a desire to see women in difficult circumstances intimidated as they seek to access specific support, not at all. As we clearly state in our submission to the Committee, we deplore any situation where a woman seeking a termination, or medical staff involved in the provision of abortion services, are harassed or subjected to behaviour which would compound their distress.

“However, this draft bill seems to create a precedent for the limitation of speech in public, with no measure or right of appeal. We are not seeking space to protect our practices as Presbyterians but rather as Christians, we are motivated to protect others’ freedom of expression.

Mr Hayes concluded by saying, “There are laws in place that allow the authorities to deal with anti-social and harassing behaviour. Protecting the rights to access these services, which are legal, can be achieved without diminishing the rights to free expression. For this reason and others the broad scope of this draft legislation gives us considerable concern, which is why we have urged the Minister and the Committee to reconsider this well-intentioned but misguided legislation and call for its withdrawal.”

You can read PCI’s submission on the Bill to the Oireachtas Committee for Health here.

Changes needed to legacy bill

23.11.2022 | Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs, Legacy & Dealing with the past.

As Members of the House of Lords debate the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill today, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has again called for reconciliation to be placed at the heart of any legislative framework for dealing with the past.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and PCI’s General Secretary said, “When Peers come to debate this legislation later today, I hope they will keep the stories of victims and survivors, many of whom are from our own Presbyterian family, at the forefront of their minds. Furthermore, if Northern Ireland is to move forward, and relationships across these islands given an opportunity to flourish, then reconciliation must be at the heart of this process.”

Mr Gribben continued, “Members of the Upper House will note that while the word ‘reconciliation’ is included in the title of the Bill, there is no definition within it. Without a definition, or even principles on which reconciliation can be founded, how can this legislation be an agent for change, building on the patient and tireless work towards reconciliation between and within communities across these islands that is being done by so many different organisations? It requires more than words on a page.

“There is little incentive for perpetrators of violence to engage with the process of ‘information recovery’, removing from those who have lost loved ones the hope of justice, should they wish to seek it. This is the very opposite of the gospel which unites hope and justice in the person of Jesus Christ,” Mr Gribben said.

“There was broad consensus around the four pillars of the Stormont House Agreement of 2014, which sought to address the legacy of the past, which gave us all hope. The UK government has, however singlehandedly managed to create a position where this legislation is universally opposed by the vast majority of victims groups, political parties and the churches.”

Mr Gribben concluded by saying, “With this opportunity for members of the House of Lords to debate the purpose and key principles of this legislation, it is our prayer that amendments can be tabled even now, which will ensure any final legislation can act as a means to ensuring that hope for the future, and that the hard work of reconciliation will win out. That we are still having this conversation almost 25 years on from the historic peace agreement requires serious reflection from all of us – as churches, elected representatives and legislators across these islands, along with wider civic society, as we seek to play our part in building a better future.”

Photo: Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Yesterday, 22 November, the Financial Times published a joint opinion piece by the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh on the Bill. You can read the text of Archbishop John McDowell’s and Archbishop Eamon Martin’s and piece here.

Death of Rev Dr Paul Bailie

16.11.2022 | Moderator, Statements, Mission.

Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, has said with the sudden death yesterday afternoon of the Rev Dr Paul Bailie the Church has lost ‘a very wise, gifted and talented Christian leader.’

Paying tribute to him, Dr Kirkpatrick said, “Paul was at a meeting of a General Assembly Committee in Assembly Buildings only yesterday morning and I am told he played an active part and was in great form. It is very difficult to take in.

“His sudden calling home has been such a shock as we have lost a very wise, gifted and talented Christian leader. I have known Paul for a number of years and on behalf of our entire Presbyterian Church I would like to offer my deepest sympathy and condolences to his beloved wife Anne, their wider family, his friends and indeed his colleagues at Mission Africa. He leaves an aching gap in the lives of so many who will feel his loss so keenly,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

Dr Bailie was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church, Newtownards in 1995 where he was an assistant to the minister until 1998, when he left for Kenya. Here he served PCI directly as an overseas missionary teaching the Presbyterian College of East Africa. He returned to Northern Ireland in 2005 and began working for the charity Mission Africa, one of the oldest interdenominational evangelical missions in the UK. His work as Chief Executive brought him regularly to Nigeria, Kenya and other nations on the continent. In this role he also held the position as being ‘a Recognised Minister’ in PCI, and was the last person to be appointed as such.

At Union Theological College Dr Bailie taught various aspects of Old Testament and will be remembered by many of his students, past and present, along with those he taught at Belfast Bible College. He also played an active part in the life of the Church and its committees, attending his last committee on Tuesday morning. In his home presbytery, the Presbytery of Ards, he served as the convenor of the vacancy of Second Newtownards Presbyterian Church and was deputy clerk of the Presbytery.

Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “Paul was not always in the public eye, but he enjoyed broadcasting and had a great aptitude and voice for it. He often commentated on BBC Radio Ulster during the Opening Night of our General Assembly and also contributed to Good Morning Ulster’s Thought for the Day. One morning he talked about a formidable 19th century English cricketer turned missionary to Africa, Charles T Studd. Paul quoted a poem by the missionary when he wrote, ‘Only one life ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.’ Paul’s life passed too quickly and so suddenly, but the outworking of his love for Jesus and what he did in His Name will be without measure. He will be greatly missed.”

Sharing the experience at Ballycastle High

10.11.2022 | Moderator, Church in Society, Presbytery Tour, Presbytery News, Education.

A Moderator’s Presbytery Tour, when they visit one of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s 19 regional presbyteries, usually lasts from a Sunday to the following Sunday. Preaching in local churches, encouraging ministers and seeing the work of the Church in the community are all part and parcel of a Moderator’s year in office. The recent tour of Route Presbytery was a little different, going into a second week, as current Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick explained.

Each Presbytery Tour is an important opportunity for a Moderator to get ‘out and about’ and encourage the local Church. Education always plays an important part of any tour, which is why we went into a second week visiting three schools when they came back after half term,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

Route Presbytery stretches from Bushmills in the north, round the coast road to Ballycastle, extending across much of north County Antrim with the town of Ballymoney at its heart. During his tour, the Moderator visited Bushmills Primary School, William Pinkerton Memorial Primary School in Dervock, and Ballycastle High School with former Moderator Dr Ian McNie.

Ian Williamson, principal of Ballycastle High School, greeted the visitors where they were treated to two songs sung by the school choir. Later the Moderator had an opportunity to engage the pupil Senior Leadership Teams from the school and the town’s Cross and Passion College, who have a long-standing Shared Education Partnership which dates back over several decades.

Talking about the visit Mr Williamson said, “We very much enjoyed being able to welcome the Moderator and Dr McNie to the school, as it gave us an opportunity to show them our school and highlight the significant benefits of the collaborative working arrangement that we have with Cross and Passion College.

“The Shared Education Partnership dates back over several decades and has grown in significance in recent years, enabling staff, pupils, and parents from different backgrounds, to interact in a sustained, regular basis which brings significant educational, social and community benefits.

“Working closely with my counterpart at the College, Mrs Geraldine Duffy, the extensive nature of this embedded arrangement sees approximately 300 pupils share classes each week, with the partnership providing a wide range of subjects at Key Stages 4 and 5, which enables both schools to meet their statutory requirements. Pupils in both schools, benefit from a broad range of curricular choice, allowing them to make the most of their talents and abilities, built on an attitude of mutual respect, all of which help to shape pupil perspectives and attitudes well into the future.” he said.

As part of his presentation, Mr Williamson outlined plans for a new Shared Campus in Ballycastle. “Planning approval has been granted for the Shared Campus, which will utilise the current sites of both Ballycastle High School and Cross and Passion College. Detailed plans are currently being compiled which will enable both schools to retain their own ethos, identity and governance arrangements, while sharing a significant number of classes for GCSE, A Level and equivalent qualifications. Each school will also retain individual core facilities and share elements of the new facilities in a partnership which will be sustainable and a model of good practice. We also expect that the new Shared Campus will bring wider community benefits with greater public use of the new facilities,” he said.

Dr Kirkpatrick’s visit ended with a question and answer session involving pupils from both schools. “As a Church we recognise the value of children and young people encountering differing views, opinions and cultures during their educational experience, and we want our children to learn together. Shared Education provides the opportunity to do so, delivering educational benefits as well as building good relations between pupils and staff.  

“There are 700 schools across Northern Ireland involved in Shared Education, according to the Education Authority. This innovative development, which we support, has further enriched the experience of children and young people,” he said.

“Mr Williamson was very clear in his presentation that both schools recognise the importance of maintaining their individual ethos and identity. This special partnership allows the schools to do this, whilst at the same time, ensuring that all pupils benefit from a full curricular choice and additional extra-curricular opportunities. It was clear to me that Shared Education in Ballycastle is valued by staff and students alike and has left a very positive impression.”

Dr Kirkpatrick said that local schools are often at the heart of local communities and had been through much, especially in relation to the pandemic and its aftermath. “Presbytery Tours are important opportunities to express our thanks to all those who contribute to community life, especially schools, especially after such testing times. At both primary schools I found the same commitment to learning and welfare of the children as I did at Ballycastle High. As my predecessors have done, alongside our support for Shared Education, I would like to affirm our Church’s commitment to controlled schools and encourage their non-denominational Christian ethos, which enables children and young people to flourish.”

Images: (1) Ballycastle High School Principal, Mr Ian Williamson and members of the Senior Leadership Teams from the High School and its Shared Education partner, Cross and Passion College (2&3) Ballycastle Hig school shield and the school shield of the Cross and Passion College with (4) Dr Ian McNie (left) and the Moderator (centre) with Mr Williamson and students from both schools.

How’s the form?

4.11.2022 | Mission News, Mission in Ireland, Chaplaincy, Farming and Rural Life.

With increasing uncertainty in Northern Ireland’s agri-sector and farmers and farm families facing additional pressures, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Rural Chaplaincy Panel is holding a special event on 20 November that asks the simple question ‘How’s the Form?’

Taking place at Rathfriland Young Farmers’ Club Hall at 7pm, the event will focus on the wellbeing of farmers and farm families and will involve speakers from Rural Support, the Health & Safety Executive Christian Union and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Rural Chaplaincy Panel, a part of  the work of PCI’s Council for Mission in Ireland.

Panel member, and minister of Second Saintfield Presbyterian Church, Rev John Torrens, who will be speaking at the event, said that it was an important and timely initiative. “‘How’s the form?’ is something we say all the time, isn’t it? It’s really a general kind of a greeting for friends and family alike, rather than a direct question – but it’s a question we want to ask.

“As a minister in a rural community, I know that these are difficult and worrying times, especially for farmers and their families. With that in mind we wanted to organise an event, which is a service of worship with a difference, while being a time of fellowship and togetherness where people can be encouraged, receive information and talk. Running through the whole evening will be a clear and holistic focus on physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, and the support that is available for those living and working in our rural communities.”

Thanking Rathfriland Young Farmers’ for hosting the evening, Mr Torrens said that it wasn’t just for Young Farmers, as everyone was welcome. “While I will be talking on Psalm 49 and where we look for support and get our comfort from in hard times, I am looking forward to the contributions of our partners for the event, Rural Support and HSENI’s Christian Union. I am also looking forward to hearing from William Sayers, who as 12-year-old boy in 1990 survived a serious farm accident which led to the loss of his right arm. He will talk about the help Jesus has been to him.”

Also looking forward to attending is Rev Kenny Hanna, PCI’s Rural Chaplain. Commissioned in November of last year he works across four of the denomination’s nineteen regional presbyteries – the Presbyteries of Armagh, Down, Iveagh, and Newry. This means that Mr Hanna’s focus is on famers and farming families who work and live in all of County Armagh and most of County Down.

The main function of his role is to provide a chaplaincy service to rural and farming communities, supporting congregations in their local setting, while prioritising the pastoral and spiritual needs that are associated with geographical and social isolation of those working in the rural and agri-food sectors.

“There has been a huge increase in the cost of living for everyone. Farmers, however, have seen a 200% increase in the cost of feed and fuel, and a 300% increase in the cost of fertiliser, which adds to day-to-day pressures. Talking to farmers and those in the agri-business sector, there is no getting away from the fact that things are tight and we want to bring light into this situation,” Mr Hanna said.

Growing up on the family dairy and sheep farm in the Kingdom of Mourne, prior to becoming PCI’s first Rural Chaplain, Kenny Hanna was in parish ministry from 2001 to 2021. “Building relationships within the rural community and sharing the Good News of Jesus relevantly and warmly with people of all backgrounds is a key part of my role.

“I am also aware that the biggest hidden problem in farming today is mental health, something that is borne out by various national surveys and many conversations that I have had. How’s the form? is timely and folk from all backgrounds will be most welcome. I hope those who do come will be encouraged and uplifted by it.”

How’s the form? takes place on Sunday, 20 November at Rathfriland Young Farmers’ Club Hall, Downpatrick Road, Rathfriland, at 7pm.

Photo: Outside Rathfriland Young Farmers Club Hall are (left to right) Rev Kenny Hanna, PCI Rural Chaplain, Marcus McCollum, Farm business mentor, Rural Support and Rev John Torrens, minister of Second Saintfield Presbyterian and guest speaker (credit Rebecca McConnell).

Dr Kirkpatrick on tour in Route

30.10.2022 | Moderator, Church in Society, Church Life, Presbytery Tour, Presbytery News.

With upwards of 20 separate engagements, Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, began a tour of the Church’s Route Presbytery today to see the work that it is being undertaken in the local community and to encourage its members.

The Church’s 500-plus congregations across Ireland are divided into 19 regional presbyteries and 21 of them make up Route Presbytery, one of the oldest in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), having been constituted in 1657. Six of the congregations date back to the mid-1600s. From Bushmills in the north, round the coast road to Ballycastle, the Presbytery extends across much of north County Antrim, taking in Cloughmills to the south and Finvoy to the west with the town of Ballymoney at its heart.

Having been selected as Moderator-Designated by Presbyteries in Februrary and elected Moderator in June at the all-Ireland denomination’s General Assembly, each Moderator undertakes four Presbytery Tours. Dr Kirkpatrick’s tour of Route is his second and comes hot on the heels of his weeklong overseas tour of Hungary and Ukraine. During his visit to central Europe, he saw how partner churches are supporting refugees and how some of the £1.3m raised by PCI congregations is supporting and blessing the ongoing humanitarian effort in the region.

Accompanied by his wife Joan, each Presbytery Tour is an important opportunity for a Moderator to get ‘out and about’ and meet with and encourage ministers from across the Presbytery. They are also times to see first-hand and acknowledge the work of local congregations.

Dr Kirkpatrick began his tour when he preached in Dunloy Presbyterian Church this morning returning to his first congregation, Garryduff, to preach a little later on. This evening he was at Drumreagh Presbyterian Church in Bendooragh near Ballymoney. He will also be speaking at a special mid-week service at Mosside Presbyterian on Wednesday and will lead worship at Bushvale Presbyterian Church in the morning and Dervock Presbyterian in the evening of Sunday 6 November.

Looking forward to the visit, the Clerk of Route Presbytery, Rev Noel McClean, Minister Emeritus of First Kilraughts Presbyterian near Stranocum, explained that the tour will be the first to be undertaken by a Moderator since 2017. “Dr Kirkpatrick will be most welcome and was indeed a member of our historic Presbytery when he was minister of the congregation in Garryduff from 1987 until 1993.

“The name ‘Route’ is an unusual one, and is derived from the ancient territory Dalriada, which was occupied by the descendants of Riada, a chieftain who lived in the 3rd century, from which Route is derived. During his tour the Moderator will visit a number of our churches, take services and meetings. He will meet to encourage ministers and manse families as well as seeing some of the local industry, the work of Foodbanks and Christians Against Poverty in Ballymoney, especially in these dire economic times.

“There will be a visit to Riding for the Disabled and Dr Kirkpatrick will also pay a visit to Dalriada Hospital and a number of schools. We will also be in the Royal Hotel in Portrush, on his home patch just outside the Presbytery, for a meal with all members of Presbytery, ministers, elders and their spouses, which we are looking forward to.

Mr McClean concluded by saying, “It will be a busy week, but a productive one I hope and Dr Kirkpatrick and his wife Joan may be fully assured of ‘welcome home’ as they come to encourage the work in an area that has special affection for them,” Mr McClean said.

Presbytery tours normally start on a Sunday and conclude the following Sunday. Dr Kirkpatrick’s tour of Route Presbytery however, will spill over into the following week when the schools return after half term. There is always a strong focus placed on education during a Presbytery Tour and the Moderator will have an opportunity to visit Pinkerton Primary School and Dalriada School in Ballymoney and Ballycastle High.

“This part of the world is very familiar to me, as way back in 1987 I was called to be the minister of Garryduff Presbyterian, my first congregation, where Joan and I spent six happy years before moving on to Portrush,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“As I have said before, people sometimes forget that the church isn’t just for Sundays and what we often don’t see is the endless and tireless amount of work done out in the community to help others and I am looking forward to seeing this work. In these hard-pressed times we want to be available to people, as we are a Church where the Grace of God is at work in us, and though us, so that we might be a blessing to others in serving the community where we can make Jesus known. This is why Presbytery Tours are important parts of a Moderator’s year in office as they enable each of us to see that first-hand.

“I am looking forward to seeing that across Route Presbytery this week, at the same time, I will also have a number of opportunities to acknowledge and encourage my fellow ministers. Each tour has a strong pastoral element to it and I am also very much looking forward to meeting with my colleagues in ministry on Wednesday and Friday, when we come together for prayer and fellowship. I will also be spending time with some Manse families as well.”

Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “As our congregations are integral to the life of families and local communities, so are local schools. Next week, as part of my tour, it will be important to take the opportunity to express our thanks to all those who contribute to school life, including teachers and governors. I also want to thank and encourage those who work in the NHS when I visit Dalriada Hospital. It will be a busy tour, but Joan and I are looking forward to it, especially the ‘Racing Breakfast’ on Saturday.”

Photos: (1) The Moderator and his wife Joan with Luna, the family Golden Retriever (credit David Cavan) (2) Dr Kirkpatrick’s first congregation, Garryduff Presbyterian Church (credit Wiki Commons) (3) the famous ‘Dark Hedges’ on the Bregagh Road near Armoy in Route Presbytery (credit Wiki Commons)

Church Leaders meet Secretary of State

27.10.2022 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Church leaders.

Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, along with the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Methodist Church in Ireland and Irish Council of Churches, have stressed to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP, ‘the need for urgent action to be taken in light of the fact that the people of Northern Ireland are experiencing the worst cost of living crisis in generations.’

The members of the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) were speaking after they met the Secretary of State at Hillsborough Castle on Wednesday evening where they were able to relay to him the reality of life for ordinary people from their congregations and parishes across Northern Ireland, outlining the significant stress that is being caused by the fear of what is coming in the months ahead.

Church Leaders’ statement

Wednesday evening’s meeting was a long-standing arrangement and we welcomed the opportunity to meet with Mr Heaton-Harris for the first time since his appointment last month, and his reappointment by the new Prime Minister on Tuesday. We stressed the need for urgent action to be taken in light of the fact that the people of Northern Ireland are experiencing the worst cost of living crisis in generations.

Together we were able to relay to him the reality of life for ordinary people from across our congregations and parishes, outlining the significant stress that is being caused by the fear of what is coming in the months ahead and the uncertainty about the support that is being offered.

While outlining some of the initiatives that our churches are undertaking on the ground, as they seek to make a difference, we took the opportunity to urge the Secretary of State to give the clarity that is needed in relation to the support that has been promised, especially for the most vulnerable in our society, who are always affected the most when there is a cost of living crisis.

In a productive and wide-ranging conversation, we also discussed the current uncertainty around the political situation in Northern Ireland and the importance of maintaining stability, regardless of whatever scenario evolves after this Friday’s deadline expires to re-establish the Executive. We also took the opportunity to highlight the increasingly strained relationships on these islands, and within local communities, caused by the outworking of Brexit and the resulting Northern Ireland Protocol.

Together we urged the Secretary of State to encourage his colleague, the Foreign Secretary, to work for a negotiated settlement with the European Union that both deals with the trade issues and enables people to be secure in their identity, allowing relationships to improve.

As Church Leaders we also raised two important issues that the UK government had acted on in recent years – the introduction of the most liberal abortion regime on these islands, and the current legacy bill before Parliament – outlining the concerns of many on both these highly sensitive issues.

    Right Reverend Andrew Forster

    President of the Irish Council of Churches

    Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick

    Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

    Most Reverend John McDowell

    Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

    Most Reverend Eamon Martin

    Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland

    Reverend David Nixon

    President of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

Commissioning of NI abortion services

26.10.2022 | Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs.

Alongside this week’s announcement by Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris,Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that he is to formally commission abortion services, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), has expressed its deep concern and dismay at the number of abortions which have taken place in Northern Ireland since the legal change in 2020.

Speaking after a meeting of PCI’s Council for Public Affairs Council, which was held in Assembly Buildings, Belfast, Council Convener Rev Daniel Kane said, “As a Church with a strong pro-life position, over the last number of years we have consistently put on record our total opposition to Westminster’s imposition of the most destructive liberal abortion legislation in these islands.

“Figures provided recently by the Department of Health show that over 4,100 abortions have taken place across the five health trusts in Northern Ireland between 31 March 2020 and 26 September this year, an average of 340 per month. This compares to an average of around 86 per month in 2018 and 2019 of those accessing abortion services from Northern Ireland in England. The genuine fears and concerns expressed by PCI about the removal of the legal protection of future generations of Northern Ireland’s unborn children have, unfortunately, come to pass.”

Mr Kane continued, “We recognise that women, and their families, may find themselves in a crisis situation for a variety of reasons, which could include a medical diagnoses, difficult personal circumstances, and increasingly the pressures of the cost of living. This is why a new response is required to support women and their families, including the provision of comprehensive perinatal care services that involve practical, emotional and spiritual support for women, alongside other measures, including appropriate welfare mitigations.

“Such interventions would help to ensure that the provision of abortion services here would, by necessity, be rare. We would also like to take this opportunity to commend ministers and their congregations who often provide this caring, pastoral and practical support to those who find themselves in such difficult circumstances.”

Mr Kane concluded by saying, “At the same time, we deeply regret that Mr Heaton-Harris, like his predecessor, has recently indicated his intention to continue to override our fragile devolved settlement in relation to such sensitive issues. In doing so he proposes to use powers not only to direct Northern Ireland Executive Ministers and Departments on this issue, but also potentially interfere with matters which stretch beyond the provision of abortion services, in education and other areas, which is clearly worrying. Such a scenario would be unthinkable in the Scottish or Welsh devolved contexts.”

“There are many challenges facing Northern Ireland and its Health Service in particular, waiting lists, staff recruitment and retention, services that are under resourced. It is curious to note that no interventions appear to be forthcoming in these areas.”

Prayers for UK’s PM

25.10.2022 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs.

Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, has written to the Right Honourable Rishi Sunak MP assuring him of his prayers as Mr Sunak takes on the responsibilities as the UK’s new Prime Minister, having pledged himself ‘to serve with integrity and humility…’

In a statement, Dr Kirkpatrick said, “This morning Mr Sunak took on the onerous responsibilities of leading His Majesty’s Government at this incredibly challenging time, the UK’s third Prime Minister in as many months. It is therefore a time when stability is much needed and earnestly desired, as concerns around the significant and rapid increases in the cost of living, particularly in relation to food prices, electricity and energy supply, mount day-by-day with more people suffering.

“As Mr Sunak assumes this high office and new responsibilities today, gathering his team to serve with him, he can be assured of my prayers and those of many throughout the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. As we pray for him and all in authority, as we are called to do as Christians, I also pray that he will be enabled to make good the pledge that he made yesterday afternoon ‘to serve with integrity and humility…’

Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “We should never underestimate the power of prayer. I was reminded recently of these words by the writer of Amazing Grace, John Newton, who wrote, ‘Our Lord’s Kingdom is not of this world and most people may do their country much more essential service by pleading in prayer, than by finding fault with the things they have no power to alter.’ As a Church we continue to speak in to the public square on many issues, but we must also pray, especially in tremendously uncertain days like these.”

Hungary & Ukraine: Standing in solidarity

22.10.2022 | Mission News, Global Mission, Moderator, Presbytery Tour, The PCI Sunday Service.

Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, has spoken of the ‘absolute privilege’ of being able to come alongside ‘and stand in solidarity and in faith’ with those supporting refugees in Hungary and Internally Displaced People in western Ukraine, on a visit to both countries this week.

Dr Kirkpatrick and is wife Joan were in central Europe this week to see the ongoing work of PCI’s partner church, the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH), as it supports Ukrainian refugees in Hungary following Russia’s invasion of its neighbour in February.

Since the war began Irish Presbyterians have responded to the humanitarian emergency by giving £1.3 million to the relief effort. The Moderator and Mrs Kirkpatrick saw how that support was being used though visits to various RCH agencies in Hungary. They also crossed the border into Transcarpathia, a region of western Ukraine and the city of Berehove, spending time with the leadership of the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia (RCT) and members on the ground, who continue to care for the thousands of Internally Displaced People fleeing the conflict further east.

Speaking on his return home, Dr Kirkpatrick said, “It has been an absolute privilege to be able to come alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ and stand in solidarity with them, and in faith, at this time. To experience the resilience and seeing the reality of faith in action, especially in Transcarpathia in such difficult circumstances, has been an amazing and humbling experience.”

The amount raised from congregations form across Ireland has been distributed equally between PCI’s relief and development partners, Christian Aid and Tearfund, and the RCH through its relief and development wing, Hungarian Reformed Church Aid. In Transcarpathia much of the everyday social care, welfare and education is provided by the Church, which has, since the Russian invasion in February, been severely stretched having faced what Dr Kirkpatrick described as ‘a double exodus’.

“In Berehove, in western Ukraine where we stayed, even though it is 800 kilometres east of Kyiv, the community has witnessed a double exodus that the Church had to deal with overnight. Firstly an exodus of their own community with people being called up to fight, while others crossed the border into Hungary leaving only the elderly, young mothers and their children and fewer staff in schools and hospitals.

“While ministers and their families have stayed to help, in some cases congregations lost over a third of their members. Transcarpathia then experienced a second exodus of 500,000 people coming from the rest of Ukraine to escape the conflict, with fewer people and little resources to look after them.”

Dr Kirkpatrick continued, “The reality of that is there are empty houses as you go through the villages. You are also very conscious of the distinct lack of men. The air raid sirens are a regular reminder of the war, with the children we met in the schools having to go down to their shelter. While the city wasn’t under attack the sirens sounded as missiles, drones, or shells fell on other towns and cities, perhaps hundreds of kilometres away. It was a very sobering experience and created a constant sense of anxiety for the children. As one soldier told me at a checkpoint, it is a constant reminder for him that people are dying in other parts of the country.”

In the midst of this is the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia. “It is incredible to think that in January the Church decided to declare 2022 as ‘A Year of Thanksgiving’ and they continue to give thanks as an expression of their faith, even in the face of such difficulty. Joan and I found no sense of desperation, just a realistic concern for the world around them and what I can only describe as this Gospel expression of kindness, which was so evident. On Tuesday evening they thanked us, and the support PCI has shown, by taking us out for a meal.”

During their stay, the Moderator and Mrs Kirkpatrick visited congregations, educational and other social welfare institutions run by the RCT. They also had the opportunity to discuss the impact of the war, and the Church’s response to it, with Bishop Sándor Zán-Fábián, the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia and its Lay President Béla Nagy, the Director of the RCT’s Diaconal Co-ordination Centre in Berehove.

“During our time together we had an opportunity to talk and pray. Bishop Sándor and Mr Nagy continually reaffirmed how much they deeply appreciated the kindness and generosity of Irish Presbyterians and wanted the Church to know how thankful they were for the support PCI had shown, which has made a massive difference. While aiding the humanitarian effort, that provision has also made a real difference in the provision of practical support for local ministry, which we saw, enabling ministers and their parishes to look after those who have not been able to leave and those who have fled the war,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

Mrs Kirkpatrick said that while the kindness and warmth of the welcome shown to those fleeing the war, especially by the women who were also so resilient, the pain etched on the faces of those who had fled was plain to see. “We met a lady and her young grandson who had travelled all the way from Donetsk in the east of the country. They had returned home and then escaped again. They couldn’t speak, the pain was literally unspeakable as they couldn’t communicate. We just held each other.”

On a visit to the RCT’s Diaconal Centre, the Moderator and Mrs Kirkpatrick met the bakers who earlier in the conflict baked 1,000 loaves a day. The bread was put in buses and sent to Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine returning with children escaping the worst of the war, to be looked after by the Church. Hundreds of loaves are still baked each day and distributed to refugees who have found shelter in the various educational and social welfare organisations run by the Church. The Diaconal Centre also sends out weekly humanitarian shipments with in-kind donations to the interior parts of the country, with the church looking after around 5,000 people in its various institutions.

While the Moderator – who is the Minister of Portrush Presbyterian Church – and Mrs Kirkpatrick were in Transcarpathia for a day and a night, the majority of the five day visit took place in and around the Hungarian capital, Budapest. Here they visited Hungarian Reformed Church Aid headquarters and met its CEO along with the head of its Refugee Ministry, and others, who co-ordinate the humanitarian response. They also visited the RCH’s Mission Service and its theological college.

“In Ukraine and in Hungary we have been shown such kindness and hospitality, even in the midst of such suffering and human tragedy. We listened and tried to encourage, while getting a sense of how the Church has responded and continues to respond to this war,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“We have also learnt never to underestimate the power of simply being present. Even at home, when you visit a friend in hospital, or call in on a neighbour who is having a hard time, the fact that you have made the effort can be powerful. As we stood in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we certainly found that here.”

The Moderator concluded by saying, “While we saw how our Church had contributed to the humanitarian effort, we also saw how the Lord was keeping people at peace. The peace of God that the Apostle Paul writes about in Philippians, the peace that transcends understanding. Just as they were praying, we were asked to pray for a just peace, not victory, but a just peace, seen through Gospel eyes, a peace for everyone.”

Photos: (1) map of Ukraine showing Transcarpathia (credit Hungary Today(2) Dr Kirkpatrick on one of the ‘exodus’ roads that brought some 500,000 Internally Displaced People from eastern, central and southern Ukraine to the province (3) A bomb shelter used by one of the the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia’s (RCT) schools that the Moderator and Mrs Kirkpatrick visited in the city of Berehove, Transcarpathia, in western Ukraine (4) the also met internally displaced children at one of the schools and (5) visited a number of care homes in Berehove run by RCT (6) Mrs Kirkpatrick and the Moderator with a grandmother and her grandson who had escaped from the east of the country, returned home only to escape a second time and were traumatised as a result. Also pictured at the RCT’s Diaconal Co-ordination Centre in Berehove is its Director and Lay President of the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia, Mr Béla Nagy (7) On a visit to the RCT’s’ Diaconal Centre, the couple met Joseph, one the bakers who earlier in the conflict helped to bake 1,000 loaves a day (8) a familiar scene.