NEWS

First major conference welcomed in 19 months

15.10.2021 | Church in Society, Conference Centre, COVID-19 Emergency.

The Assembly Buildings Conference Centre in Belfast has hosted its first major conference since Covid restrictions on events and hospitality were eased by the Northern Ireland Executive. The event was jointly organised by a range of Clinical societies from the UK and Ireland who came together to hold a three-day congress, which ended today.

Opened by Northern Ireland’s Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA, the joint Upper Gastrointestinal Surgical Congress used all the city centre venue’s facilities, including its meeting and breakout rooms, and the Assembly Hall, bringing together different professionals in one event for educational learning, sharing knowledge and inspiring a joint approach in healthcare for the first time.

Organised by AUGIS, the Association of Upper Gastrointestinal Surgery of Great Britain and Ireland, they were joined by the Pancreatic Society and NI, the GBHIBPA (Great Britain and Ireland Hepato Pancreato Biliary Association) and UKIEUS (UK & Ireland Endoscopic Ultrasound Society) on behalf of trainees and consultants, allied health professionals and clinical nurse specialists, from across these islands.

Like many events in recent times the Congress had to be postponed due to the Covid pandemic, but as event organiser, Professor Mark Taylor explained, it was important for the Congress to take place, “This is a first conference in which AUGIS, the Pancreatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland and the UKI Endoscopic Users have come together for a congress like this on all aspects of the upper Gastrointestinal Tract.”

The Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Surgeons in England and president of GBIHPBA continued, “At this week’s congress we welcomed around 700 people. Of these nearly 400 came from across the UK and Ireland in person, while the rest joined us virtually, with the added benefit of senior Chinese medical involvement.

“Being able to use the full gambit of Assembly Buildings’ impressive facilities for our first hybrid event, including the superb technical support they offered, enabled us to not only welcome colleagues in person, we were also delighted to be able to welcome our friends and colleagues from the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, Zongshan Hospital in Shanghai, and School of Computer Science and Technology, Xidian University, who joined us virtually for the inaugural joint UK and China meeting. Given the time difference, these meetings were held in the morning to facilitate our friends in China who were eight hours ahead of us.”

Looking to the future, Professor Taylor continued, “Given the success of this hybrid meeting we will certainly continue this on an annual basis and I have no doubt we will be back to the Assembly Buildings in the future,” he said.

Speaking about the event, Raymond Robinson, Head of Conferencing & Operations at Assembly Buildings, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s all-Ireland headquarters, said that seeing people come together in the building for a conference like this was a welcome sight.

“For many organisations and venues like our own, this has not been an easy 19 months. For us, this has been our first major conference since the restrictions were eased and we were happy to work with Professor Taylor and his colleagues until such a time that it became possible again.

Mr Robinson continued, “To hear the presentations take place, some live from China and London, and the general ‘hub-bub’ at the breaks, as delegates chatted over coffee and visited the various trade stands, was great to see and hear. It was also good for Belfast, as the vast majority of those attending were visitors to the city, making the most of our hotels and restaurants. Should AUGIS decide to, we would look forward to welcoming them back.”

Photos: (1) Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA, speaking at the opening of the joint Upper Gastrointestinal Surgical Congress (2) Congress organiser Professor Mark Taylor, Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Surgeons in England and president of GBIHPBA  address delegates in the Assembly Hall  (3) one of the delegates at one of the many trade stands at the Assembly Buildings venue.


Church Leaders’ Service – MCI President reflects

14.10.2021 | Church leaders, Opinion piece.

Next Thursday, in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh, the Moderator, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, will take part in a Service of Reflection and Hope to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland. The Service has been organised by the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) with the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, preaching the sermon.

In today’s Irish News Dr Yambasu writes about how talking with is fellow Church Leaders has prompted him to reflect on what might be relevant from the experience of Sierra Leone, where he is originally from, and how the Service offers a commitment to reconciliation and respect. He says, “A fundamental challenge is to acknowledge how our identity has been shaped by our history, while recognising that it does not have to be defined by it.”

By now everyone will be aware that we in the Church Leaders Group are hosting a service of Reflection and Hope next week. When I joined the group in June of this year, on becoming President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Church Leaders’ collective engagement on the 1921 centenaries was already underway. As someone who grew up in Sierra Leone, I was very conscious of the pain of partition. Although the two contexts are very different, there are some significant themes that resonate across continents, as identity-based conflicts and power struggles blind us to the ties of our common humanity.

In the Church Leaders Group we have been reflecting on the human impact of borders. I belong to the Kissi tribe which, before the continent of Africa was partitioned by European powers, inhabited land that was later separated into three nation states: Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The borders that were imposed divided families and communities and disrupted people’s everyday lives. This was done without thought or care for the dignity, rights or consent of the people affected, in what historians would later call ‘the scramble for Africa’.

The wounds from that injustice have left deep scars. When we allow political structures, and social and economic power, to undermine the ties that bind people together we increase the risk of violence. In Sierra Leone this took the form of a decade-long civil war that is widely held to be one of the most brutal in human history. As we reflect today on the legacy of that conflict we see clearly that the perpetrators of violence not only destroyed the lives of those they held to be ‘the other’, but their actions were also a horrific act of self-harm and self-destruction against their own community.

Entering into this process of dialogue with my fellow Church Leaders about the consequences of 100 years of partition in an Irish context has prompted me to reflect on what might be relevant from the experience of Sierra Leone.

A fundamental challenge is to acknowledge how our identity has been shaped by our history, while recognising that it does not have to be defined by it. A source of great sadness for me has been the impact of colonisation on the rich cultural diversity of African communities. Political and economic conquest was underpinned by a colonisation of the mind that devalued local languages and traditions and dismantled local community structures. The result was a greatly diminished sense of self-worth for those whose language and customs had been denigrated in this way.

We have to address the painful legacy of our history in a way that respects the dignity and rights of those who have been marginalised, but no one community can do this in isolation. It takes courage to reach out and seek to engage in dialogue with those who have hurt us, but this is the only way we can bridge the gap between divided people. This outreach does not require us to forget the past, but it does help prevent us becoming stuck there.

In Sierra Leone, as in Northern Ireland, communities have shown great courage in giving perpetrators of violence an opportunity to join the work of reconciliation. The victims and survivors are often those who have shown the greatest leadership and chosen forgiveness at great personal cost in order to bring the gift of peace to themselves and others.

If we are to build on this courage in a way that offers real hope for the future we have to be willing to ask the difficult questions around power and exclusion and address the structural injustices that push people to the margins of our society today.

Borders take many forms. It is important to recognise the human impact of political borders, particularly at a time when we are becoming increasingly aware of our interconnectedness in the face of global challenges affecting the whole of humanity. At the same time, we need to be aware of the multiple ways in which we can create borders that limit our interactions with those we consider to be different from us.

In our service of Reflection and Hope we seek to offer a space in which we can all hear different perspectives, acknowledge what has been harmful in our history and commit ourselves to the work of reconciliation and building a society in which the worth and dignity of every person is respected and valued. Beyond the service, we will continue our efforts to help heal the wounds of the past and lay the foundations for a better future.

Embracing those who are different is not about promoting oneself; it is about creating space for each other to flourish. It is not about assimilating them into ourselves; it is about recognizing that there is something of us in the ones we embrace. It is not about ignoring justice; it is about creating space within ourselves for the wrongdoer in hope of reconciliation. That is what GRACE is. It is choosing relationship over being ‘right’. ‘Accept one another…just as Christ accepted you …to bring praise to God.’ (Romans 15:7) 

Photo: (1) Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland (2) members of the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh (Left to Right) the Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, Dr Yambasu, the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primates of All Ireland, the Most Rev John McDowell and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primates of All Ireland, the Most Rev Eamon Martin respectively.

You can read more about the Service here.


General Assembly 2021: Overview

The 2021 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland took place in Assembly Buildings, Belfast from Monday, 4 October and closed on Wednesday, 6 October.

To watch the livestream click here


The General Assembly is the denomination’s governing and decision-making body and the highest court of the Church – decisions taken by Members of Assembly will set the direction for the life and ministry of PCI over the coming year and beyond.

In a change to the traditional format of recent General Assemblies, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it met for three days with the necessary Covid mitigations in place. Only full voting members attended in person this year, thereby ensuring the necessary social distancing required at the city centre venue.

Overview of the 2021 General Assembly

In this section you will find information relating to the 2021 General Assembly: general information, news releases, statements, and Assembly business.

Guide to Assembly Procedure

You can find a guide to Assembly procedure here.

Assembly Business

Details of each day’s business before the General Assembly can be found here.
 

The Blue Book and Annual Reports

The reports and corresponding resolutions that weren discussed and debated during the course of the week can be found here. Historically they are known as the ‘Blue Book‘. 

Supplementary Reports

Any licensed Supplementary Reports issued can be downloaded by clicking here.
 

Media Relations

General Assembly Previews 

You can find a news story about each day’s business and the issues before the General Assembly here:

For all the formal report of the business before the Assembly and the decisions that were taken, see the Draft Daily Minutes above.


Media Relations

General news stories concerning the 2021 General Assembly

You can read general news stories that relate to the 2021 General Assembly here:

General news stories concerning the cancelled 2020 General Assembly

You can read general news stories that relate to last year’s cancelled General Assembly, the work of the 2020 Standing Commission of the General Assembly and the initial election of Dr Bruce here:

Blogs

You can read the blogs that relate to the General Assembly here:


Autumn General Assembly starts Monday

29.9.2021 | General Assembly, Moderator, Church in Society, Church Life, COVID-19 Emergency.

In a month that is not traditionally a time for a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to meet, Presbyterians from across Ireland will meet in Belfast next week, the first Monday in October, for three days of debate and decision making.

The in person socially distanced meeting is a sign of the times and the first opportunity that the Church has had to come together in General Assembly in over two years. Business before it will focus upon the life and mission of the Church and also touch upon some of the challenging issues facing society across the island. These include climate change and human identity to the UK government’s proposals on legacy and PCI’s support for the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. It will also see current Moderator, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, confirmed for a second term of office. The first time a Moderator would have begun a second consecutive term since 1894.

Looking ahead to next week, Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said that it wasn’t just the change of month that will be different for this year’s General Assembly.

“As a result of the pandemic, along with other organisations, businesses and society as a whole, the Church has witnessed extraordinary times over the past 19 months that have required unprecedented adjustment in how we do Church and how we do our business. Because of this, our autumn meeting, as I said recently, will be an exceptional meeting that reflects the exceptional times we are living through.

“The pandemic and its impact on society, the lives of individuals, families, church families and frontline workers at home, and Covid’s impact overseas, will be reflected in the business before us. It will also be recognised throughout the three days of our meeting as we discuss heartfelt resolutions that will pay tribute to, and thank, frontline workers, health and social care workers who have enabled essential services to be maintained across Ireland and the vulnerable to be cared for. That appreciation also extends in resolutions that pay tribute to everyone involved in schools.

Mr Gribben continued, “Covid meant that for the first time in our history, we had to cancel our General Assembly last yearIn an era that will be remembered for many things, including Zoom meetings and meetings via Microsoft Teams, I am really very thankful that with the easing of some Covid regulations and the opening up of society, we can gather together in person once more for fellowship, worship, prayer, Bible study, debate and decision making.”

The Clerk explained that, “just as in every congregation throughout Ireland it is vitally important that when we meet together in this era of Covid, that we do so in a safe and secure way as possible. Therefore, the General Assembly, following government guidelines, will have various necessary mitigations in place. As a result we have not been able to invite civic guests, or representatives from our partner churches at home and overseas, although we will be hearing from some of our overseas partner churches via video on Wednesday.

“Neither have we been able to include those members of our church who would normally sit and deliberate, which is regrettable, but unavoidable. Only full voting members will be present in person who are, the main, our ministers in congregations, active and retired and a commissioned representative elder from each of our 500-plus congregations. While all sessions will be livestreamed, unfortunately there will be no public gallery this year, although the media will be facilitated.”

Another significant change is that the General Assembly will open on Monday morning, not Monday evening. The Moderator’s address will kick start the three days of debate and decision on upwards of 80 resolutions. There will be three worship services led by Dr Bruce, including the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on Tuesday morning. This service will include the reading of the names on the Memorial Roll, honouring the memory and ministry of ministers who have passed away since the General Assembly last held an in person meeting in 2019.

Supporting congregations

“There can be absolutely no doubt that the life and rhythm of our church, since the first lockdowns of March last year, have witnessed extraordinary change, not least in the Republic of Ireland where our congregations, along with others, experienced considerable periods when they were not able to meet for worship,” Mr Gribben said.

“The Blue Book, which contains the reports and resolutions to be debated, has an introduction to one report entitled ‘The Era of Covid-19’. In it, it says that ‘what we used to call ‘normal life’ has been changed in ways that none of us could have imagined…’ It describes how the lives of individuals, families and church families have been ‘turned upside down’, with the impact on church life having been ‘significant, [and] at times, almost overwhelming.’ It also details the overall approach, co-operation and general engagement with the administrations in both jurisdictions, which differed considerably.”

Throughout the period of the Covid-19 pandemic the Church has sought to support congregations and their members during this season of intense disruption. The Council for Congregational Life and Witness has been proactive in responding to the diverse challenges faced by congregations.

The General Assembly will hear the initiatives that have been undertaken, in particular, as the Council’s report states, ‘the development of a whole series of digital and distanced ways of supporting congregations including, Bible study for download and use in the digital space on pandemic specific themes, a regular series of webinars and podcasts on a range issues pertinent to congregations and their members and a series of ‘Fanning the flame’ sessions encouraging a gradual return to more regular patterns of church life delivered for all 19 presbyteries.’

“It is more than appropriate that the General Assembly will be asked to pay tribute to local ministers, elders and leaders, ‘for their dedicated and innovative service enabling congregational life and witness to continue in the ways that were possible during the long months of restrictions and shut-downs…’” Mr Gribben said.

The dedicated work of PCI’s chaplains serving in hospitals, prisons, the forces and universities and colleges during the pandemic, will also be recognised, ‘with sincere gratitude’ in another resolution. The General Assembly will also be asked to welcome the anticipated launch of the Rural Chaplaincy Pilot Scheme, with the announcement of PCI’s first Rural Chaplain. The General Assembly will also be asked to formally accept 14 students for the ordained ministry.

“The Church is very much a part of society, rooted in communities across Ireland and it is from the north, south, east and west of the country that my brothers and sisters in Christ will come to discuss a range of denominational matters, and pressing, social, moral and public issues of the day. One of these is Climate Change,” Mr Gribben said.

PCI’s investments and fossil fuels

In 2018 the General Assembly passed a resolution commending the Stewardship of Creation Report on Climate Change that had been produced by the Council for Global Mission. This year’s Global Mission report also features other work in this area. It includes the ongoing Climate Sundays’ initiative, which encourages congregations to set aside one Sunday in the run up to COP26, November’s global Climate Change conference in Glasgow, to focus on God’s creation and humanity’s responsibility to be good stewards of it.

The Stewardship of Creation Report provides a biblical and theological foundation to guide PCI as it approaches issues relating to the care of God’s creation. It affirms God’s creation as being good and reflects on the importance of God’s people being good stewards of that same creation.

“On Tuesday, the Assembly will debate a significant resolution from the Council on a ‘divest and engage’ strategy in relation to PCI’s investments. The debate will be preceded by discussion around the Report of the Trustees, which includes a paper on investments in fossil fuels, giving important background information,” Mr Gribben said.

The Council for Global Mission report states that, ‘…PCI’s investment policies must flow from a biblical basis and theology of creation, a commitment to God’s world and to those whom Jesus Christ described as neighbours. The broad consensus of scientific thought supports the view that fossil fuel production contributes to climate change. It is therefore morally questionable to invest in companies deriving revenue from fossil fuels. PCI’s response should reflect a consistency of witness and provide a lead to church members and wider society. Most importantly, how PCI invest reflects how we value our Heavenly Father’s creation and is an outworking of what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ.’

The General Assembly will be asked to ‘…direct the Trustees to employ a ‘divest and engage’ strategy in relation to companies producing or using fossil fuels, thereby divesting from those that derive more that 10% of their turnover from oil and gas extraction (the coal, oil and gas majors), and engaging with companies that derive more than 10% of their turnover from the use of fossil fuels…’

Speaking into the public square

Despite the challenges presented by the global pandemic this particular element of the work of the Church – developing its thinking on current issues and communicating the General Assembly’s views in the public square through the Council for Public Affairs, has continued at apace.

Since December 2020 the Church has made 13 submissions on significant public consultations on a wide range of issues in both jurisdictions. Following a conference held in 2019, to further develop its thinking and key areas of work, the Council introduced two new panels.

The remit of the new Human Dignity Panel, includes beginning and end of life, human rights, artificial intelligence, and matters relating to criminal justice. The new Welfare and Wellbeing Panel, has a remit which includes welfare support, housing and homelessness, debt, ageing and loneliness.

In speaking into the public square, the General Assembly will be asked to express its ‘…continued support for the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland…’ Further, Members will be asked to express their ‘…grave concern about the undermining of the devolution settlement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland through the imposition of legislation on matters within the competency of the Northern Ireland Assembly, including abortion and the cultural package.

The General Assembly will also be asked to share the concerns of the Council regarding matters of legacy and dealing with the past, as the UK government has indicated its intention to move away from arrangements for dealing with the past in the Stormont House Agreement. One key area, is the right of victims and survivors to seek due process and justice in the courts. The Council’s report states that, ‘What has been proposed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland denies victims and survivors that possibility.’

Listening to the Global Church

“While it is important to speak out, it is also important to listen and much of the work of the reports and resolutions to be discussed next week have been a result of gracious listening and discussion,” Mr Gribben said.

“An important feature of General Assemblies since 2015 has been the inclusion of the Council for Global Mission’s alternative presentation ‘Listening to the Global Church’. It has been an important opportunity to hear of the challenges and opportunities that our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are encountering and to pray with them. This year it forms part of Wednesday afternoon worship service,” Mr Gribben said.

Entitled ‘Christ our hope’ the General Assembly will hear how different churches, and their home nations, have coped with a range of disasters / crises alongside the impact of a global pandemic. Unlike previous years, when leaders of PCI’s partner churches could be welcomed in person, this year, via recorded video messages and interviews, Members of Assembly will have the opportunity to listen to senior representatives from the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in Zambia and the Evangelical Christian Church of Timor. A producer from PCI’s partner SAT7, the Christian satellite television network, which broadcasts in Arabic, Persian and Turkish across the Middle East and North Africa, including Afghanistan, will talk about the Christian community and other minorities in Afghanistan and also how the Christians in neighbouring Iran are praying for their neighbours at this very difficult time.

Decision making and dissent within PCI

Much of the work to be discussed at this year’s delayed General Assembly has its genesis in previous meetings. Following a number of decisions taken by the 2018 General Assembly, that led to much public (and private) comment, the General Council, PCI’s senior decision making body that takes any necessary decisions on behalf of the General Assembly between its meetings, accepted that clarification was necessary regarding the issues of decision making and dissent within the denomination. It established a Task Group to draw up a report on ‘Presbyterian decision making and the place of dissent’.

The Report of the General Council is the most substantial of all the Reports in the Blue Book. Made up of 4 separate reports, it runs to some 140 pages out of the Blue Book’s 344.

Mr Gribben explained that part of the Decision Making and Dissent Task Group’s remit was to outline how decisions are made in PCI’s Presbyterian system of church government, what dissent formally means and how other forms of ‘dissent’ can be expressed, while outlining how decisions of the General Assembly can be changed.

“The 2019 Assembly considered the initial report and agreed to send it down to PCI’s 19 regional presbyteries for discussion, with focused questions on decision making and dissent to be discussed by representatives of all PCI’s 500-plus congregations. With all presbyteries responding, it was favourably received and originally scheduled for further discussion in 2020. Like most business scheduled for that year, however, the report was remitted by the 2020 Standing Commission of the General Assembly, to the next Assembly,” Mr Gribben said.

The comprehensive report, which will also be debated on Tuesday, makes 12 recommendations that would, if passed, alter significantly the way in which PCI manages and discusses policy prior to a General Assembly. This would include the introduction of regional / presbytery conferences and a ‘Green Consultation Paper Stage’, where significant changes in policy or controversial matters would be considered prior to coming to a General Assembly.

While the report says that ‘Those who are in the wider membership of the Church have greater freedom to hold/promote views at variance with the formal position of the Church…’ for ministers and elders ‘debate and discussion can of course also take place outside the formal structures of the Church, both in private discussions and in more organised ways.’ The report makes the point that they have ‘subscribed’ to the Subordinate Standards of the Church ‘…and, through ordination vows, have taken on the responsibility and constraints of leadership. This has implications in relation to the freedom of ministers and elders to hold/promote certain views at variance with the clear position of the General Assembly…’

The Task Group, therefore, proposes that the General Assembly instruct it to bring forward a paper to next year’s gathering on the ‘The Freedom of those in ordained Leadership to Promote Opinions at variance with the clear position of the General Assembly.’

On Wednesday, the General Assembly will also discuss a separate report on making the General Assembly more accessible, which includes the recommendation to meet on a Wednesday evening with three further days of business, including evening sessions, with the General Assembly closing on Saturday afternoon.

Credible profession of faith

While each of the three days are busy, with business scheduled for debate on Monday and Tuesday evening, Tuesday itself will also see the Assembly discuss one of the widest consulted on papers in recent times.

The Implementation Task Group was established in 2018 to address the remit given to it by that year’s General Assembly that, ‘appropriate training be offered to kirk sessions on the theology and practice of the Church’s understanding of a ‘credible profession of faith’ and the pastoral guidelines on homosexuality. The Task Group was appointed and directed to put together a resource with a clear pastoral tone to be used by kirk sessions. This remit was broadened by the General Council to include training on a general approach to ‘a credible profession of faith’ as well as lifestyle issues. Two groups were formed to look at the issues of ‘Credible Profession’ and ‘Guidance for pastoral care’.

“The consultation to inform the work of this Task Group and its final reports, has been one of the widest consultation processes undertaken within the Church in recent years, with a comprehensive presbytery consultation taking place. Draft resources, ‘Credible Profession of Faith and admission to the sacraments: a framework for discussion for kirk sessions’ and ‘Guidelines for pastoral care of same-sex attracted people and their families’ were sent down to our 19 regional presbyteries for discussion and comment. It has been a long process, but an important one that has informed the two reports that the General Assembly will be asked to receive and approve,” Mr Gribben said.

“As the framework states from the outset, ‘One of the joys of church life is accompanying individuals on a journey to exploring, experiencing and expressing faith in Christ as

Saviour and Lord.’ That journey can lead ultimately to an individual seeking membership of the Church or baptism. This report seeks to support kirk sessions in that journey focussing, as the report also states, on ‘…the role and responsibility for ministers and ruling elders to guide and shepherd the flock and to do so in a way that is loving…’

Mr Gribben continued, “During the consultation process, there was general approval for the Task Group’s approach, content and tone of the framework. Some common themes also emerged, relating to bringing young people and adults with special needs into membership of the Church. The General Assembly will be asked to establish a Task Group on this.”

The Guidance for pastoral care of same-sex attracted people and their families is also aimed at kirk sessions and those who provide pastoral care within congregations. As the guidance states ‘It is not meant to be exhaustive but to offer some practical help in this sensitive area.’

Human Identity

In the autumn of 2017, the General Council established the Human Identity Task Group as a means of seeking a Biblical and pastoral response to the complex and often difficult issues facing PCI members, families, ministers, congregations and wider society in respect of gender identity.

From the outset, the Task Group was conscious of the urgent need to resource PCI in order to, as the report states, ‘…help it navigate this publicly contested, highly nuanced and rapidly developing debate around gender identity. These issues are important but in congregational life what matters most is that those who struggle, and those close to them, receive good pastoral care that is full of God’s love and truth.’

The resource, ‘A Biblical Framework and Guidance for Pastoral Care of People who Struggle with Gender Identity’ is intended to help equip those who provide pastoral care rather than to be given to those in need of pastoral care. With Presbyteries having been consulted on the framework, it will be, however, the first time that gender identity has been discussed on the floor of the General Assembly.

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ

Mr Gribben concluded by saying, “While we will be meeting for only three days, there will be much business before us. At the heart of the Church is our central calling to proclaim and live out the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in a constantly changing world. Much of our work next week seeks to further that primary calling in different contexts, including both within the Church and in relation to the public issues around us. After the last 19 months, it will also be a welcome opportunity to be together, and be able to worship together, as a Presbyterian family.”

The General Assembly will take place in Belfast from 11am Monday, 4 October to Wednesday, 6 October. Business will also take place on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. For full details visit the General Assembly Overview page here.   As in previous years, throughout the General Assembly there will be a live Twitter feed. You can follow preceedings via @pciassembly hashtag #PCIGA21.

In a special podcast, ‘Lets talk about the General Assembly’ hosted by Neil Harrison, PCI’s Mission Development Officer, the Moderator, Clerk and the Secretary to the Council for Global Mission, Rev Uel Marrs, discuss the practicalities of what to expect next week and some of the themes being discussed this year.

Photos: (1) Assembly Buildings in Belfast (2) the socially distanced Assembly Hall (3) view from the Moderator’s chair (4) Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly (5) view from the speaker’s lecturn (6) the Moderator Rt Rev Dr David Bruce (7) overflow space in the conference room.


Church leaders invite prayerful support for October service

24.9.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Prayer, Statements, Church leaders, Commemorations.

In a joint statement the Church Leaders have invited ‘prayerful support’ for their Service of Reflection and Hope, which takes place at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh on 21 October 2021.

The Church Leaders said, “towards the end of 2020, after prayerful reflection and dialogue, we made a decision as the Church Leaders Group to undertake a collective programme of engagement with the 1921 centenaries. We were conscious that these centenaries would highlight painful moments from our past which continue to impact relationships in our present. We felt a responsibility as Christian leaders to explore the opportunity to deepen the work of reconciliation in a context of respectful dialogue. We cannot undo the past, but we can learn from it, and we all have a responsibility to contribute to the healing of relationships from our different perspectives.

“As Church Leaders we have been saddened by the polarised public commentary around our Service of Reflection and Hope. The tone of the public debate has shone a light on the societal wounds we wish to reflect on in this service. We wish primarily to gather in prayer for healing of relationships, and in doing so, to demonstrate a renewed commitment to working together for peace, reconciliation and the common good. 

“We of course understand that not everyone will feel able to participate with us in this service, but for those who do, particularly in our local churches across this island, we wish to clarify in this statement the context and original vision for the service, and invite people to join with us in prayer and reflection.”

Context for the Service of Reflection and Hope

Speaking about the context for the service, the Church Leaders continued, “we first set out our intentions and aspirations for this year in our New Year’s statement in which we acknowledged that what for some is a cause for celebration in the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland, will be for others the centenary of a key moment in the partition of the island, evoking feelings of loss and separation. We shared that:

For us, as Church Leaders, the centenary opens up opportunities for greater understanding of each other, for further healing and reconciliation between our communities. This centenary also provides the opportunity for us to reflect together on the failings of relationships and use of violence across the whole island which have marred our past and which in some ways continue to cast a shadow on the present. Mindful of our interconnectedness, we recognise our different perspectives on this centenary even among us as Church Leaders. Still we commit ourselves to building a future together in which historic mistrust and division becomes a thing of the past.

“We approached these themes through prayer and worship, composing a centenary prayer and coming together for a broadcast worship service in May in which we reflected on what partition has meant in each of our lives and families. We sought to contribute to reflection within churches, publishing a statement on St Patrick’s Day acknowledging our own failings and highlighting the responsibilities of the Church. We have engaged in dialogue with a wide range of different groups, both within and beyond the churches, including Christian leaders in the other jurisdictions across these islands, and community leaders from different backgrounds. We will soon be releasing a podcast series on the theme ‘Identity and Belonging — Past, Present, Future’ which shares something of these conversations.” 

Content of the Service for Reflection and Hope

The Church Leaders continued, “the Service of Reflection and Hope was planned for the latter part of the year so that it would be shaped and informed by the range of engagements outlined above, and to allow as many people as possible to join with us in this work. We re-state once again that the service is an initiative of the Church Leaders’ Group and Church Leaders have been wholly responsible for its planning, organisation and design. As we stated in March, it does not form part of any other programme of events.

“The ongoing risks of Covid-19 will restrict the space for in-person participation, but the service will bring together community representatives from across these islands. It will be underpinned by a Christian vision of reconciliation, which calls us to acknowledge the pain of the past, confess our own failings and commit ourselves to peace in the hope that relationships can be renewed as God reconciled us to himself through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-29).”

Hope for the future

In conclusion, they said, “as Church Leaders, people of faith, we stand united at this crossroads looking forward, by the grace of God, to a better and brighter future. We recognise the need to better respect our differences, but we must learn “to differ well” and be prepared to listen and show charity to those with different views and aspirations.

“As we prayerfully prepare for what will be a Christian act of worship we invite as many people as possible to join us in prayer on the day of the service and we hope that it will be a positive and honest contribution, through faith, to peace and healing in this land.”

Centenary Prayer

Sovereign, wise and gracious God, in whose hands lie the past, present and future, we acknowledge before you our failures, our divisions, and the hurt we have caused you and one another. Forgive, restore, and heal us. The events of partition and formation, which took place one hundred years ago on this island, changed, shaped, and determined the outlook for this place which we all call home. As we reflect upon those times and bring to mind what happened then and in the years since, we acknowledge before you our different and often polarised interpretations of history. As we travel onwards in our journey, may we learn from the experiences of the past and from those who trod these roads before us, so that the inheritance we pass on to the next generation is the gift of understanding, peace, and hope. In faith we pray, and humbly ask, in the name of him who is the light of the world and giver of all hope, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This statement has been issued on behalf of the Church Leaders Group which comprises the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh and Primates of All Ireland, the Most Rev John McDowell and the Most Rev Eamon Martin respectively; the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Rt Rev Dr David Bruce; the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, the Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson.


Church marks historic moment in time

17.9.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Union Theological College, Public Affairs, Commemorations.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has marked the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland and the partition of Ireland in 1921 with a special event today at its Union Theological College in south Belfast, which 100 years ago, became the first home of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.

In holding ‘On these steps’, the all-Ireland denomination wanted to mark the centenaries by acknowledging the role that its College played in the momentous events of 100 years ago. The Church also had a broader aim beyond the commemorative, in that it sought to create space to hear different perspectives and build relationships, by bringing people together to reflect on the island’s past, while looking in hope to a shared future.

Recognising the diversity of views around this significant anniversary, the Church invited civic and political representatives from across the UK and Ireland, including Ireland’s church leaders, who heard the Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Bruce, give a reflective address that spoke to all traditions represented at the event. Ian McBride, the Foster Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford, brought a historical perspective. The Principal of Union Theological College, Rev Professor Gordon Campbell, welcomed guests to the event and acted as MC.

Political reflection also played a key part in proceedings, with a panel discussion hosted by the journalist and broadcaster Judith Hill. Panellists included Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Paul Givan MLA and Junior Minister, Declan Kearney MLA, representing the deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, who was unable to attend. Newly appointed Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Conor Burns MP, also took part along with Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD.

In his wide-ranging and thought-provoking address, that was both challenging and hope filled, Dr Bruce drew on his own personal experiences of growing up in Lurgan, both through division and friendship. He also painted a prophetic picture of what he thought it would take to build something new, the creativity that is required in reworking and reshaping ‘the clay of this place’, which he said is a ‘unique mix’. It was, however, a future that he said was undeniably in the hands of everyone on the island of Ireland, especially those who were prepared ‘to get their hands dirty’. At the heart of that future, is reconciliation.

During his address the Moderator spoke of the different journeys travelled when it comes to the centenaries, and how like many of the communities across Ireland, these journeys often meet at a crossroads. “There are those who lament the creation of the border on this island, seeing it as an act of political compromise undermining the cause of Irish unity, and condemning this island to a further century of violence and sectarian polarisation. There are others who will wish to celebrate the partition of Ireland as a triumph of statecraft; a necessary act of political expedience to honour the democratic wishes of the majority in these six counties,” he said.

Recognising the reality of mistrust, division and the violence once endured, Dr Bruce asked the question that goes to the heart of the matter “… does the gospel provide a basis for hope for the future as we stand at this crossroads, regarding each other across the way, 100 years on? There are some things we will never be able to forget, and indeed which we must try not to forget. Victims of violence who have lost loved ones still seek justice, however unlikely such recourse through the courts might be. To remove that from them is to remove hope, and is antithetical to the gospel, which unites both love and justice in the person of Jesus Christ.”

Dr Bruce explained that the Christian understanding of reconciliation rests upon the coming together of both love and justice: love sent Christ to be with us and justice sent Christ to the cross – both were needed to reconcile us to God.”

“Reconciliation is not soft or forgetful. Setting the past aside as if it didn’t happen is no basis or foundation for healing. Reconciliation that has the grit and grip to re-write a life is that which names a wrong as the wrong that it is, whether perpetrated by the state or by an agent of terror. Such naming and then acknowledgement of a wrong presents a choice to those at the table. If they have the courage and good sense and moral backbone to repent of it, to lament that it ever took place, to say so and face the guilt that lies at its heart, then a door is opened to a new future….” he said.

“…God’s vision for us is that we, friends and enemies alike, can sit together and eat together at the table. The people who get this are deeply impressive and unforgettable when we encounter them, and we on this island have a disproportionately large number of them to celebrate…”

Speaking of another table, Dr Bruce said, “The power-sharing arrangements which exist here [in Northern Ireland], while not by any means perfect, are precious. They are a table around which we will find political friends and foes, and that in itself is a prophetic instrument which we need to protect…”

“North, south, east and west on these islands present us with a web of opportunities to grow – economically, culturally, spiritually, if we have the vision for it. In a post-Brexit, Protocol environment some of this has been made more complicated, but if anything it has been made more urgent. We must work tirelessly to sort out the new configurations of our cultural, commercial and spiritual connections. No shortcuts. No quick fixes. No buck-passing. Just gritty determination to get the detail done.”

In conclusion, Dr Bruce said, “A multi-cultural Ireland, north and south is a blessing to us, and we need not be fearful of it. The stories of those who have left everything behind in their homelands to be part of our story in this, their new homeland, need to be heard, and they will enrich us, just as we will bless them…Whatever a new Ireland resembles, it will not be because someone was victorious, while another was defeated. If it looks like that, it won’t be a new Ireland…”

During the event, which was livestreamed, guests were treated to the premier of a specially commissioned song for the event by the Belfast-based indie singer-songwriter, FernaThey also heard King George V’s address to the opening of the Parliament, spoken by local actor Jim Allen.

In his wide-ranging address, which included historical assessment alongside contemporary reflective and observations, Professor McBride suggested that those who had gone before were not motivated only by inherited prejudices, but their beliefs and values were shaped by the Great War, which found many parallels in the Europe of the day.

“One useful function of historians is to remind us that our predicaments are rarely as unique as we think. The unprecedented strains created by the Great War not only split apart the union of Britain and Ireland; they also brought about the collapse of the great continental empires…

“The new states of Poland and Czechoslovakia were established, Romania was enlarged…and the area around Smyrna (modern Izmir) was awarded to the Greeks. In all these cases, as in Ireland, the wishes of the inhabitants collided with strategic interests and with local political and economic circumstances,” he said. Quoting the European historian Mark Mazower, Professor McBride said that that “…the Paris peace settlement of 1919-1923 gave sixty million people a state of their own; but it also turned 25 million people into ‘minorities’.”

From the outset Professor McBride said that there was no easy answer to the question ‘How can we find constructive ways of commemorating the creation of Northern Ireland 100 years ago?’ He told those gathered in the Gamble Library, the seat of the old House of Commons from 1921 to 1932, that, “The partition of Ireland was a flawed attempt to reconcile the aspirations of Unionists and Nationalists. The responsibility for its failures lies with decision-makers in Belfast, in London and, to some extent, in Dublin also.

“In many respects the constitutional settlement of 1920-22 was the antithesis of the peace process of the 1990s…A century ago, neither Unionists nor Nationalists were capable of recognising the legitimacy of each other’s political allegiances.  Each regarded the historical and cultural traditions of the other as invalid, or at least as misguided,” he said.

At the same time Professor McBride observed that, “The political and social forces working in favour of partition were very powerful.  Nobody had a coherent or obviously workable alternative…Over the decades the mechanisms of denial and evasion became habitual, the rationalisations more practiced, and ‘whataboutery’ became a competitive sport.

“My hope is that, in this centenary year, we can collectively interrogate some of these self-serving reflexes…The challenge for historians, among others, is to ensure that the complex realities of the Irish situation a century ago are not ironed out for political, ideological or therapeutic reasons.”

Having spoken about the ‘challenge for historians’, Professor McBride concluded his address by quoting the renowned Irish historian, David Fitzpatrick, when he said that task of the historian is to ‘raise awkward issues and, above all, seek to broaden the terms of debate’.

“We should bear in mind Fitzpatrick’s advice as we contemplate the centenary of Northern Ireland. ‘Far from avoiding all forms of judgement’, he suggested, historians should try ‘to add moral intensity to the ways in which we commemorate and comprehend the past’,” Professor McBride said.

You can listen to Ferna’s song ‘Lapsed’ here. You can also read the full address given by Dr Bruce here and Professor McBride’s historical reflection here. The event was supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund and will be followed by a series of webinars. The four-part series will seek to unpack ‘On these steps’ and its themes to the wider Irish Presbyterian community.


Special service for Auxiliary Ministers & Accredited Preachers to be livestreamed

16.9.2021 | Moderator, Ministry, Union Theological College.

A special Service of Accreditation for Auxiliary Ministers and Accredited Preachers will take place on Sunday 19 September at Elmwood Presbyterian Church in Lisburn.

With a limit on invitations due to the current restrictions, this service, which commences at 6.30pm, will also be livestreamed and available to watch here.

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The Moderator Rt Rev Dr David Bruce will be present to acknowledge those who have successfully completed the courses including 20 Accredited Preachers and 9 Auxiliary Ministers representing 29 different congregations.

Union Theological College’s Professor of Ministry and Director of the Institute for Ministry, Rev David Leach said, “We are delighted that a Service of Accreditation can be held in Elmwood Presbyterian to recognise those in our denomination who have completed the Auxiliary Ministry Scheme and Accredited Preacher Scheme over the last couple of years. 

“Like so many other areas of church-life, this service had been delayed due to the pandemic but at the same time it takes nothing away from the hard work and commitment of those who have co-ordinated, and, of course, completed the courses. 

“It is a delight to be able to gather in this way and give thanks to God for those who have spent these last few years grappling with scripture and training to be faithful to God’s Word in leading services and filling pulpits across the island, on a regular basis.”

Rev David Leach concluded, “The Council for Training in Ministry is grateful to the congregation of Elmwood for allowing us to use their building for this service.”

The Accredited Preacher Scheme is open to church members, male or female, who have a gift in communicating God’s Word and who have attended the Handling the Word introductory course on preaching. Accredited Preachers have a voluntary role helping out with leading worship services and preaching. You can find out more about them here and applications for the 2022 intake are now open.

The General Assembly first gave the go-ahead for the Auxiliary Minister Scheme in June 2010. An Auxiliary Minister is a Minister of the Word and their primary duty is to preach and teach, with the rest of the role comprising various combinations of pastoral care, discipleship and outreach. As a support role to the ordained Minister they will be responsible to him or her and to the local Presbytery. 

Depending on congregational need, they can be full-time or part-time, salaried or expenses based. Their duties, however, will not include officiating at baptisms, the Lord’s Supper or weddings.

The Church’s Council for Mission in Ireland, which is responsible for new Church development and Church planting, can also request the creation of an Auxiliary Minister post to support the establishment of new congregations across Ireland.

For further information on the Auxiliary Minister Scheme click here.


Church leaders’ service of reflection & hope

15.9.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Church leaders, Commemorations.

Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation underpins Service of Reflection and Hope to mark the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland.

A Service of Reflection and Hope to mark the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland will take place in Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh, on Thursday, 21 October 2021.

The service is being organised by the Church Leaders Group, as part of their wider programme of collective engagement around the 1921 centenaries, with an emphasis on their common Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation.

Armagh has been chosen as the location due to its significance as Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital – a status which has its origins in the 5th Century when the present site of the Church of Ireland cathedral was presented to Saint Patrick for building his ‘great stone church’.

In a joint statement issued on Saint Patrick’s Day, the Church Leaders emphasised the need to ‘be intentional in creating spaces for encounter with those who are different from us, and those who may feel marginalised in the narratives that have shaped our community identity’ and, in doing so, ’to face difficult truths about failings in our own leadership in the work of peace and reconciliation’.

This Christian act of worship will involve people from across the community, from diverse backgrounds and traditions, and with different beliefs and aspirations, coming together to pray for the healing of past hurts and to seek God’s guidance in a spirit of hope for the future. The ongoing risks of Covid-19 will restrict the space for in-person participation, but the service will be broadcast and local church communities will be invited to support the initiative in prayer.

At the heart of the Church Leaders’ joint engagements over the course of this year, in prayer, in dialogue and in collective outreach to the wider community, has been a focus on relationships. In their joint statement they say: ‘We find inspiration and encouragement in the progress that has been made through our peace process in building relations of mutual respect and trust across these islands. These relationships are often tested, and will at times be found wanting, but our communities have also demonstrated great resilience, solidarity and compassion, evident most recently in the response to Covid-19’.

This Service of Reflection and Hope is offered as a contribution to the work of building community and deepening relationships.

Photo: Pictured at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh are the members of the Church Leaders Group (Ireland). Left to Right: Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primates of All Ireland, the Most Rev John McDowell and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primates of All Ireland, the Most Rev Eamon Martin respectively.