16.2.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs.
Following the introduction of Paul Givan MLA’s private member’s bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly today, a bill which seeks to remove the diagnosis of non-fatal disability as a sole ground for accessing abortion, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has expressed support for the move.
Speaking after the first reading of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill, in the Assembly, PCI’s Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, welcomed Mr Givan’s initiative, saying that it attempts to protect children in the womb after 12 weeks who develop conditions like club foot and cleft palate, as well as Down Syndrome. He also encouraged as many MLAs as possible to give their backing to the Bill, as he recognised that there would be support for it across most of the parties in the Assembly.
“We vigorously opposed the imposition of abortion legislation by Westminster on Northern Ireland, as we believed at the time, as we continue to maintain today, that it would create the most extreme and most liberal abortion regime anywhere in these islands, which it has done,” Dr Bruce said.
“There are many aspects of the current legislation we find morally wrong and unjustifiable and we welcome Mr Givan’s Bill, as it seeks to provide protection for children where there is a diagnosis of non-fatal disability before birth. This includes conditions like Down Syndrome.”
Dr Bruce continued, “While I speak as a Christian, there will be many who don’t share my faith, yet also recognise that Northern Ireland’s legislation goes too far. Is anyone really saying we shouldn’t take any opportunity we can to protect the lives of children with disability?”
Dr Bruce said that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland believes that providing for abortion up to full-term on the grounds of non-fatal disability, as Northern Ireland’s current legislation does, risks creating a culture where termination is considered an option ‘just in case’ quality of life is not as good as had been expected in a child without a disability.
“Our current legislation sends a profound message to society about the value that is placed on all human life, not only at birth, but also for those who live with a disability,” he said.
“As a result, there is a challenge for all of us to actively support and care for those who live with non-fatal disabilities from birth and value their contribution to society as equals, which current abortion legislation simply does not do. Supporting this Bill provides an opportunity to send a strong and very clear signal that in this part of the world people with a disability are valued.
“I have today written to all MLAs asking them to support Mr Givan’s Bill when they have the opportunity to vote on its provisions during its second reading in a few weeks’ time. In so doing, I have affirmed our belief that we are made in the image of God, and that therefore all human life has dignity and value.”
Dr Bruce concluded by saying, “I hope our elected representatives will give due consideration to this Bill. At the same time, I also hope and pray that they will see the need to provide excellent perinatal care in every part of Northern Ireland for every woman facing a pregnancy crisis. Practical, emotional and spiritual support for women and their families is absolutely essential if we are truly committed as a society to life, well-being and human dignity.”
11.2.2021 | General Assembly, Moderator, Church Life, COVID-19 Emergency.
Moderators of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) are formally elected annually by the Assembly at its opening meeting, the nominee having been selected by PCI’s 19 regional presbyteries earlier that year. By convention they serve for one year, however, for the first time since 1894, the Church announced today that its current Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, will be nominated to the General Assembly to serve for a second term of office.
Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland explained that following normal practice, towards the end of 2020, PCI’s presbyteries forwarded to him the names of ministers who they would like to see considered as the denomination’s next Moderator. As Clerk of Assembly he then wrote individually to each minister to see if they would be willing to permit their name go forward to the next stage – the selection of the Moderator-Designate by voting in presbyteries meeting separately across Ireland in February.
“When I heard back from each colleague, only one minister, David Bruce, our current Moderator, consented to his name going before presbyteries for consideration, which by convention should have taken place on the first Tuesday in February,” Mr Gribben said.
“Taking an overview of the current situation, with our presbyteries not being able to meet physically, due to current restrictions in both jurisdictions, and the fact that only one name was under consideration, the General Council’s Standing Committee, acting with delegated authority, unanimously agreed that Dr Bruce’s name be forwarded to the General Assembly for appointment as Moderator for the 2021-2022 church year.”
Mr Gribben concluded by saying, “As we have journeyed through these last 11 months, the rhythm of church life, and life in general, has changed dramatically for us all. We have learned what it means to walk by faith, and not by sight, and we have experienced the amazing grace of our faithful God as he led us on that journey. The nomination of our current Moderator to serve a second term is a significant change. Since our General Assembly came into being in 1840, this has only happened on six previous occasions, the last time being in 1894, 127 years ago. However, the outcome of this year’s nomination process is a further demonstration not only of the unprecedented times that we are living through, but also of leading of the Lord, as we have prayerfully sought his guidance for the days ahead.”
Speaking about the decision, Dr Bruce said, “I am of course, deeply honoured to be asked by our Church to be its next Moderator. To be considered for a second time is also truly humbling. When I was first nominated a year ago, no one could have possibly anticipated the challenges that we would face the following month, let alone a year on. The whole of our society – indeed the entire world – has had to face a pandemic which has devastated economies, destabilised governments and led to the deaths of millions of people. Perhaps the world will never know the full cost of the spread of Covid-19 and its variants.
“In addition, and in Ireland, north and south, 2020 began and ended with Brexit, the complex implications of which are being played out before us right now. The Church currently finds itself unable to meet face-to-face for worship, and with its normal programme of activities heavily curtailed. Ministers, pastors and priests of all traditions are re-inventing their patterns of life, while doing their utmost to act in support of families, many of which are in crisis. These are difficult days for us all.
Dr Bruce continued, “But in the midst of this, there is hope – just as the dawn comes after a dark night, and spring arrives after a long winter, for the Christian, resurrection bursts upon us after the devastation of the Crucifixion. As Moderator I will aim to bring a message of hope in the coming year, with the prayer that when the restrictions begin to lift and the amazing vaccines, which have been offered to us all, begin to have their effect, we will emerge again, ready to serve and love and worship as God’s people. This is not a time for grand promises and detailed plans. This is a time for careful reflection and faithful trust that God will see us through. There is Hope.
The Moderator concluded by saying, “My wife Zoe and I hope that, regulations permitting, we may be able to travel across Ireland to visit and encourage congregations, and presbyteries during the year. We pray for our overseas partners in some of the poorest regions of the world, and hope that we might be able to offer encouragement to them by standing with them in solidarity as they seek to bear witness to Christ in face of unimaginable challenges. In short, we hope to serve the Church in this year, and by doing so, to honour Christ who has loved us and called us.”
Photos: (1) Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church and (2) the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce.
Due to the exceptional circumstances surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, for the first time in 180 years, last year’s General Assembly had to be cancelled.
The decision was taken at a virtual Special Meeting of the General Assembly, with members voting online. The meeting also agreed that all necessary business of the General Assembly, including the election of the Moderator, be conducted through a ‘2020 Standing Commission of the General Assembly’. The Standing Commission met by video conference on Tuesday, 2 June and Wednesday 3 June 2020 to conduct the necessary business of the General Assembly.
Apart from a small technical support team, on what would have been the Opening Night of the General Assembly, only four people were physically present in the Assembly Hall in Belfast’s Assembly Buildings to participate in the Moderator’s installation. Dr Bruce was elected by members of the 2020 Standing Commission of the General Assembly who attended remotely via live video conference. You can read the story and watch the video of the installation here
9.2.2021 | Moderator, Church in Society, Public Affairs, COVID-19 Emergency.
As we continue to endure the pandemic, Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, writing in this morning’s News Letter, he looks at the ordinary everyday heroes, who keep on keeping on and how even in these continuing dark days – there is hope. Dr Bruce writes, ‘Along with the vaccine-designers, the frontline NHS workers, the cleaners and cooks, the care workers and carers at home, we are surrounded by heroes. Teachers, who’ve had to find a new ways of teaching. Journalists who have had to find new ways of reporting. Ministers and pastors who have had to find new ways of doing church. These people, and more like, them are remarkable.’
This pandemic has gripped us for long enough, and we can’t shake it off. Like a long dark path, it appears to have no end. But there are signs, glimmers of increasing hope, even with the appalling nightly litany of statistics recording those who have passed away. A new dawn is surely coming.
Vaccines which have been developed by genius minds in labs across the world give us hope, and appear to be effective, even with the variants of the virus now emerging. Healthcare heroes, who labour day and night on the frontline have held back the tide in our care homes and hospitals. They all deserve medals. What days we are living through!
But there are other heroes too. Some, like Captain Sir Tom Moore, who died recently aged 100, achieved national renown, not just for the money he raised, but for his simple tenacity. The Queen didn’t call him ‘an inspiration’ for nothing. But there are other heroes, unsung and battling behind the scenes who are just keeping on keeping on.
I know a young couple who run a hostel in Scotland. They haven’t had any back-packers to stay for months, so their business is closed. Even with some welcome help from the government, they can’t realistically expect to pay their bills with no income. So what are they to do? They press on, wait for better days, and plan for improvements to their building. It’s heroic.
I know of a young mother with seven children. She is, what you might call, ‘New Irish’. She started out in a deeply troubled part of the world, and arrived on these shores as a refugee with her family. She manages on her own. English is not her first, or even her second language, but she is home-schooling her kids through the pandemic – in English! I am completely in awe of her committed determination to keep going. It is heroic.
Along with the vaccine-designers, the frontline NHS workers, the cleaners and cooks, the care workers and carers at home, we are surrounded by heroes. Teachers, who’ve had to find a new ways of teaching. Journalists who have had to find new ways of reporting. Ministers and pastors who have had to find new ways of doing church. These people, and more like, them are remarkable.
I was again confronted by examples of powerful heroism as I read the recent Report on Mother & Baby Homes. Mothers and their grown up children bravely told their shocking stories, hidden for so long.
The Bible is full of heroes, the well-known and the unsung. Hagar, for example, was a household servant who was used as a surrogate mother to provide a much-wanted son, and was subsequently banished into the desert by the family she served. There she had an encounter with God, and for the first time, felt truly seen and valued as a person in her own right. People had let her down, but God had not. In fact she calls God “the One who sees me.”
As we continue to deal with this pandemic, big and small heroic acts are being revealed across Northern Ireland – vaccinators, home-schoolers, business people, health workers, newcomers, the ones who have found courage to tell their stories; Here is one thing we can all hold on to. You are seen. You are known. You are loved – what’s more, there is hope for everyone.
29.1.2021 | Presbyterian Herald, Church Life, Congregational News, COVID-19 Emergency.
After a significant absence, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s denominational magazine, the Presbyterian Herald, is back.In any given year, the 10,000 Herald subscribers would receive eight monthly copies and two double editions, July and August and a Christmas/New Year edition. As Herald editor, Sarah Harding, explained, the magazine’s production team had to pause publication back in March, with the Easter edition, due to the pandemic, “but the Herald is back for 2021, and we will be publishing four bumper editions throughout this coming year,” she said.
“The decision was taken to allow for flexibility, as well as reducing risk around production and distribution. In this first edition of the year, which we have called ‘Standing in hope’, we look back at 2020 and hear the stories and experiences of Presbyterians across Ireland. We also take a global perspective and hear how people from our partner churches around the world are coping. As we look forward into this year, our Moderator, Dr David Bruce, encourages us to be people of resilience and hope – facing whatever lies ahead together.”
Sarah continued, “In this issue we also sought to reflect the wide range of experiences of the pandemic. In the article ‘Taking stock’, for example, several Presbyterians share their thoughts. Despite the many difficulties and uncertainties, I think that there is a bold resilience that comes through in these articles, with God’s people continuing to trust him in all situations.”
With a publication heritage going back to the Missionary Herald, first published in 1843, the new 64- page Winter edition of the Presbyterian Herald includes regular features ‘News in the round’, ‘As I see it’ and news from the home and overseas mission fields in the ‘Mission Connect’ supplement – including prayer points. There are also articles on how each of our virtual lives have been transformed, as a result of the pandemic, and on the home front there is also a report on how staff and residents in PCI’s residential care homes have coped throughout the current crisis.
With so much that has changed over the past 10 months, even the publication of the Herald had to be undertaken to ensure the teams’ safety, with much of the production taking place remotely. “We recognise it’s been a very difficult time for everyone, I also appreciate that many of our readers may be feeling a little disconnected from their congregations, or indeed the wider Presbyterian family,” Sarah said.
“We hope, however, that through the Herald our readers in our congregations across Ireland might regain some of that connection – and the good news is that for 2021 the Herald will be free to everyone, so please can I encourage you to avail of this offer. On a personal note, I would like to thank the team and contributors who made this edition possible, and our subscribers and agents for their patience and support throughout this time. I would also like to welcome any new readers to the magazine.”
It is intended that each edition will be physically printed unless restrictions make this unfeasible. While copies of the Winter edition have been distributed to PCI’s Herald Agents, who will ensure subscribers receive them safely, it is also available to view free of charge as a PDF copy here. It is also as a digital copy which can be accessed at issuu.com.
The Spring edition of the Presbyterian Herald will be available in April.
Images: (1) Sarah Harding, editor of the Presbyterian Herald and (2) the front cover of the Winter edition 2021.
WHOLE – new digital resource unveiled
19.1.2021 | Congregational Life, Church Life, Discipleship, Resources, COVID-19 Emergency, Refined.
With the pandemic disrupting so many aspects of life, including church life, over the last 10 months the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has continued to produce resources to support, develop and refocus congregational life and witness in these challenging times, especially when congregations can’t meet in person. ‘WHOLE’ is its latest instalment and is free to download from this website.
‘WHOLE – Living well as the people God has made us to be’ to give it its full title is now available in the Refined section of PCI website. The six session resource explores a biblical approach to living well as whole people made in the image of God, as they seek to follow Jesus in this disrupted season of life.
The new resource has been devised and produced by one of PCI’s central councils, the Council for Congregational Life and Witness (CCLW). The Council seeks to support the on-going life, mission and witness of congregations in their work with all age-groups, while encouraging and resourcing them in sharing the hope of the gospel in their communities. Rev David Thompson, Secretary of the Council, highlighted the need for WHOLE at this particular time and how it might fit into congregational life during what may well be a prolonged time of ongoing disruption to normal church activities.
“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on everyone since March. As we move forward into 2021, we do so with hope on the horizon as the vaccine process begins to be rolled out. However, we still face a long, hard winter, when we will need to be self-aware to ensure self-care and also looking out for and supporting others struggling with difficult circumstances.”
Mr Thompson continued, “The Bible has lots to say about living well as the whole people God has made us to be. The WHOLE resource is designed to enable groups, gathering either in person, or digitally as the unfolding situation allows, to explore this topic and benefit from listening to and talking about it with one another.”
Designed specifically for the context of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the six sessions cover:
- Grounded wellbeing: Hopefulness – Romans 8:18-28
- Social wellbeing: Supported – Proverbs 27:17; Ecclesiastes 4:12; Hebrews 10:24-25
- Physical wellbeing: Strengthened – 1 Kings 19:1-9
- Mental wellbeing: Focused – Philippians 4:4-9
- Emotional wellbeing: Steadied – Philippians 4:10-13
- Active wellbeing: Carried along – Hebrews 11:13-16
WHOLE follows the pattern of the previous Unprecedented material, which offered a short, sharp framework for groups, allowing participants to catch up with each other pastorally, reflect on what God is saying in this moment and respond with renewed faith in him and following in his ways for their lives.
Both Unprecedented and WHOLE, are part of a stable of resources produced by CCLW for congregations during the pandemic. In March 2020, PCI began developing a range of resources for congregations across Ireland in response to first lockdown. Existing and new resources were brought together under the banner ‘These three remain…’ which drew its name from the well known verse in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The initiative sought to remind the Church how, in a time of widespread uncertainty, and change, that the three core elements of Christianity, faith, hope and love remain.
These three remain… included relevant devotional material through PCI’s Tides Daily Devotions, specific points for prayer via Let’s Pray Weekly and ‘In this moment’ prayers in immediate response to the changing situation. Help was also available for congregations in re-imaging core aspects of their work, while they were unable to gather together, through various blogs and podcasts – all of which are ongoing.
Following on from the These Three Remain initiative, CCLW developed ‘Refined’, a digital programme hub for supporting and developing congregational life and witness during the ongoing challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic period.
As David Thompson explained, “Throughout this period we have looked at what we can do with the people and technology available to us. Refined offers a variety of ways to prayerfully seek God’s guidance for this season of church life together and remain open to his leading for the future. It took its name from our first ever digital conference. The conference theme was ‘Refined’ and helped to support our congregations explore God’s refining work in our church life at this particular time. A recording of the conference is available to view on the Refined hub of the PCI website.”
The Refined hub also includes:
- Digital conversations: Small gatherings of ten facilitating the sharing of ideas for a variety of aspects of church life and providing encouragement for those who want to be part of a bigger conversation
- Digital webinars: Seeking to equip congregational leaders on specific themes for this season of ministry and mission
- Digital reflection: Ongoing stimulation through the Tides digital devotional, blogs on a variety of subjects, podcasts carrying the story of PCI as we navigate these days together and Facebook pages aimed at supporting leaders in children’s and youth ministry
- Digital resourcing: Providing a range of Bible study and other resources aimed at equipping congregations to help members in following Jesus in shaping their everyday lives and tailoring church life to honour him at this time
- Digital conferencing: Exploring big ideas relevant to envisioning the whole denomination for this season of ministry and mission.
The latest in this ongoing series of resources will be launched shortly, and is called ‘For now – Belonging to church in unusual times’. This resource, which will be launched shortly, will contain a message from the Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, a devotional piece and prayer, some readings from the Psalms and suggestions and encouragement to every PCI family to maintain connection with their congregation while regular worship and rhythms of church life continue to experience disruption.
Photo: Rev David Thompson, Secretary of the Council for Congregational Life and Witness pictured in October last year launching PCI’s first digital conference.