Two ministers up for Moderator

27.1.2023 | General Assembly, Moderator, Church Life, Presbytery News.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) 19 regional presbyteries will have two ministers to consider when they meet independently across Ireland on 7 February to determine who they would like to see as Moderator for 2023-2024.

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

The two ministers who have agreed to let their names go forward this year are contemporaries of each other. Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney of Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church in Dublin and Rev Richard Murray of Drumreagh Presbyterian Church, near Ballymoney in County Antrim, attended PCI’s Union Theological College at the same time and were called to their first congregations in the same year – 1997.

Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney MB, BCh, BOA, BD, (QUB)

Sam Mawhinney has been the minister of Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church in Dublin since 2008. Born in 1962, Sam was ordained in 1997 as minister of the joint charge of Fermoy and Cahir Presbyterian Churches, in Counties Cork and Tipperary where he served for 11 years before being called to Adelaide Road. As part of his ministerial training, Dr Mawhinney was also the assistant to the minister of Old Park Presbyterian Church in north Belfast in 1995 for two years.

Rev Richard Murray BA (QUB), BD, (QUB)

Richard Murray has been the minister of Drumreagh Presbyterian Church in County Antrim since 2016, originally a joint charge with Dromore Presbyterian Church, County Londonderry, which amalgamated with Drumreagh in June 2022. Born in 1965 Richard was ordained as minister of Hilltown and Clonduff Presbyterian Churches, County Down in 1997, having spent three years assisting the minister in Terrace Row Presbyterian Church in Coleraine as part of his ministerial training. Before coming to Drumreagh, he was installed as minister of Connor Presbyterian Church, County Antrim 2005.

The process of choosing a new Moderator of the General Assembly, who is the most senior office-bearer of the Church and its principal public representative, starts in the late autumn when presbyteries begin to suggest the names of ministers who they would like to see considered in February. Having been sent the names, the Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Trevor Gribben, then approaches those on this ‘long list’ to confirm that they would be willing to have their names go forward to the next stage.

“The way in which we select our Moderator is a relatively simple process and one that is, in the best sense of Presbyterianism, a democratic one as well. This year we have two names for presbyteries to prayerfully consider and each one may be proposed, seconded and voted on at February’s meeting,” Mr Gribben said.

“The candidate who has received the majority support of those voting then becomes the person for whom that presbytery has registered their vote for, and the person with the backing of the most of our 19 presbyteries becomes our Moderator-Designate. They will then be formerly nominated for election as Moderator to our General Assembly in June and elected by its members.”

Whoever succeeds the current Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, will be the ninth holder of the office that Mr Gribben will work closely with since becoming Clerk in 2014.

“I always look forward to the first Tuesday in February as this annual event is part of PCI’s denominational DNA and there is always a sense of anticipation in Assembly Buildings that evening as we wait for each presbytery to phone through their vote. Whoever is selected, I very much look forward to working with them when they take on their new responsibilities in June.”

Mr Gribben continued, “As they step away from their congregations to lead and encourage the Church, playing an important role in the life and ministry of PCI, much of which is often unseen, one thing will remain unchanged however; they will continue to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sole King and Head of the Church, albeit from a bigger, national stage.”

ICC Centenary Service takes place

23.1.2023 | Moderator, Church in Society, Commemorations.

One hundred years ago today, the United Council of Christian Churches and Religious Communities in Ireland, of which the Presbyterian Church in Ireland was a founding member, met for the very first time. Now known as the Irish Council of Churches, which has become one of the world’s oldest national representative church bodies, it held a special service of worship at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast yesterday to celebrate its centenary.

With the theme ‘Celebrating our Reconciling Vision of Hope’ representatives from 16 all-Ireland member denominations came together for the service, which included the Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and the Rev Dr Harold Good, former President of the Methodist Church, who both delivered an address. The service was led by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde with Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick reading 2 Corinthians 5:12-20, one of a number of church leaders who took part in the service.

The service also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Ballymascanlon Talks, which led to the establishment of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting. In 1973, in the midst of The Troubles, the Council began ground-breaking historic talks in Ballymascanlon Hotel in County Louth with senior members of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Over the course of time, these became formalised as the Irish Inter-Church Meeting (IICM), the means by which the ICC continues to engage and collaborate with the Catholic Church.

The IICM is co-chaired by the President of the ICC, currently the Rt Rev Andrew Forster, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, and a representative of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, currently the Most Rev Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Limerick, who also took part in the service.

Reflecting on this point in history, Archbishop Martin said, “Peace, reconciliation and forgiveness on this island will only be progressed by bringing to light the truths that remain hidden and festering about our troubled past, and by engaging in respectful conversations across our communities about what we mean by a shared future.

“It may seem ambitious, but might we in the Churches offer to help develop an agreed truth recovery process to address the legacy of pain and mistrust that continues to hang over us? And might our Churches also work together to create spaces for dialogue at parish, congregation and community level so that all voices can be fully heard about the kind of society and values we want for our children and grandchildren?”

The archbishop continued that it was a credit to the pioneers of Ballymascanlon that the congregation in the Cathedral “could gather today as true friends in Christ, and much closer companions on the Way, as brothers and sisters who can share each other’s joys and burdens and be open and honest about our successes and our vulnerabilities.”

Dr Good spoke of the Christian Churches bringing humility and hope to realising a vision of reconciliation. He said, “Let us not under-estimate the impact of the words of the late Queen Elizabeth during her historic visit to Dublin, when in humility she spoke of things which could have been done differently, or not at all. Just imagine if following this service, each of us was resolved to acknowledge the hurt which collectively – if not individually – we have inflicted upon each other and for which we now seek to be reconciled.”

Dr Good added, “Hope looks at the world as it is and responds with a determination to change it. The shared hope of which we speak is rooted in the unshakeable conviction that if we say and do and be the people that we are called to be, God will not be found wanting.” During his address he also referred to the forthcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and 60th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and noted that “at the centre of our shared faith is the unshakable belief in Resurrection. And, as the Easter people, it is to us that God has entrusted this Gospel of Hope.”

Members of the public joined representatives from the Irish Council of Churches and Irish Inter-Church Meeting at the service. Civic and political representatives also attended including the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Christina Black, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP and Ireland’s Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister, Simon Coveney TD.

Speaking after the service Bishop Andrew Forster, as President of the ICC, said, “I would like to thank everyone who took the time to come to St Anne’s today to worship God together and share with us this significant milestone in inter-church relations on this island, especially Archbishop Eamon and Dr Good for their addresses. In eternity, 100 years is but a blink of an eye, not even that, but in the context of our human story a century is a significant moment.”

Bishop Leahy, the IICM’s Co-Chair, added, “I think those who attended each of these historic events 50 and 100 years ago would want us today to be grateful that after all that has happened on this Ireland over the past century we were able to join together to worship God, thanking Him as we continue to pray for the unity that is Christ’s gift to the Church, and for a servant heart.  In humility, may we serve and love one another in and across communities and in doing so work for the common good.”

Photos & images (1) The procession at the start at the Centenary Service (2) Order of Service (3) Rev Dr Harold Good, former President of the Methodist Church in Ireland gives his address followed by (4) Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh (5) also attending the service were (left to right) Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP,  Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councilor Christina Black, and Ireland’s Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister, Simon Coveney TD. (Photo credits 3, 5 and 5 Frank Dillon Photography).

Hungarian & Ukrainian churches say ‘thank you’

22.12.2022 | Mission News, Global Mission, Moderator, Church in Society, Congregational News, Moderator’s Special Appeal.

As the war in Ukraine approaches its tenth month anniversary on Christmas Eve, the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH) has written to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) and its other partner churches, thanking the Church for its solidarity and support as it continues to help thousands of refugees in Hungary and Internally Displaced People in Ukraine.

In a letter from Bishop Zoltán Balog, President of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in Hungary, one of PCI’s partner churches, he wrote, ‘There are no words sufficient to express our gratitude on behalf of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid (HRCA) and the Reformed churches in Hungary and Ukraine, as well as the thousands of refugees to whom you have offered hope in a time of hopelessness.’

Since the war began Irish Presbyterians responded to the humanitarian emergency by giving £1.3 million (€1.5million) to the relief effort through a Moderator’s Special Appealwhich was launched two weeks after the Russian invasion. The amount raised from congregations from 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 October Presbyterian Moderator, Dr John Kirkpatrick visited Hungary and Transcarpathia in western Ukraine to see the ongoing humanitarian relief effort.

Since the war began the RCH and its charity organisation RCHA have been offering support to Ukrainian refugees in Hungary and delivering humanitarian aid directly to Ukraine helping the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia to provide for Internally Displaced People and others left behind. With Supply vans crossing the border daily, Bishop Zoltán said in his letter that over 500 tons of aid had been delivered directly to those fleeing the war. At PCI’s General Assembly in June, Members heard from the President of the HRCA and the support that they had been able to provide.

In his letter, Bishop Zoltán wrote, ‘I have personally been deeply impressed and grateful for the tremendous wave of solidarity from our partner churches and church-related organizations. Your hearts went out to Ukraine, for the victims of the conflict, for the millions forced to leave their homes. Your prayers and support encouraged and enabled us to fulfil our Christian duty to welcome and host thousands of refugees in Hungary and internally displaced persons in western Ukraine…”

He concluded by saying, ‘We are grateful for those who have chosen to stand with us, for your prayers and your donations…In this season of Advent, I wish you and your community God’s rich blessings as we celebrate the birth of our only hope, Jesus Christ whose words remind us of the Gospel-based motivation of our steadfast commitment even amidst war and destruction, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.”’

Speaking in response to the letter, Dr Kirkpatrick said, “Once again, I would like to thank our Church family across Ireland for how they responded to this humanitarian crisis, which was in fact the largest response in living memory ever to be received for a special appeal.

Having seen first-hand the work that the HRCA is doing in Hungary and Ukraine when my wife Joan and I visited both countries in October, you get a sense of the need and how PCI and other churches have been a real blessing in this awful situation. Can I encourage our congregations to continue to pray for all those affected by the ongoing conflict, for an immediate ceasefire and lasting peace, justice and stability for Ukraine, and pray that those who have lost loved ones would be comforted. Pray also for the Christian Churches in Ukraine, for their endurance, protection and faithful witness in face of this time of trial,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

Photos: (1) Bishop Zoltán Balog, President of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in Hungary (credit Hurta Hajnalka) (2) Dr Kirkpatrick on one of the ‘exodus’ roads in Transcarpathia, western Ukraine in October this year, which brought some 500,000 Internally Displaced People from eastern, central and southern Ukraine to the province.

Moderator at awards ceremony

16.1.2023 | Moderator, Church in Society, Chaplaincy.

As the principal public representative of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) the Moderator of the all-Ireland denomination can usually be found representing the Church at various state and national occasions during their year in office. Meeting political and civic leaders, visiting and encouraging PCI’s 500-plus congregations and their ministers, or global mission workers overseas, and of course preaching from the pulpit on a Sunday.

On Friday evening, however, in the Royal Hotel, Cookstown, the Church’s current Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, was probably the first holder the office to speak at the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland Ulster Centre’s annual Season Awards Night.

The evening saw a host of Northern Ireland’s leading road racers and newcomers attend the ceremony, which honoured their achievements in last year’s season. For anyone who knows Dr Kirkpatrick, the Portrush minister has a lifelong love of motorbikes and road racing, and a longstanding pastoral association with the sport, as he is Race Chaplain to the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland (MCUI), a position that he has held since 1994.

Speaking before yesterday award’s ceremony, Dr Kirkpatrick joked that while it was a coincidence that the MCUI chaplain is also this year’s PCI Moderator, it was probably the first, and potentially the last time, a Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland would speak at the gala event.

“This is always an important night for honouring the skill, dedication, courage and passion of those involved in motor cycle racing in Ulster and, of course, a time for reflection as we remember those whose passion for the sport was everything and ultimately cost them everything.

“Like any of our hard working chaplains you will find in hospitals, prisons, the armed forces or universities, their role is to come alongside people, supporting them, offering a listening and compassionate ear, being there for them, encouraging and praying for them, and not just in their hour of need. In a non-denominational way, my role is no different,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“Increasingly you will find more of our ministers, and those from other denominations, getting involved in sports chaplaincy as this ministry has expanded in recent years. In doing so, they bring their love of sport and love for Jesus together, as they offer pastoral and spiritual support to sportsmen and women, and officials, across a range of disciplines. It also underlines the fact that through sports chaplaincy, the Church wants to continue to demonstrate its care and compassion for people and its genuine desire to be there in every avenue of everyday life.”

Dr Kirkpatrick continued, “It is also about building relationships and trust on and off the pitch, or in my case on and off the track, in and outside of the paddock, with people of all faiths and none,” Mr Kirkpatrick said.

The Moderator also said that it had been a privilege to serve in his capacity as Race Chaplain for nearly 30 years. “The motorcycle racing community is a large family of people of all ages and from different walks of life who share a real love of the sport, its speed and power. People who celebrate the skill of the riders together, and at times come together to acknowledge the pain and grief that people often go through, but always appreciating that it takes every rider to make a race.”

Photo: the Moderator with the President of the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland Rebecca Hampshire and Chair of the MCUI’s Ulster Centre, David McCartney.

Tullamore welcomes ‘sanctuary’ recognition

13.1.2023 | Church in Society, Church Life, Mission, Congregational News.

Tullamore Presbyterian Church in County Offaly has been recognised as a ‘Church of Sanctuary’ by the independent voluntary organisation Places of Sanctuary Ireland for its ongoing work in welcoming and supporting asylum seekers, refugees and those who have also settled from overseas.

As part of their mission, the all-Ireland organisation states that it ‘works to build a culture of welcome, hospitality and inclusiveness right across every sphere and sector of society…’ building a network of groups in towns and cities, which includes community groups churches, schools and universities

Speaking about the award and the congregation’s ongoing ministry in this area, Rev William Hayes, minister of Tullamore Presbyterian Church said, “As a congregation, we have been honoured to be able to welcome people from many places and backgrounds over the years. It is also an honour to be recognised as a Church of Sanctuary for our work with those seeking safety and protection.”

Mr Hayes continued, “Tullamore, like most Irish county towns is an astonishingly diverse place for its size and rural context. An example of that local diversity became very apparent back in 2008 when a discussion with some mums and dads at our parent and toddler group revealed that out of the 44 attendees that day, 22 were of different ethnicities and national groups.

“This has meant that in order to simply be a local church working within our parish we had to learn to be a community that reaches out and provides a welcome space for people of many different nationalities and backgrounds. For the first few years of my ministry here, which began in late 2005, and the ministries of my two predecessors, work amongst ethnic minority communities was simply an extension of our more general work in the local community,” Mr Hayes said.

The work took on a more deliberate character from late 2013 when the church was approached by Offaly County Council to be involved in a refugee resettlement programme for Hazara refugees from Afghanistan. The families had come to Ireland having originally fled to Syria. Mr Hayes explained that the church’s role was to provide a meeting place every Thursday afternoon for the families to come together and meet Irish people from their own neighbourhoods.

At the same time ‘a good neighbour’ programme was started, involving people in the local community who could help and support the refugees in the place where they had been settled. “This resulted in a fascinating mix of people from many different parts of the world meeting together in our building on Thursday afternoons. Once the formal phase of the resettlement programme had finished there was a strong desire among the Afghan community and the people involved to keep the Thursday drop-in going, while expanding it to people of other nationalities. This became, what we rather grandly call, the International Welcome Centre, which has become a place of grace and blessing for people who have made Tullamore their home,” he said.

Along with families from Afghanistan and Syria, people from Russia, China, Iran, Sudan, Brazil, Germany, France, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Italy, India and Turkey find a warm welcome at the centre. “Over the years the character of the work has changed with the Welcome Centre evolving with the different waves of migration that has come through Tullamore. We have, for the most part, been blessed with translators or shared and common languages such as Persian, Russian or Spanish. When someone arrives with no common language then we are very thankful to be living in the era when Google Translate exists!

“As a church, work amongst the refugee, asylum seeker and immigrant community has become a much more intentional activity for us, than simply a by-product of reaching out to the general community, as we are called to do as Christians. Many have also become part of our church community too, worshipping on a Sunday, which is wonderful,” Mr Hayes continued.

Presenting the Church of Sanctuary certificate to Tullamore, Andy Pollok said, “As a board member of Places of Sanctuary Ireland, and somebody with a Czech refugee father and an Irish Presbyterian mother, it is a real joy to be able to present Tullamore Presbyterian Church with this certificate and welcome them into the Sanctuary family.

“This marks only the beginning of their Sanctuary work. There is a huge need for good-hearted people in this country to reach out a hand of friendship and welcome to the poor, lonely, often frightened people from overseas who have come to Ireland seeking work or sanctuary, not least to prevent the kind of fear-inspired far-right reaction that we have seen in few places in Ireland, Britain and other European countries recently.”

Mr Pollok continued, “As Dublin Central Mission, the first Methodist Church of Sanctuary in Ireland said in its pioneering Welcome the Stranger project, ‘We as a church desire to be a place of welcome, love and support to those who have found themselves in our city.’

Thanking him, Mr Hayes concluded by saying, “We welcome this recognition by Places of Sanctuary Ireland, and I am glad to say that we are not alone in the work that we do. While we are the first Presbyterian Church in Ireland to receive this award, there are many congregations in our denomination across Ireland, including PCI’s two International Meeting Points in Belfast, doing similar engaging gospel work in the name of Jesus. I would like to commend my brothers and sisters in Christ across this island, and people of no faith, as together we welcome asylum seekers and refugees to our shores and support them in their time of need.”

Photos: (1) Presenting the certificate of recognition (left to right) Paul Granger one of Tullamore’s elders, Andy Pollak, Places of Sanctuary board member, Rev William Hayes, minister of Tullamore Presbyterian Church with clerk of  session, Eleanor Dwane Smyth  and fellow elder Keith Serviss (2) Tullamore’s parent and toddler group celebrate their seventh birthday in 2016 (3) the logo of the International Welcome Centre and (4) one of the activities at the Centre.