Added on 21/06/2012
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland met in Church House, Belfast, from Monday 28th to Thursday 31st May 2012. Each of the 545 congregations is represented by its minister and one elder, who along with other representatives make up the Assembly of 1,200 delegates.
On Monday evening, the outgoing Moderator, the Rt. Rev’d. Dr. Ivan Patterson, gave a summary of his year in office, including trips to Latvia and Lebanon. Following his election, the new Moderator, the Rt. Rev’d Dr Roy Patton, Minister of Ballygilbert Church near Bangor, was installed. His theme for the year is “Prophetic Voice” as part of the Church’s “Fit for Purpose” programme.
The Assembly got down to business the following morning, after reports from the 19 Presbyteries were heard, and the visitors from other churches were received. These included delegates from the Church of Scotland, led by the Moderator, Rt Rev’d Dr Albert Bogle, the Methodist Church led by Rev’d Paul Kingston, the United Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the Irish Council of Churches led by its President, Fr. Godfrey Donnell from the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Evangelical Reformed Church of Latvia, and others from Pakistan, Central Africa and Jamaica, as well as ourselves from the Church of Ireland. It was notable that the Presbyterian Church does not yet feel ready or able to receive a visitor from the Roman Catholic Church. Greetings were brought by delegates from some of the Churches on behalf of us all.
The visitors were very warmly and graciously received by the Moderator, and by the Clerk of the Assembly, the Rev’d Dr Donald Watts, whose charming wife Fiona was responsible for the catering arrangements. Visitors were lavishly fed in the Board Room along with the Moderator and various senior clergy and people.
Just as in the Church of Ireland, the Assembly receives reports from the various Boards and Committees of the Church, though it is noticeably different in that there are no bills and motions to be voted on.
The first Board to report was the United Appeal Board. This levies congregations in order to create funds for mission and other worthy causes, and is similar to our Priorities Fund. Following its being proposed and seconded, there was no debate, so the business was completed by just before 11.00am. The next item on the agenda was the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper at 11.45am. Thus, the Assembly was dismissed for three quarters of an hour. We were amused at the thought of General Synod being at a loose end for nearly an hour on the first morning and the Primate sending us all out for coffee!!
Over the period Tuesday to Thursday, the Assembly received reports from the Board of Christian Training, Presbyterian Women, the Union Commission which is responsible for vacant congregations, the Board of Mission in Ireland, Trustees and the appointment of new Trustees, the Commission on Trusts, Mission Overseas, Social Witness, the General Board, Education, the SPUD Youth Assembly, Youth and Children’s Ministry, and Finance and Personnel.
Both the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church therefore meet annually to discuss and consider a similar range of activities, Finance, Youth, Education, Mission, etc. The various boards and committees on the whole, reported good and steady progress throughout the previous year. There is an adequate supply of student ministers, twenty or so, who are in training at Union Theological College in Belfast, and these (all male, incidentally), were introduced to the Assembly, which prompted a passionate speech calling for more women for the ministry.
The Marriage report discussed the problem of Christians marrying non–Christians, and accepted that this can lead to pastoral difficulties.
At the end of business on Thursday afternoon, Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, addressed the Assembly. He spoke passionately and very movingly about the persecution of Christians in numerous countries. He referred in particular to his native Pakistan, where he had been a bishop. There, in a Muslim society, there is intolerance, with Christians being driven from their homes, churches desecrated, and widespread discrimination in education and work. He encouraged people not just to pray for the persecuted Church, but if possible actually to support churches in such places by making visits to them.
The Presbyterians are fortunate to have such a fine building containing a magnificent 1,300 seater hall to do these things, right in the centre of Belfast with easy parking and bus and rail access. Next year, the Assembly will meet for the first time in Londonderry, commencing on Monday June 3rd.
It was both a pleasure and an experience to visit the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and to be the recipients of such warm Christian friendship and hospitality.
+Patrick, Tuam, Killala and Achonry
David WT Crooks
|For further information please contact: |
|The Commission for Christian Unity & Dialogue|
Church of Ireland House
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