Reorganisation, fruitfulness and sex…

The last time I visited Belfast was at the height of ’The Troubles’ in 1987. The ring of steel that surrounded the city centre has gone and there is a freedom of movement that was absent when the city was under threat of bombing. The Assembly Office of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is an impressive building with ample seating for the 624 ministers and 452 elders that comprised the court. URC folk would have been surprised by the number of retired ministers present and the low number of women.

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall

The agendas of Church Assemblies are remarkably similar. Congregations whose average age increases as the overall numbers decrease prompts urgent conversation about the structures that are needed to support congregations. Boards have been replaced by a reduced number of Councils in an attempt to better co-ordinate the work of the Assembly Office and to encourage growth. The Council for Congregational Life and Witness facilitated a discussion among members of the Assembly asking what fruitfulness might look like in the life of local churches and how that could be better encouraged.

Church House, Belfast

Church House, Belfast

The concern for Christians suffering persecution in different parts of the world was highlighted through contributions given by representatives from Syria, Pakistan and India in a session ‘Listening to the Global Church’. It is the story of ordinary people struggling to remain faithful despite overwhelming odds that reminds us how fortunate we are.

It seems impossible for Assemblies to meet and not talk about sex and the PCI was no exception. The recent referendum in the Republic of Ireland that paved the way for marriage between couples of the same sex and the court ruling that found the owners of Ashers Bakery guilty of discrimination for refusing to honour an order for a cake with a pro gay marriage slogan were the subject of lively debate. While not surprised by the Assemblies determination to oppose the introduction of same sex marriage it was disappointing that the Assembly ended by deciding not to send a delegation to the Church of Scotland Assembly in 2016. This to express concern at the decision of that church to permit ministers in civil partnership to seek a call to a congregation prepared to depart from the traditional teaching of the church.

Ecumenical and international guests

Ecumenical and international guests

This is not the time to emphasise our differences but to build on our shared commitment to be the people of God.

David Grosch-Miller

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