The welcome at the Presbyterian Church of Ireland ………..

…….. was as warm and hospitable as it could be.

Presbyterian Church House - Belfast

This was the second Assembly I had attended (with my chaplain Jim Coleman and my husband Rod) within a three week period (Church of Scotland 21st to 27th May and Presbyterian Church in Ireland 6th to 9th June). We again met with other ecumenical guests from these islands and beyond and we enjoyed sharing observations and experiences.

Again there were issues being discussed , Training, Youth and Children’s work, Pensions, Strategy for Mission – to name but a few – which are common across all denominations. The worship included a wonderful mix of the traditional and the contemporary and a rally on Wednesday evening, to which many came who were not members of the Assembly, was a joyful, celebratory and uplifting event.

The Assembly Hall

Two differences struck me forcibly, one was to do with context and the other with the church structures.

I have come increasingly to appreciate the different pressures which our own national synods of Scotland and Wales face as they operate in countries with distinctive heritage, culture and government. In Ireland those too are part of the context but the awareness of and concern relating to sectarianism gives a set of circumstances which I guess only those who live in the country can appreciate. 1912 to 1922 were critical years in the history of Ireland. Centenaries will come and need to be celebrated but there are risks to remembering which could revive old hurts, unhealed traumas, old bitternesses and animosities. The memory of history can be selective and yet it is important for communities to work together to seek ways forward and crucial that the church should be involved in that process. One of the 10 resolutions passed on the subject illustrates the sensitivity and understanding needed:

 That the General Assembly, mindful of the risk of polarization in the next decade, ask that those engaging with others would seek to do so constructively and in such a way as to encourage a more inclusive listening, learning and sensitive commemoration of events for community-building, involving both intra and inter community meeting and engagement.

 This is a church which is both male and minister dominated. A fact which was demonstrated on the first evening in the procession of former moderators, all male, all uniformly dressed in frogged gowns and dog collars. There were more subtle signs in the use of language indicating assumptions and expectations. I had an opportunity to make some observations about this phenomenon at a breakfast meeting and was warmly thanked by the only two women ministers present (there were no lay people at the meeting). Whilst the United Reformed Church has not entirely ‘cracked’ this issue (particularly in my view the lay/ordained tension) I was reminded how far we have come and how pleased I am to be part of it.

However, dwelling on our differences is limiting and it is far more important is to emphasise our similarities, the things we have in common. As we worshipped together we were reminded of the faith we share in our gracious, awesome God and as we listened to sermons, discussions and debates we were reminded of our central aim to share that faith appropriately in our own communities.

Sharing a Meal with Ecumenical Guests


An Evening of Joyful and Uplifting Worship

1 thought on “The welcome at the Presbyterian Church of Ireland ………..

  1. Captain Kerry Campbell O'Brien

    Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
    Our family has a long history of worshiping as Presbyterians. Both My Grandfathers (O’Brien of Limerick)and Campbell (of Halifax,Nova Scotia) were ardent Presbyterians. We are not anti anyone. I am a very conservative person.I do not smoke or drink. (Nor does my wife) In America, there is a very Christian Brotherhood among different denominations. Every Christmas our Church, The Roman Church, and the Episcopol Church would take turns hosting the Midnight Service. At one Presbyterian Church where we used to worship, the roof was destroyed in a storm. Almost before the storm was over, the Roman church in our neighborhood offered us their church for worship, untill repairs were completed. I am in the midle of reading the Holy Bible again. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has moved away from the Scriptures, and has become very political….I do not believe in some of the beliefs of this “modern” form of the church. I do not believe that a man should marry a man, or a woman marry a woman. I do not believe in abortion. How does the Presbyterian Church in Ireland view these abominations? there an Irish Conservative,Presbyterian Church that I can find in America?…God Bless you and keep you,
    Your Faithful Servant in Christ,
    Captain K.C. O’Brien

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