Following the close of the 2019 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland on Friday 7th June, Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr William Henry, said that his abiding memory of this year’s Assembly will be the optimism and hope.
He was speaking after chairing 3 days of debate and discussion that saw around 100 resolutions passed. These will set the direction for the life and ministry of the Church over the coming year and beyond.
The Moderator, who is the minister of Maze Presbyterian Church in County Antrim said, “I have been asked many times why I chose ‘Enjoying God’ as my theme for my year in office. The reason is simply that I believe the encounter with God, and that relationship which Jesus desires with us, is the most fundamental need for everyone. And I do mean everyone!”
“I missed the reaction to last year’s General Assembly because at that time I was enjoying serving God in Kenya. When I arrived home, I was immediately engaged pastorally with my own church members thinking through the issues. One important consideration for me then, as now, has always been the tone of what we say and how we need to communicate the love of Jesus in a gracious and compassionate way to everyone – especially when people disagree, even within a family. If we can’t do that, then the words get in the way of the message!”
Dr Henry said that his core conviction is that the Gospel is good news and will result in good deeds. “I have been impressed by the reports before us and the speakers at this year’s General Assembly, especially those who were younger than me! People, from across our denomination, who have graciously reminded us of the good deeds done in the name of the Church locally and across Ireland.”
“I was struck by the powerful testimony of the Dealing with the Past Task Group, which has sought to reflect on how we as Presbyterians responded to The Troubles. It has listened to members of our Church who have been deeply scarred, acknowledging what was good, but also reflecting upon the times when Presbyterians failed to be faithful peacemakers, seeing how we can learn from a project that has so much to give.”
“I have been encouraged by being reminded of the generosity of our church to worldwide disasters and the willingness of our ordinary people to be involved in mission locally and overseas. We are a Church which is committed to the enjoyment of life for all. Thursday’s presentation Life Always Matters, on human dignity, was for me personally very powerful, as it demonstrated our concerns as a denomination around those struggling with adolescent mental health, dementia care and end of life care. These are good things done in Christ’s name.”
“My abiding memory of this year’s Assembly, however, will be the optimism and hope that springs from a belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was impressed by the tone of many of the discussions relating to last year’s decisions – the recognition that tone is important and that words in a report can be painful. So an understanding, particularly in light of the report on credible profession of faith, of the need to have more holistic reports that bear pastoral considerations was important.”
“I was glad to hear that the task groups dealing with these complex and sensitive issues are optimistic about their future work. We need to genuinely listen, and welcome people with sincerity, into our churches, demonstrating in grace filled communities what life in Jesus Christ can be like.”
Referring to disagreements and differences of opinion, Dr Henry said that all families have them, making the point that “the strength of our church is our democracy and we are not afraid to have open discussion, and that was evident in the short debate that related to the Church of Scotland. While the matter was unchanged, I was pleased with the way in which the debate took place.”
“While there was an appreciation of the differences of outlook between our churches that many believe require the recalibration of the old relationship – there is a willingness to engage on practical matters. In maintaining an ongoing and mutually beneficial working relationship, I anticipate being a part of that.”
“Even in regard to the future of Union College, and knowing that the relationship with Queen’s has ended, I was struck by the optimism expressed for a new future and new teaching opportunities, including the announcement this week of the 10 new online and campus courses. The large intake of new ministry students entering the College this year is part of that future too.”
Looking to the year ahead, when he will represent the Church, speak in congregations the length and breadth of Ireland and undertake four week-long regional presbytery tours to encourage local churches and hear what they are doing on the ground, Dr Henry will be bringing his theme Enjoying God to both those inside and outside the Church.
“I want us to have confidence in Him, even when life and our context seems to be changing. I listened to Glen Scrivener at our worship sessions and was thankful for this reminder, when he quoted the French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal. Glen reminded us that our core task is to point the world to Jesus and to show that faith is credible, that it is good for everyone to enjoy God and how we should go about that. Quoting Blaise, he said, ‘We have to begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason. That it is worthy of veneration and should be given respect. Next it should be made lovable. We should make the good wish it were true. Then show that it is.’”
“I hope that during the next 12 month, I might be able to just do that.”
Much of today’s business concerned the administration and governance of various aspects of the Church. One of the last items of business was the Memorial of Third Portglenone Presbyterian Church, asking that its name be changed to Townhill Presbyterian Church. The General Assembly agreed.
Dr Henry then formally declared the 2019 General Assembly to be dissolved, to be convened again on 1st June 2020. He then pronounced the benediction, following the singing of the hymn, In Christ Alone.
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