As annual events retake their place in the calendar, and the rhythm of daily life returns, this month sees the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s 2022 General Assembly meeting in Belfast, when it sits from Wednesday 22nd to Saturday 26th June in Assembly Buildings – but with a number of significant changes to encourage greater participation.
Having had to conduct business through a small online Commission in 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and hold a scaled back in-person meeting last October, this will be the first time since 2019 that the Church’s principal decision-making and governing body has been able meet in its usual month and manner.
But as the Clerk of the General Assembly, Rev Trevor Gribben explained, while a return to June restores a welcome sense of normality, in seeking to make the General Assembly more accessible, those attending will notice a difference, hopefully for the good.
“This will be the first ‘normal’ post-pandemic Assembly, even though we all recognise that Covid-19 it still around and many lives are still feeling its effects and grieving personal loss. As the familiar events do return to their more accustomed slots in the year, I genuinely give thanks that our Presbyterian family can come together again in full General Assembly this month, to worship, pray, and take decisions, just as we have done for generations.
“If you attend, or watch the livestream, you really do get feel for the work and ministry of our Church, and we have endeavoured to make it more accessible for Members of Assembly. The 2021 Assembly agreed that from this year we would move to a slightly later start in June, with the Opening Night on a Wednesday and not a Monday, with business conducted into Thursday and the Friday evenings. It also agreed that business sessions would be held on Saturday morning and afternoon, hopefully giving people a greater opportunity to take part in discussions and our decision-making process,” he said.
While the timings of the General Assembly may have changed, Mr Gribben said, that it still remains a special coming together of Presbyterians from across Ireland – upwards of 1000 ministers, elders and others from the denomination’s 500-plus congregations – together with guests from home and overseas who are also expected.
“On our Opening Night I am looking forward to hearing from our Portrush minister, Rev John Kirkpatrick, who will be elected as our new Moderator and who will lead PCI during the forthcoming year. I am also looking forward to listening to the address of our outgoing Moderator, Dr David Bruce, as he shares his reflections on a unique second year in office.”
Mr Gribben, who served for over 18 years in parish ministry continued, “It will be a busy time with 26 items of allotted business from the General Assembly’s 12 Councils and Commissions, numerous panels and task groups, spread across 25 hours, that will ultimately involve over 70 resolutions being decided upon. I very much hope that those from within our own church, and those who are not, will take the opportunity to tune in to the Assembly livestream, or join us in the public gallery, where they will be made very welcome.”
As in previous years, the 2022 General Assembly will also have two more informal presentations; the now regular ‘Listening to the Global Church’ session, by PCI’s Council for Global Mission involving some of our overseas guests, as well as a special presentation led by the Council for Congregational Life & Witness. As always, worship will be central to the week’s business.
“The General Assembly isn’t a meeting, which may seem a strange thing to say, as it is primarily an assembly of people meeting in ‘general assembly’, a coming together, first and foremost, to pray and worship, seeking God’s will as we take decisions together. Worship is at the heart of that.
“Worship will take place on the Opening Night and also on Thursday morning, along with an Evening Celebration that night. Our Assembly Communion Service is on Friday morning, and is perhaps one of the most important moments of our time together,” Mr Gribben said.
“The Evening Celebration on Thursday is always packed and one of the highlights of the week. It starts at 7.45pm and I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all who can join us, especially for that evening. The Moderator will host it and will bring together his thoughts around ‘Grace Works’, his theme for the year. As we worship together, our guest speaker will be the Evangelical Alliance UK’s director, Peter Lynas, with worship led by the New Irish Orchestra and Choir. Again, if you can’t make it, you can join us via the livestream.”
Speaking to the PCI family as a whole, Mr Gribben concluded by saying, “We will be announcing the key elements of the business nearer the General Assembly, but as the Opening Night approaches we will continue to seek God’s guidance in preparing for this year’s Assembly, committing all to Him, who can do more than we can possibly imagine.”
You will be able to follow the 2022 General Assembly proceedings live via Twitter @pciassembly using the hashtag #PCIGA22 for all public sessions, which will also be live streamed on www.presbyterianireland.org