As the principal public representative of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) the Moderator of the all-Ireland denomination can usually be found representing the Church at various state and national occasions during their year in office. Meeting political and civic leaders, visiting and encouraging PCI’s 500-plus congregations and their ministers, or global mission workers overseas, and of course preaching from the pulpit on a Sunday.
On Friday 13th January however, the Church’s current Moderator, Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick was in the Royal Hotel, Cookstown to speak at the Motorcycle Union of Ireland Ulster Centre’s annual Season Awards Night.
The evening saw a host of Northern Ireland’s leading road racers and newcomers attend the ceremony, which honoured their achievements in last year’s season. If you know Dr Kirkpatrick, you will be well aware of the Portrush minister’s lifelong love of motorbikes and road racing, and his longstanding pastoral association with the sport, as he is Race Chaplain to the Motorcycle Union of Ireland (MCUI), a position that he has held since 1994.
Speaking before yesterday award’s ceremony, Dr Kirkpatrick joked that while it was a coincidence that the MCUI chaplain is also this year’s PCI Moderator. It was probably the first, and potentially the last time, a Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland would speak at the gala event.
“This is always an important night for honouring the skill, dedication, courage and passion of those involved in motorcycle racing in Ulster and, of course, a time for reflection as we remember those whose passion for the sport was everything and ultimately cost them everything.
“Like any of our hard working chaplains you will find in hospitals, prisons, the armed forces or universities, their role is to come alongside people, supporting them, offering a listening and compassionate ear, being there for them, encouraging and praying for them, and not just in their hour of need. In a non-denominational way, my role is no different,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.
“Increasingly you will find more of our ministers, and those from other denominations, getting involved in sports chaplaincy as this ministry has expanded in recent years. In doing so, they bring their love of sport and love for Jesus together, as they offer pastoral and spiritual support to sportsmen and women, and officials, across a range of disciplines. It also underlines the fact that through sports chaplaincy, the Church wants to continue to demonstrate its care and compassion for people and its genuine desire to be there in every avenue of everyday life.”
Dr Kirkpatrick continued, “It is also about building relationships and trust on and off the pitch, or in my case on and off the track, in and outside of the paddock, with people of all faiths and none.”
The Moderator also said that it had been a privilege to serve in his capacity as Race Chaplain for nearly 30 years. “The motorcycle racing community is a large family of people of all ages and from different walks of life who share a real love of the sport, its speed and power. People who celebrate the skill of the riders together, and at times come together to acknowledge the pain and grief that people often go through, but always appreciating that it takes every rider to make a race.”