For Dublin minister and Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, the next few days will herald one of his busiest weeks since taking on the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) highest office, when he tours the Church’s Presbytery of East Belfast.
The Presbytery of East Belfast is one of three presbyteries in the city and contains 23 churches. It covers a swathe of the city, east of the River Lagan to the Castlereagh Hills, then out to Dundonald and on to Holywood, doubling back down Belfast Lough and across to the Ravenhill Road.
It will be Dr Mawhinney’s first presbytery tour, preaching at a morning service in Mountpottinger Presbyterian Church and Dundonald Presbyterian in the evening. The following Sunday he will preach in Garnerville Presbyterian Church and Tullycarnet Presbyterian. In between, the Moderator has a busy schedule with an additional 20-plus church, civic and community engagements throughout the week.
While presbytery tours are primarily pastoral visits to encourage the local church on the ground, engagements also include visits to Priory Integrated College in Holywood and Mitchell House Special School, where he will meet with staff and pupils. Dr Mawhinney, who will be accompanied by his wife Karen, will also visit the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald and PCI’s Aaron House, its residential care home for people with a profound learning disability.
With the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s headquarters located in the presbytery, the Moderator will also visit members of the senior leadership team and honour the memory of those officers who were killed in the line of duty with a visit to the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC Memorial Garden.
“I am very much looking forward to the first Presbytery Tour. I understand that they are busy and rewarding. Visiting churches begins and ends the tour, but it is particularly encouraging to know that the Church is actively serving throughout the week in the communities where they are located, through various outreach activities and the work of their individual members. I am excited about visiting and seeing all that is happening on the ground,” he said.
“Most of my ministry has been in the Republic of Ireland, and I am keen to learn about the teaching of Irish, and about the history of the Orange Order as I experience the diversity of culture in this part of Belfast. I will also be visiting places of health care, and learning about the opportunities and challenges in education, in mainstream and special needs schools.”
During the week Dr Mawhinney will visit Parliament Buildings and have lunch with the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, tour the Orange Order’s Schomberg House, meet volunteers in a local foodbank and visit to Ulster Rugby. In four small groups, spread across the week, the Moderator will also spend time with local ministers to listen and pray together. On Tuesday evening in First Holywood Presbyterian, the Presbytery will hold its Prayer and Fellowship Service at which Dr Mawhinney will speak.
Looking forward to the visit, the Moderator of the Presbytery of East Belfast, Rev Jonathan Frazer said, “We’re delighted that the Moderator is able to tour the Presbytery and see the diversity of congregations and contexts into which they minister. We were pleased that his predecessor was able to come to our fortnightly Company of Pastors, a group for all ministers of congregations in the Presbytery, and look forward to Dr Mawhinney doing the same, sharing with us from his own ministry.
“As minister of Garnerville, and mindful of the Moderator’s connections to the congregation through his sister, I will be delighted to welcome him to lead us in Communion at our morning service on the last Sunday of his tour,” Mr Frazer said.
Commenting on the tour, Rev Stephen Moore, the Clerk of Presbytery, and minister of Gilnahirk Presbyterian Church said, “An important feature of the Moderator’s time with us will be the events and gatherings in smaller groups for fellowship and mutual support. As Presbyterians, that sense of being part of a bigger family within which we share and care for one another through good times and bad is really vital.
“At the same time, the Moderator will also be getting out and about within the wider community. Visits planned include: Manna Foodbank in Dundonald; the Ulster Hospital to meet with chaplains and to see around the new facilities, including the recently opened Emergency Department; a tour of inner East Belfast including ‘Peace Walls’ followed by an engagement with community activists and local practitioners. Dr Mawhinney will also visit Turas, the Irish language project, which aims to connect people from Protestant communities to their own history with the Irish language, and the newly rebuilt Walkway Community Centre. There is no doubt that it will be a busy, but I hope productive and fruitful week,” he said.
Talking about his theme for the year, ‘Confident in Christ’, Dr Mawhinney said, “I hope to take a positive message of Jesus’ love, to enable those I will meet during the week. As Jeremiah writes in chapter 17 verse 7, ‘Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord whose confidence is in him.’”
Dr Mawhinney concluded by saying, “Moderators have the privilege of being a pastor, listening, and praying with those involved in providing leadership and care and I will seek opportunities to spend time with our ministers and people, sharing God’s word and committing them to God in prayer. I hope to take this positive message of being confident in Christ out to all I will meet in East Belfast, and to encourage my colleagues in their ministry.”