The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) announced that when its 19 regional presbyteries meet across Ireland on 6 February to consider who will be the Church’s next Moderator, there will be one of the largest fields of ministers to choose from in recent years.
The five ministers – four based in Northern Ireland and one based in the Republic of Ireland – serve in congregations in Counties Antrim, Down and Wicklow, with one minister serving PCI in a position outside of parish ministry.
Made up of ministers and elders from congregations in the presbytery’s area, they are responsible for overseeing local congregations within their bounds. While undertaking other important tasks, at meetings which take place at different locations across Ireland on the first Tuesday in February, they select the person who becomes Moderator-Designate and will be proposed to the General Assembly as Moderator in June.
That person will succeed the current Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, and become the 179th person to hold the Church’s highest office since PCI was founded in 1840, and will serve until the 2025 General Assembly.
Given the reforms that the General Assembly agreed last year to its proceedings, whoever succeeds Dr Mawhinney will not be formally elected and installed as Moderator on the traditional ‘Opening Night’. This will take place later on during the Assembly. The five ministers who will be considered by presbyteries are:
• Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
• Rev Richard Kerr, minister of Templepatrick Presbyterian Church in County Antrim
• Rev Gary McDowell, minister of Greystones Presbyterian Church in County Wicklow
• Rev Richard Murray, minister of Drumreagh Presbyterian Church in County Antrim and
• Rev Mairisíne Stanfield, minister of First Presbyterian Church, Bangor in County Down.
As the Clerk of the General Assembly is one of the nominees this year, the Deputy Clerk, Rev Dr David Allen, is overseeing this year’s process, “The choice before presbyteries is one of the largest in recent years. In fact, you would have to go back to 2014 when five ministers last let their names go forward,” he explained.
The annual process of choosing who will become the Church’s senior office bearer and principal public representative, starts in the late autumn when presbyteries begin to suggest the names of ministers who they would like to see considered. In the run up to Christmas, those on this ‘long list’ are asked to confirm that they would be willing to have their names go forward. Those that do will be considered by presbyteries on 6 February.
“The first election that I took part in was in 1990, when the late Dr Finlay Holmes was selected. The process has not changed much since then, in fact it is a relatively straightforward one.
“The way in which we elect our Moderator is very Presbyterian, in that it is a prayerful and open process, and fundamentally a democratic one as well. At the same time, for those of us in Assembly Buildings who administer the process, there is always a great sense of expectation that evening, as the team waits for the phones to ring with each presbytery’s vote,” Dr Allen said.
The Deputy Clerk explained that any of the ministers on the list of five can be nominated and seconded by members of presbytery on the night. A vote is then taken on those who have been duly proposed and seconded. The vote of the presbytery is given to the person who receives the majority of votes at the presbytery meeting. If just one person is nominated and seconded, they receive the presbytery’s vote. The minister with the support of most of the 19 presbyteries overall, becomes Moderator-Designate, and will be formerly nominated for election as Moderator at June’s General Assembly.
Dr Allen explained that should there be a tied vote, presbyteries will remain in session and vote again. Only those who tied in the first round will be eligible for consideration and the person with the support of the most presbyteries will become Moderator-Designate. The last occasion this happened was in 2014.
The Deputy Clerk concluded by saying, “As they wait for the Lord’s guidance and continue to prepare their hearts for what may lie ahead, many in our denomination will be praying for our five colleagues, and for the members of presbytery who seek the Lord’s will, as they cast their votes. Whoever it may be, I look forward to working with them during their year in office.”
The name of the Moderator-Designate should be known around 9pm on Tuesday, 6 February, and will posted on PCI’s website www.presbyterianireland.org and communicated across the denomination’s social media platforms.