I want Presbyterians to be …

In the end, this year’s Presbyterian General Assembly was less headline-grabbing than the recent Church of Ireland Synod. However the outgoing and incoming moderators did tackle some good issues in their addresses on Monday evening.

Last weekend I wrote a short opinion piece to accompany Thursday morning’s News Letter coverage of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

As a distraction from the referendum posts, I reproduce it here. Given that this is Slugger, no doubt, whether you’re Presbyterian or not – in fact, whether you value organised religion or personal faith of not – you’ll have opinions!

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News Letter logoPeople Matter to God

When Rev Dr Alastair Dunlop became Presbyterian Moderator in June 2001 he chose “People Matter to God” as his theme. Ten years later and the familiar strapline that encapsulates the heart of the Gospel still reverberates around congregations.

General Assembly is dominated by internal denominational administration, reports from boards and committees, appointments, messages from sister denominations around the world and a lot of strong tea and coffee.

This week of introspection will be reported in the press as long debates on money (strategies to maximise congregational giving), sex (discussions around homosexuality and same-sex marriage are never far away) and maybe even the length of ministers’ annual leave.

Is that what I as a Presbyterian want to be known for? No.

I want Presbyterians to be known for loving the poor: the poor in health, poor in wealth, poor in spirit, poor in self-esteem, poor in literacy and numeracy. Jesus’ ministry was dominated by his interaction with the poor, reaching out his hand to walk with those who were less fortunate.

Whether in Derry, Dublin, Delhi or Durban, Presbyterians should be known for their habit of looking beyond themselves and their own comfort and making a positive difference right round the world.

I want Presbyterians to be more inclusive. Irish history shows that Presbyterians tend to turn up on both sides of a fight. Not all Presbyterians signed the Ulster Covenant. Presbyterians haven’t been universally loyal to the British monarch.

While the default perception is that most Presbyterians are unionist – and the more liberal ones vote Alliance – this assumption must be broken. People with diverse opinions on border, identity or language issues need to be given space and indeed welcomed. And there needs to be a constant reminder that it is the Presbyterian Church of all Ireland.

I want Presbyterians to be more aware of their own hang-ups and sinfulness and less condemnatory of others. Presbyterians should prop their doors wide open and be known more for our grace than our judgmentalism.

The very point at which parents take the initiative and approach a minister to ask for their infant to be blessed should be a chance to welcome people into the setting of a loving congregation, rather than an opportunity to get out a checklist and see if they qualify for God’s blessing.

I want Presbyterians to have the freedom and power to challenge structures which perpetrate injustice: politicians who fail to stand up for the rights of all; businesses and corporations which discriminate and exploit.

Bill Hybels said: “We never lock eyes with someone who doesn’t matter to God”.

Presbyterians should lock eyes with greater numbers of people, and let their eyes search our souls. That should be the mark of Presbyterians in the months and years ahead.

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  • D.A.

    I want Presbyterians to be…

    … a denomination which doesn’t appoint as a new Trustee someone who was heavily criticised in the previous week’s Public Accounts Committee’s report of the Bioscience and Technology Institute…

  • Drumlins Rock

    Alan, I passed through Church House on the way to the City Hall yesterday, closest I have got to the assembly, how ever I have read much of the “blue book” report online, http://www.presbyterianireland.org/assembly/gareports.html Can anyone tell me if any other denomination publishes so much detail online for all to see? Page 222 has all the basic statistics of membership etc, and alot of discussion on ministerial salaries. The language is atrociously archaic with memorials and overture, but it is extremely detailed, did you by any chance read it before you wrote your article?

    3 or 4 days in the year devoted to introspection is not bad, in fact more of the time in assembly is spent in fellowship & worship than “business” Maybe they could do more headline grabbing initiative, but thats not the Presbyterian way, most of the churchs spend the other 362 days looking after the poor of all kinds.

    I’m not sure where your going in the rest of the article, I was not aware of any motions or “overtures” that are party political, yes occasionally the church will reflect something of the unionist perspective of the vast overwhelming number of its membership, but that is part of the reality of living in society, by going “ultra neutral” or artificially balanced is not an honest approach in my view, but neither should anyone fell excluded or un appreciated.

  • Drumlins Rock

    PS. one interesting note, in the ministerial students report it was mentioned that although a cap on numbers is not required as yet, this years students should be informed that they will not be guarnteed a job at the end of their studies with the possibility of no vacant congregations being available.

  • It is the Presbyterian Church *in* Ireland, not *of* Ireland. http://www.presbyterianireland.org/

  • thedissenter – guilty

  • I want Presbyerians to be….

    Priests nearby!

    anagramatically Presbyterians is a H&S warning.

  • Presbyterians – anagram of Britney Spears!

  • I recognise when I’ve been outclassed I hope I don’t get relegated to find the word whether horizontal, vertical or diagonal.

  • cynic2

    …………honest that there is no God?

  • I wouldn’t even presume to give an opinion given my own denomination’s ability to make itself known for all the wrong reasons.

  • Then again, thinking about it, the Presbyterians are supposed to be best buddies with the Catholics in the Coalition for Marriage, and one hears in despatches that churches of both types have had plenty of anti-gay marriage sermons preached and petitions circulated over the past few months. A couple of years ago, the Presbyterian Moderator would not even shake the Pope’s hand.

    I’m not exactly a big fan of the Pope’s but not shaking the guy’s hand, what was that all about? Did the Moderator think he was going to catch something?

    But despite that, it’s all bunny hugs round the camp fire when it comes to stopping two women getting married. These two implacable foes, one regarding the other so much in error that a handshake is impossible, discover they’re really friends after all because lesbians are going to be allowed to get married.

    So, I’d like Presbyterians to be less easy to stereotype as homphobes with a massive chip on their shoulder about Catholics.

  • Turgon

    Gerry Lynch,
    Re the pope hand shake. Actually it was hypocrisy of the most gross sort and illustrates the foolishness of many in the PCI: a foolishness which is part and parcel of the denomination’s decline. Looking at that debacle by a liberal moderator is instructive.

    Despite having very major theological differences with the pope the moderator in question (Norman Hamilton) attended a joint service with him. Then he refused to shake the pope’s hand. This is bizarre in that one might refuse to have joint worship with say the Dali Lama (him being a Buddist) but shake the man’s hand.

    Then Hamilton “explained” his decision by the fact that the pope was part of an organisation which had not done enough to deal with child abuse. Shortly before that Hamilton had met Gerry Adams and shaken his hand. That the same Gerry Adams who had maybe not been that proactive in dealing with child abuse.

    That whole eposide showed much of what is wrong with the PCI. In contrast to the PCI the smaller churches which unlike the PCI are growing and indeed are attracting the PCI’s former members tend to eschew politics and public debate on most if not all issues. The PCI would do well to abolish many of its semi autonomous committees, avoid public comment on many / most quasi political issues and stick to what it does best: being a church. Clearly religion has much to say on many social issues but on very many of them practicing Christians have honestly held yet such diverse views that any church position will attract the disapproval of many of the church’s members.

  • PaddyReilly

    [Comment removed as it’s completely off topic]