Few people get to see the life, witness and work of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at such close quarters than its Moderator.
It is a unique and privileged insight, and as the Minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney has found.
As the Rt. Rev. Dr. Ian McNie enters his last week as Moderator of the General Assembly, he reflects on his year in office.
Criss-crossing the country visiting nearly a quarter the Church’s 545 congregations with his wife Anne, he admits that it is was a journey of genuine discovery, the social witness of the Church in particular.
“What really impacted me was the totality of the work that our Church is involved in. While I was aware that there was much good work being done, I didn’t have any real appreciation for its breadth and the impact it had.
“Some of it is very sensitive work, but there is a steady work being undertaken throughout the land under the name of the Presbyterian Church by many people who are passionate about what they do,” he said.
From the team that works in Thompson House for ex-offenders in Belfast, to those supporting people with addictions, from the community outreach workers, Irish mission workers and deaconesses serving at home, to the staff in the residential, supported-living and respite care homes, including the chaplains working in hospitals, the armed forces, universities and prisons - all aspects of their work left an indelible impression on the outgoing Moderator, as did the overseas mission personnel he met in Malawi.
During the course of the year he visited upwards of 120 congregations – speaking twice most Sundays in different churches, visiting other congregations and meeting members during the three weeklong presbytery tours he undertook. Dr. McNie also met with over 80 families in their manses.
“Seeing first hand the vision and genuine desire of so many congregations to reach out and impact their local community with the gospel of salvation was incredibly encouraging.
“While recognising that the Church is not perfect, and we, like other denominations, have our challenges, in many areas of church life, both locally and centrally, I found our church to be healthy, vibrant and doing a great work. It is being what the Church should be, which is God’s instrument seeking to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and being salt and light in the community they find themselves.”
It is a message that he will bring to next week’s General Assembly, which will involve 1,000 delegates from congregations across Ireland taking part in three and a half days of worship, prayer, Bible study, celebration, debate and decision-making in Assembly Buildings, Belfast.
Dr. McNie will give his final address as Moderator on the Assembly’s Opening Night, which starts at 7pm on Monday 6th June, which is open to the public. Members of Assembly and invited guests will join together in worship to officially open the 2016 meeting that night and witness the installation of the 177th Moderator, Rev. Dr. Frank Sellar, Minister of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church, in east Belfast.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on Radio Ulster 1341 Medium Wave. Business commences at 9.30am on Tuesday, with the vast majority of the Assembly’s business is open to the public. It will also be streamed live at www.presbyterianireland.org. There will be a live feed on Twitter @pciassembly hashtag #pciga16.
The General Assembly will close on Friday afternoon on 10th June. Dr. McNie said that all are welcome to attend.