Sunday 28 January 2024

Female minister from Co Down included in ‘one of largest’ Presbyterian Moderator shortlists

Presbyterian Church in Ireland - Wikipedia

Five ministers are in the running to become the next moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) including a female cleric from Co Down.

Four of those shortlisted for the top job are based in Northern Ireland with one candidate based in the Republic.

It’s one of the largest shortlists to come before the church’s 19 regional presbyteries which will choose the next leader at a meeting on February 6.

Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, is among those who have a chance to become the 179th holder of the church’s highest office.

Rev Richard Kerr, who serves as minister of Templepatrick Presbyterian Church is also on the ballot alongside Rev Richard Murray from Drumreagh Presbyterian Church, both in Co Antrim.

Rev Gary McDowell, from Greystones Presbyterian Church in Co Wicklow is also in the running.

The list also includes Rev Mairisíne Stanfield from First Presbyterian Church in Bangor who was rejected by voters in 2019 and 2020.

She could succeed the current moderator Right Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney who has been vocal about his opposition to women being ordained.

“My own personal position is that I am not in favour of the ordination of women,” he said after being elected last year.

“That’s a position that I hold, but I respect the Presbyterian Church’s view and there are people that disagree with me on that.

“I don’t want to make it a primary issue, but it is something that I hold.”

Following reforms introduced last year the next moderator will not be formally elected and installed on the traditional ‘Opening Night’ of the General Assembly which takes place in June, but a short time later.

This year’s process will be overseen by Deputy Clerk, Rev Dr David Allen, because of Rev Gribben’s nomination.

“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,” Rev Allen said.

"The 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 clergyman recalled the first election he took part in back 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,” he said.

“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.”

Any of the ministers on the list of five can be nominated and seconded by members of presbytery on the night of the vote.

In the event of tie, presbyteries will remain in session and vote again.

Only those who tied in the first round will be eligible for consideration in the next round.

The minister with the support of most of the 19 presbyteries overall will become Moderator-Designate and will be formerly nominated for election in June.

“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,” Rev Allen said.

"Whoever it may be, I look forward to working with them during their year in office.”

The name of Moderator-Designate should be known by 9pm on Tuesday, February 6 and will be posted on PCI’s website and communicated across the denomination’s social media platforms.