The new moderator-designate of the Presbyterian Church has described himself as a “traditional and conservative” minister who believes marriage should be between one man and one woman.
Rev Noble McNeely said he appreciates the pain the issue can cause and will “reach out in love” to those affected.
Rev McNeely, of First Holywood Presbyterian in Co Down, was elected by the church’s 19 presbyteries on Tuesday evening to succeed Rev Dr Frank Sellar,
The 63-year-old former teacher received 10 of the 19 votes and will formally be installed as moderator of the General Assembly in June.
“In regards to my ministry I suppose I would refer to myself as being traditional and conservative in many ways, but I am always prepared to listen to people and to hear their points of view, and to work with them.
“I don’t expect that I will be making any outrageous statements that people will want to respond very negatively to,” he told a press conference in Belfast.
Rev McNeely is married to physiotherapist Florence and the couple have three adult children.
Born in Belfast, he was brought up in Crossgar, before attending Downpatrick Technical College and going on to gain a degree in education at Stranmillis College, specialising in jewellery and silversmithing.
Rev McNeely began his religious studies at the church’s Union Theological College in 1978 – graduating with a bachelor of divinity in 1981.
“I do see everyone as God made in God’s love. It’s been demonstrated in Jesus Christ towards everyone,” he said.
“In regards to the issue of same-sex [marriage] and so on, again I approach that from a pastoral perspective. I have always been prepared to go alongside people, to talk to them, to share with them. I do understand where many of those people are coming from and I know from experience some of the pain sometimes that has been experienced by individuals and by families.
“In regard to that, I trust that I would always reach out in love to them, but I do accept and hold firmly to the position of the church towards same-sex marriage.
“The church has been holding that position, and indeed it is our conventional position – that a marriage is between a man and a woman – and that would be the position that I would certainly hold.”
Commenting on the current crisis at Stormont, Rev McNeely said he would be praying for our political leaders.
“As a Christian and as a church we are called to remember those who are in authority in prayer. And, where possible, I have in the past drawn alongside politicians and we do have a role that we can play.
“We recognise that they require the support of the church too. I think the church generally takes up the position that we are always available to assist in whatever way we can to build up good relationships within our community and to develop those where possible,” he added.