The new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt. Rev. Dr. Ian McNie, has said the Church ‘needs to be there for people who do not expect us to be there’.
Following his formal election and installation as Moderator in Belfast on Monday, ahead of this week’s General Assembly, he spoke of the need to be ‘A Caring Fellowship’ while highlighting a growing intolerance to the Christian worldview.
“The theme entrusted to me this year is that of ‘A Caring Fellowship’, a theme that has its roots both in the teaching of Jesus and the practice of the early church. This theme includes welcoming the stranger, learning from one another and valuing the gifts of each individual while offering pastoral support to all in need,” he said.
The 64-year-old Minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney reminded Members of the Assembly and civic guests, who were gathered from across Ireland, that if the church was to continue to make an impact “stepping outside our comfort zone will not only be an option but a necessity.
“To retreat into the corner, keep our hands clean and backs covered is not the policy established by Jesus Christ. Today, as a church, we need to be there for people who do not expect us to be there. There for people who have no meaningful connection with the church but who face the everyday challenges of living…The church must go in particularly when the world has gone out. And the church must show the Grace of God.
Dr. McNie also spoke of an increasing intolerance to the Church’s worldview on a range of issues from the beginning and ending of life, the family dynamic, freedom of conscience and the sanctity of marriage.
In reaffirming the Church’s commitment to “the biblical and historical position of marriage,” he also recognised society’s right to express its opinion saying “as a church we must defend the right of society to freely express their opinions”. At the same time he said that the Church had “…the right to expect the same level and proportion of tolerance afforded to us that other groups expect afforded to them. Tolerance is a two-way street.
“By definition tolerance accepts there are different opinions and that we should agree to disagree in an agreeable manner, not the definition that is currently postulated – that tolerance is the acceptance of different opinions and that all opinions are equally correct and should be endorsed as correct. This leads to a position where Christians are required to promote ideas and deliver services that are contrary to their beliefs. True tolerance can only flourish in an atmosphere of mutual respect in disagreement.
“And why mutual respect – because God’s Word affirms the unique dignity of every individual, each of us being created by God with value, purpose and destiny, and that equality should not be seen simply as the result of governmental legislation but the result of birth as each person is individually created in the image of God.”
Earlier in the evening the outgoing Moderator, Very Rev. Dr Michael Barry of Sandys Street Presbyterian Church in Newry, reflected on his year in office. As he came ‘to the end of a wonderful year’ he said that he found the Church to be in ‘good heart’. Yet there was a feeling in some quarters of uncertainty experienced by some Presbyterians as society questioned and rejected the teaching and values of the church. His answer was to “stand clearly and firmly on the Scriptures.”
“As you read the Bible it not only deals with heaven, but it also instructs us how we are to live here on earth. We are called to be holy, to live lives that are pleasing to God. In the words of Jesus we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. He must be first above all else. But you will remember that Jesus went on to say that we are to love our neighbours – and he defined our neighbour as the person in need – we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. We are to behave in such a way that we put their needs ahead of our own.”
Dr. Barry also reflected on the theme of his year in office, ‘A people of service and outreach’ saying, “That aspiration does not end tonight even though we have a new theme for next year. We are to continue to be people of service and outreach.”
He went on to say that the Bible was clear in that, “We are to show love for all people regardless of who they are or what they believe. That does not mean we will always agree with them. Indeed we might disagree strongly, but we still show the love of Christ,” he said.
And to those who are worried about the future of the Church he said, “We will face opposition from the world in which we live. We will find that we are in the minority. But we do not lose heart.” Quoting the Apostle John in 1 John Chapter 4 verse 4, Dr. Barry said, “So take heart. Be of good cheer. As the apostle reminds us here, ‘the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.’ ”
RT REV McNIE Right Reverend Dr. Ian McNie
Dr. McNie was born in 1950 and is married to Anne and has two sons. His son Stephen is Minister of Ballyalbany and Glennan Presbyterian Churches in County Monaghan and act as one of the two Chaplains to the Moderator.
Mr McNie was brought up in Antrim and attended First Antrim Presbyterian Church, becoming a Christian at the age of 13. Having attended Belfast Royal Academy, he went on to Queen’s University, Belfast graduating with a Bachelor of Divinity.
As a teenager Mr McNie wanted to become a teacher, but felt God’s call to the ministry, a step he says that he has never regretted. Having attended Union Theological College, he was ordained as Assistant Minister at Alexandra Presbyterian Church, Belfast in 1978 before being installed in 1980 at Kilkeel Presbyterian Church in County Down. He became Minister at Trinity in 1991.