15 April 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Due to the exceptional circumstances surrounding the current Coronavirus pandemic, for the first time in 180 years, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) will not be holding its annual General Assembly this June.

The decision not to hold the meeting of the Church’s supreme governing body was taken by ministers and elders meeting in a unique virtual Special Meeting of the General Assembly.

The Special Meeting was called by Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr William Henry, at the unanimous request of PCI’s General Council when it last met prior to the lockdown. Membership of the Special Meeting was based on the Roll of the 2019 General Assembly, with voting conducted online between April 1-11.

The virtual Special Meeting agreed that the next stated General Assembly, convened to meet in Belfast, on Monday June 1 2020, be cancelled. It also agreed that all necessary business of the General Assembly be conducted through a ‘2020 Standing Commission of the General Assembly’, which would meet either in person, or by other means, depending on the circumstances at the time.

It was further agreed that the Standing Commission would send to a Special Meeting of the General Assembly, ideally to be held in Belfast at a suitable time in the autumn of 2020, all non-urgent business, full reports from General Assembly Councils and Commissions and a full report from the 2020 Standing Commission.

Speaking about the decisions, Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said, “The General Assembly is the PCI family coming together and meeting collectively to discuss and decide matters that are central to the life, mission and direction of the denomination. Something that has become part of the rhythm of our Church life since 1840.

“Yet, unprecedented times often call for unprecedented responses to provide for a measure of certainty and continuity.

“Over recent weeks we have seen a wonderfully pragmatic response to the current situation from our congregations across Ireland to Sunday worship and other aspects of church life. In the same way, this contingency plan, agreed by the Special Meeting of the General Assembly, will enable the PCI to continue to function and take the necessary decisions that it needs to take in the short term.

“Like many organisations trying to navigate their way through this crisis, it is important that we find ways to make the decisions that need to be taken. In doing so, we need to ensure that we keep within government guidance, with the emphasis on the health and well-being of colleagues, and in the spirit of our longstanding commitment to openness and accountability as a Church.

“I would like to thank colleagues for having prayerfully considered the issues before them and for the decisions that they have taken, and those which others will be taking, for and on behalf of the Church.

“In these difficult times I also want to take the opportunity to commend our congregations who are continuing to find ways to support those in need, quietly and compassionately in the name of Jesus, as we hold fast to the fact that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

“Moving forward, I hope and pray that all within our congregations, and within wider society, would know and feel God’s love and his close presence, especially those who have been bereaved, as we continue to put our hope and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Previous postponement
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland met in Assembly Buildings, Belfast, from Monday June 3 to Saturday June 8 1940, adjourning to convene again on Tuesday October 8 1940.

Following representations from the majority of the Church’s presbyteries to postpone the October 8 meeting, on the advice of the Moderator’s Advisory Committee, it was agreed to postpone until the 1941 annual meeting of the General Assembly. This took place from Monday, 2 June to Wednesday, 4 June 1941.

The decision to postpone, according to the minutes of the 1940 General Assembly ‘was arrived at on account of the acute national crisis.’

While the 8 October 1941 was postponed, no annual meeting of the General Assembly has been cancelled until the 2020 annual meeting.

Presbyterian Church in Ireland
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has just over 210,000 members belonging to 534 congregations across 19 regional presbyteries throughout Ireland.

The Presbytery of Monaghan and the Presbytery of Dublin and Munster are located in the Republic of Ireland, while the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal is cross border with congregations located in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The Presbyterian form of Christian faith is best described as ‘Reformed’ with its strong emphasis on the Sovereignty of God, the Kingship of Christ and the authority of the Bible. It is the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland.

Irish Presbyterianism had its origins in Scottish migrations to Ulster in the early 17th century. Ballycarry Presbyterian Church in County Antrim is the oldest congregation dating back to 1613.

The newest, Donabate Presbyterian Church in County Dublin, opened its doors in 2010. In 1840 two Presbyterian Churches, the General Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod formed the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, with Rev Dr Samuel Hanna elected as the first Moderator of the new church.

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is the most senior office-bearer of the Church and its principal public representative. By convention, the Moderator is selected each year by the Church’s 19 presbyteries on the first Tuesday in February.

The current Moderator is the Right Reverend Dr William Henry of Maze Presbyterian Church in County Antrim and will serve for 2019/2020. Dr Henry is the youngest minister to be elected Moderator in living memory.

Rev Trevor Gribben
Rev Trevor Gribben was appointed Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 2014.

Born in Tandragee, Co Armagh, in 1961 he was educated at Portadown College, Queen’s University Belfast and Union Theological College.

Ordained in 1988 as Assistant Minister of Duncairn and St Enoch’s Presbyterian Church in Belfast, he was called to Leckpatrick Presbyterian Church in County Tyrone as their Minister in 1990.

In 1996 he was called to Whiteabbey Presbyterian Church in County Antrim, where he remained in parish ministry for a further 8 years, prior to being appointed Deputy Clerk and Deputy General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 2008.

Trevor is also Joint Secretary of the Church Leaders (Ireland) Group. The Group is made up of the leaders of the main churches in Ireland: the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the President of the Irish Council of Churches.

• Rev Trevor Gribben

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