One bright light in the dark and sinister events of south Belfast this week was the way in which members of the City Church provided a haven and a sanctuary for those who were in danger. In responding so quickly and effectively, the church showed the difference the gospel can make in a difficult and tense situation.
The problem of dealing with difference and diversity is a global one, and one which is not unfamiliar to those of us who have lived in Northern Ireland these past 40 years. How should we respond to social and cultural diversity? Should we try to exclude people who are different from us, or should we learn to embrace them? Continue reading “Exclusion or embrace?”
I met with Peter Robinson, the First Minister, today. The purpose of our meeting was to talk about the crisis with the Presbyterian Mutual Society ahead of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister meeting with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, tomorrow. It was a very cordial and positive meeting and I was impressed at how conversant the FM was with the PMS situation.
Continue reading “Meeting with First Minister”
Our efforts at an open-air meeting beside the River Bann in Portadown to comemmorate the 1859 Revival were somewhat frustrated by the weather. After some hesitation, the meeting went ahead despite the grey skies, and by the time we concluded the shortened service, the rain clouds had passed. I was only able to deliver part of my address, so I thought I would post it all here. Continue reading “1859 Revival open-air meeting”
The polls indicate that the British public want to meet Jesus more than other dead person. Christians would immediately say that he’s not actually dead and that you can meet Him. But where? Can you really meet Him in church? Many people don’t think so. People who say “Yes” to Christ often say “No” to the church. And that is the challenge for the Christian church. To make Christ front and centre in all that we say and do, so that both in our public worship and in the quality of our private lives, people really do meet Jesus.
While this year’s General Assembly was dominated by the crisis surrounding the Presbyterian Mutual Society, there were many other issues that were discussed. The presentation of the Youth and Children’s Ministry Board, plus the effective contribution of the SPUD youth delegates, meant that issues relating to the role and contribution of young people in the church were not ignored. There were significant decisions taken with regard to the preparation and training of ministers at Union Theological College, as well as reports on the work of the Board of Mission in Ireland as it encourages presbyteries and congregations to develop strategic plans for mission.
But all of these matters must be seen in the context of the really big issue: the continuing decline in numbers of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. For a number of years now, the statistics reported in the “blue book” of Assembly Reports have made for depressing reading. This past year we lost 1,994 people claiming connection with our church and there were 1,223 fewer contributors to the funds of the church. There were 979 fewer people at communion in 2008 than in 2007, and 731 fewer young people in our Sunday Schools and Bible Classes. I heard no one referring to any of these statistics in our Assembly debates, and yet they provided the background for so much of our discussion. Continue reading “The Big Issue”