The Father of the General Assembly

Rev Alex Cromie
Rev Alex Cromie

This weekend marks the 75th anniversary of the ordination of Rev Alex Cromie who is the longest serving member of our General Assembly. Mr Cromie was ordained in Gilford on 29 November 1934, and he and his family will be sharing in a special service there this Sunday, led by Rev Samuel Newell, minister of Gilford congregation.

A native of Ballymoney, where his father had a draper’s shop, Mr Cromie was educated at Ballymoney Model School, Ballymoney High School, and then at Magee College, Londonderry, which he entered as a 16 year old. He also spent a year at Princeton, and completed a degree in Law from Trinity College, Dublin.

After serving an assisantship in Malone, Mr Cromie was ordained in Gilford where he served until 1946. He was then called to Limerick and Ennis (1946-50) and to Trinity, Cork (1950-55) before returning to Clifton Street in Belfast (1955-66).

A man of great energy and commitment to the advancement of the church, Mr Cromie spent his last two charges in the new congregations of Abbey, Monkstown and Lisnabreen, Bangor. His nephew, Rev John Seawright, currently serves as minister of Abbey, Monkstown. The ministries of uncle and nephew in Abbey were¬† separated by the ministry of my late, dear friend, Rev Ernie Brown, who was such a help and encouragement to me in my ministry in Carnmoney. Alex also served as Deputy Clerk of the General Assembly during Dr Tom Simpson’s moderatorial year in 1983.

Congratulations to Alex in achieving this significant milestone, and best wishes from all his fellow ministers and elders in the General Assembly of which he is the “father”.

The Manhattan Declaration

This week, a woman in one of our congregations asked me why the Presbyterian Church did not speak out more clearly on moral issues. She thought that as a church we often lacked the courage to address controversial issues directly and clearly. I tried to explain that we often do make clear statements in the reports that go to our General Assembly each June and in reports to Boards throughout the year but that these do not often receive much press coverage. It may also be that we fail to communicate our position clearly to many ordinary church members.

This past week, North American Christians have spoken out on important moral issues in The Manhattan Declaration which has received a good amount of press coverage, largely because it has been signed by people from a variety of church traditions. The 4,700-word declaration issues a call to Christians to adhere to their convictions and it informs civil authorities that the signers will not under any circumstance abandon their Christian consciences. It is clearly sending a message to the Obama administration about what they are not prepared to tolerate. The drafters of the Declaration say that Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family. It is a robust statement which is worth reading. Continue reading “The Manhattan Declaration”

Answers to hard questions

The Bible says that Christians should always be ready to give a reason for their faith and hope (I Peter 3:15). So it’s important that we think about the hard questions that our friends ask about Christianity and are ready with some intellectually-respectable answers. Here’s an interesting resource from “A Passion for Life” that attempts to answer some of those questions.

This particular clip is Don Carson’s answer to the painful question about hell, but there are many other critical questions that are addressed. The answer which Don gives to the question about God’s existence is also very good. I think that these direct, clear, cogent and winsome answers are helpful and instructive not only for those who are asking the questions, but also for those who are trying in everyday conversation to answer them. My children tell me that these are questions which their contemporaries ask and discuss.

One suggestion that has been made to address the decline of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is that we re-institute the biblical office of evangelist, and train people to fulfill this role. If we were to do this, then clearly we would expect such evangelists to be skilled in addressing and answering these kinds of questions. But if every Christian is called to offer a defence for their hope, then maybe these key questions should be addressed from the pulpit more regularly. An informed and well-taught membership is critical for the health, vitality and mission of every church.

Journeying Mercies

These past few days I have been travelling quite a bit and experiencing what I used to hear older Christians pray for: “journeying mercies”. On Friday night, I had the privilege of joining with the congregation of Drumkeeran in Co Cavan as they celebrated the 175th anniversary of their congregation and the 25 years of ministry of Rev Jean Mackarel in the group of congregations that includes Killeshandra, Cavan and Bellasis along with Drumkeeran.

Thankfully my sat nav device worked well and it got me to my destination on time, but not without a few de-tours to avoid flooded roads. Outside Clones I drove into what I though was a large puddle, but after a few seconds I thought I was in Lough Erne! I was relieved to make it through to the other side. There were a few other troubling moments as I came upon sections of flooded roads without any warning, but by God’s grace I managed to negotiate the hazards successfully.

It was a great evening, planned and led by Jean in her own inimitable style, and no one was in any rush home. The tea, sandwiches and cake were served around 10.30pm and I eventually got on the road again. The road near Clones with the big puddle was now closed, so I was diverted to Newbliss. But diversions were also in place along that road due to the floods, and I ended up on a single track road with grass growing up the middle, and my sat nav registering a blank. I eventually made it to Monaghan and on to Portadown for around 1am.

I arrived in Lisburn on Saturday morning for a Taking Care Trainers conference with the rain teeming down. It was then a quick run into Belfast in difficult driving conditions on the M1 to the Assembly Hall for the SPUD youth assembly. Then off to the north coast to be close to Bushmills for the morning service in Dunluce. It was good to share in a Full Attendance Day with Rev Stephen Carson, former assistant in First Portadown, and his family. The new hall facilities in Dunluce are excellent.

Then to a rain-swept Ahoghill, and to Trinity congregation, where Rev Dr Harry Uprichard has ministered for 39 years, for their united evening service with First Ahoghill and Brookside. It was an excellent evening congregation, with good sausage rolls and tray bakes afterwards.

I don’t drive particularly slowly (I think) but on the way back to Portadown there were some other cars that were seriously over the speed limit and were not driving wisely in difficult road conditions. One eejit was weaving in and out the lanes of traffic at great speed and putting us all at risk.

Yes, the Lord is good and we are thankful for “journeying mercies”, but that doesn’t relieve us from the responsibility of driving with caution and respect for other road-users. In the dark and damp days between now and Christmas, we pray that our roads will be safe and that no families will have to face tragedy and loss through speed or stupidity on our roads.

The Opening of Parliament

stateopeningofparliament3Until this summer, I had lived all my life as a citizen of the United Kingdom without ever having seen HRH Queen Elizabeth II in the flesh. Now in the space of six months I have been in her presence three times. Seeing her in her robes, wearing her magnificent crown, surrounded by all her attendants and with all the trappings of her royal position at the State Opening of Parliament was the most impressive yet. It was a great royal occasion.

We were seated in the Royal Gallery for at least an hour and a half before the speech was actually delivered, but the arrival of various dignitaries, and the playing out of the great drama of preparation in the Palace of Westminster so that the monarch can be received with the appropriate protocol, kept us totally occupied. It was an event that was carefully scripted and orchestrated so that all traditions were respected and all requirements were met. We counted it an enormous honour to be present.

8As well as being spectators in the Royal Gallery, we also had the opportunity to sit in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to listen to their debates on the Queen’s Speech. We also were invited by the Speaker’s Chaplain, Reverend Robert Wright, to meet the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr John Bercow. We were very honoured that he took time out in a very busy day to meet us and welcome us. The Speaker has a demanding role, not only in chairing the debates in the chamber, but in ensuring the smooth running of the business of the House. The Speaker’s House in the Palace of Westminster has to be one of the most beautiful locations in all of London, with magnificent views of the Thames.

2Our visit was made possible by an invitation from our Northern Ireland DUP Members of Parliament, and especially by my local MP, Mr David Simpson. It was all coordinated by Margaret McKee, a Presbyterian who hails from Newry and who looks after the Whip’s Office for the DUP in Westminster. (Margaret is a cousin to my friend, Jim McKee, the manager of the Faith Mission Book and Coffee Shop in Portadown-well worth a visit for the coffee and scones.) Margaret did a wonderful job in making use of every moment available and ensuring that our day was spent profitably.

9We had the opportunity to meet with our local DUP MPs over lunch, along with Lord Morrow, and the conversation was lively. Among other things, the MP for South Antrim, Rev William McCrea, recalled being present in First Presbyterian Church, Portadown in the late 1950s when Rev W P Nicholson was preaching. We discussed the possibility of a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible in 2011. And, of course, we spent some time reflecting on the crisis with the Presbyterian Mutual Society. I was greatly encouraged to know that all our local representatives are committed to working energetically so that we see a successful resolution of this situation.

10I had an opportunity to have a longer informal conversation with our local Minister of Finance, Mr Sammy Wilson, with regards to the PMS situation. It is clear that all our local officials are working very hard so that we might arrive a satisfactory settlement, but it is proving to be complex and difficult, and it is clear that the Minister is doing everything he can to help our cause. For that we are all most grateful. I continue to believe that this situation needs much prayer, and that the good efforts of our Stormont Executive Ministers as well as our Westminster MPs will eventually yield fruit.

The Speaker’s Chaplain gave me a copy of the prayers which are used at the opening of each sitting of the House. They are appropriate words for us to use at this time.

Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals; but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed. Amen.