The Appalachian Trail reaches Larne

southIt’s almost too much for a Larne man like me to take in, but recent reports suggest that the Appalachian Trail, which runs for over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine in the Eastern United States, is to be extended from America to Ireland, and may even reach my home town of Larne.

The organisers of the International Appalachian Trail have already lengthened the well-known route into Canada and Newfoundland, and they are now considering stretching it across the Atlantic into Greenland, Ireland and Scotland, and then on to Norway and North Africa.

The Irish section, which will rely on existing tracks, would run from Donegal and connect with the 625 mile long Ulster Way. Walkers could then take the ferry from Larne to Scotland to continue on a further leg of the trail.

The reasons given for making the link are largely geological. On the basis that before the Atlantic Ocean was formed, Europe and America were one large land mass, there are geographical and geological features that justify a link between the two continents.

This might give some impetus to those who promote local tourism. It is estimated that up to 4 million people walk the Appalachian Trail every year, and if even just a small percentage of those hikers made it to Northern Ireland, it would be a great boost to the local economy.

I’m certain that those who live close to the Ulster Way, given the waves of emigration from these shores to the New World in the 18th and 19th centuries, could add a few local cultural events to help hikers make an even stronger connection between Ulster and the Eastern United States.

Mind you, I never thought when I was growing up in Larne that I was anywhere close to living on the Appalachian Trail. It makes me think of my home town in a whole new way.

The Methodist Conference

conference-2010The Methodist Church in Ireland met for its annual conference in Belfast from 10-13 June 2010, and, along with Mr Campbell Young, I attended to represent the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. It’s theme was taken from a line in one of Wesley’s hymns, “Our Calling to Fulfil”. It was a good opportunity to renew personal friendships with many fellow ministers in the Methodist Church, as well as to chat with Bishop Harold Millar, the Church of Ireland representative to the Conference.

At the opening night service in St Mark’s, Dundela, (famous for its close links with C.S.Lewis), the Conference installed Reverend Paul Kingston as its President, succeeding Reverend Donald Ker. In addition, for the first time, it also installed Mrs Gillian Kingston as its Lay Leader. It was an interesting innovation, and the way the duties of chairing the Conference were shared between the President and the Lay Leader reflected the concern of the church to recognise the gifts of all God’s people. Continue reading “The Methodist Conference”

The Exciting Church

It’s the season for church conferences, general assemblies and synods. Presidents, moderators and bishops try to make significant and timely statements about the state of their denomination, and the way forward. Here’s the address which the Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, David Meredith, gave at its General Assembly a couple of weeks ago.

David Meredith
David Meredith

The Free Church of Scotland has over 100 congregations in Scotland, plus 2 in London and 5 in North America. It is probably best known for its commitment to exclusive psalmody in its worship, although that particular issue will be the subject of a conference which will be held later in the year.

While the Moderator is clearly addressing the specific challenges faced by a conservative denomination in Scotland, there are interesting and pertinent points which apply to many of us who live and minister in the Bristish Isles, and especially to those of us who are concerned about the future of the church in these islands. As David asks, Do we want the boredom and banality of managed decline? Or are we prepared to take risks for the gospel? It’s a substantial address and it’s worth reading. Continue reading “The Exciting Church”

The General Assembly debate on the PMS

I seconded the report from the Panel on the Financial Crisis to the General Assembly on Wednesday afternoon, but because of the amendments to the resolution about ministers making a personal contribution towards the church’s proposed £1 million donation to the “hardship fund”, my speech didn’t get reported.

It was a classic case of the General Assembly, in a debate which had the attention of the press, shooting itself in the foot by debating the details of a plan that may never need to be activated. I have no doubt that many ministers would make significant and sacrificial personal contributions to such an appeal, if it was launched. They don’t need a resolution from the General Assembly to encourage them to do that.

It is important to keep the big picture in view. Our goal is a resolution that makes a hardship fund unnecessary. If and when this contribution to a rescue package is required, I expect we will see a generous response from the whole Presbyterian family, including its ministers. But we remain hopeful that this fund may not yet be needed.

So here’s the speech that wasn’t reported. Continue reading “The General Assembly debate on the PMS”


dr-norman-hamilton-right-with-former-presbyterian-moderator-dr-stafford-carsonIn order that no one person would exercise excessive influence over the church, or do too much damage, our Presbyterian forefathers agreed a form of church government which requires moderators in presbyteries and General Assembly to serve only for one year. The old line is that, as moderator, for a year you are “it”, and then you are “ex-it”.

I made my exit on Monday evening and handed over to Dr Norman Hamilton, minister of Ballysillan Presbyterian Church. Now I can relax a bit, and begin to think about taking up my duties in First Portadown again.

On the opening night of the General Assembly I had the opportunity to reflect on my year in office and this is part of what I said.

Continue reading “Ex-it”