With moderatorial responsibilities getting near, the Presbytery of Armagh inducted a new assistant in our congregation on Wednesday 1 April. Alastair J. Dunlop is a graduate of St Andrews University and Regent College, Vancouver. He has served as assistant minister in First Presbyterian Church, Antrim, and then as assistant in Harryville, Ballymena during Dr John Finlay’s moderatorial year. At his induction service, my two chaplains, Rev Philip McConnell of Waringstown and Rev Nigel McCullough of Hill Street, Lurgan, took part, along with the Moderator and Clerk of the Armagh presbytery, Rev Donald Byers and Rev Colin Harris.
At the reception following the service, all kinds of connections were made, indicating what a small and closely related denomination we belong to. I was an assistant in Harryville in 1981, the year our eldest daughter, Sara, was born, and the great summer when England won the Ashes series against Australia. Will we ever forget the performances of Botham and Willis? The big question is: Can England do it again in 2009?
It was great to see all the friends from Harryville in Portadown, not least their minister, Dr John Finlay, whose father, Bert, was a much loved lay assistant in First Portadown during Dr Craig’s ministry, and whose son, John Junior, is the youngest elder on the First Portadown Session and serves alongside his uncle, Rea.
I have known Alastair all his life. His father , Alastair Senior, was Patricia’s minister in First Portglenone, and has been one of my best friends since those days. Alastair Junior was born in 1977, the same year that Patricia and I were married. Incredible as it may seem now, he was a sick baby, and his mother, Anne, left him for the first time when he was six months old in order to attend our wedding.
There is also the St Andrews University connection and that whole network of friends that includes our daughter, Sara, Alastair and Judith, Jonny and Laura McGreevy, Stuart and Julianne Noble, etc. Are you one of them? Am I just imagining it, but was that Ulster Christian mafia at St Andrews in the 1990s and early 2000s a particularly gifted generation? Or did they just inherit it all from the previous generation that never made it across the North Channel?
The connections theme was well and truly underscored by Dr Craig, our Minister Emeritus, in his remarks, as he recalled his friendship with Alastair’s great-grandfather, Hugh Dunlop, an elder in Wellington Street, Ballymena, and Alastair’s two grandfathers, Rev Dr James Dunlop of Oldpark,and Mr William J. Morgan, a Member of the old Stormont parliament and a cabinet minister in the government there. Dr Craig described Dr James Dunlop as providing the model of ministry that he had sought to follow in his 36 years in First Portadown.
What impressed me was not only the connections, but also how, in the providence of God, the baton of Christian ministry is passed from one generation to the next and the kingdom of God continues to advance. As Alastair assumes responsibilities in First Portadown, we pray that God will grant him a fruitful ministry.