It has been a really wonderful year.
A year when Claire and I have had the enormous joy of meeting so many wonderful people in a wide variety of contexts, and we are hugely appreciative to the Church for entrusting us with this responsibility.
Sometimes challenging, sometimes hectic and non-stop, with early starts and late nights, the experience took me out of my comfort zone many times, but has been full of divine opportunities to serve and to meet God’s people doing His work in places I would never otherwise have had the chance to go.
“Throughout the year Claire and I prayed that God would guide us and we would be sensitive to the prompting of His Holy Spirit. He was ever faithful and we found divine opportunities from Kathmandu to Kells, (Co. Meath) and Carrigart to Cloughwater. Describing the year I think that the word I am looking for is ‘privilege’. A privilege to be allowed into people’s lives, members of the Church, ministering in ordinary contexts and working in Christ’s Name.
It was a privilege to meet with the politically powerful and work closely with fellow church leaders. We have moving memories of taking part in the centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme last July in France and meeting members of the Irish Naval Forces, recently returned from rescuing over 15,000 refugees in the Mediterranean. I preached 86 times in all of our 19 presbyteries, visited congregations in 20 counties and met an incredible number of centenarians!
Presbytery tours are the opportunity to see the Church at work. In October we visited Coleraine and Limavady, November North Belfast and in February, Clare and I had opportunity to meet incredible people in the Presbytery of Newry. Each weeklong tour gave us invaluable insights into the life and witness of the Church and community in three very different parts of the country - each area with their own distinctiveness, flavour and challenges.
October’s tour was sentimental, as I grew up in the area: 36 engagements in 8 days, preaching in 4 congregations (two each Sunday like most weeks), and participating in a mid-week presbytery celebration.
During all three tours – and throughout the year - it was wonderful to see fresh and innovative expressions of church; the diversity of what is being done on the ground, from youth groups to working with children with special needs in a genuinely everyday cross-community way, to seeing the blessing of social projects that meet people where they are at.
We saw this same commitment to people in PCI Family Holiday at the Share Centre in Co. Fermanagh, which is supported by the Presbyterian Children’s Society.
Witnessing togetherness, love, joy and faith
This is our Church at its best, bringing people together of all ages and backgrounds, from south and north, a place of refreshing and regeneration, physically and spiritually – especially for parents I think - a place where you see our Church in microcosm. It was a wonderful experience (and a wet one too having gone banana boating) but we came home having witnessed a genuine sense of togetherness, love, joy and support all in Christ’s name.
It was a privilege as well to see this in Nepal with our friends and overseas mission personnel the Lockwoods and the Coulters, high in the Himalayas witnessing again how God had strategically placed people in the right place at the right time.
Seeing what they did was hugely impressive and I won’t forget the indigenous Christian leaders we met, being told on more than one occasion, even in a context of political pressure that, “the church must do what the church must do.” So incredibly encouraging to see.
In Nepal we witnessed first hand the real life-changing benefit that the last Moderator’s Appeal had brought to people on the ground post 2015 earthquake. This affected me too. Seeing the physical connection between what had been sacrificially given and the blessing that had flowed from it, and how that had been strategically managed by our partners there gave me confidence to launch the current Moderator’s Appeal for famine relief in East Africa. The women of the agricultural co-operative we visited in Rupandehi, southwest of Kathmandu, are a testament to this.
With my last sermon as Moderator fast approaching, which will be in Dún Laoghaire, this Sunday, Claire and I are greatly heartened by what we have found on our travels. Ours is not a church in retreat, but a gracious and humble partner in the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
The abiding delight has been meeting with God’s people, living, ministering and working in Christ’s Name in the villages, towns and cities of this island – and further afield - joyfully serving. This has been our greatest privilege.
Dr. Sellar is minister of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in east Belfast. He will give his final address as Moderator at the Opening Night of this year’s General Assembly, which is open to the public and starts at 7pm on Monday, 5th June in Belfast’s Assembly Buildings.
For information and resources about this year's General Assembly: The Blue Book, individual reports, suplementary reports, daily business, minutes, previews and reviews of each day's proceedings, visit our General Assembly 2017 resources section here.
Photos: Clockwise above (1) Leading those gathered for the centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme at the Ulster Memorial Tower at Thiepval, France in the Lord's Prayer (2) aboard the L.É James Joyce (P62) visiting the Naval Service at Haulbowline, County Cork (3) with Street pastors in Coleraine (4) at the PCI Family Holiday in County Fermanagh, (5) at Tansen Hospital, Nepal, with the chaplain (6) the women of the agricultural co-operative in Rupandehi who benefited from the Moderator's Appeal following the earthquake and (7) some of the members of PCI's outreach team at the Aul Lammas Fair, Ballycastle, County Antrim.