Organised by the Council for Training in Ministry, the socially distanced event was held in PCI’s Assembly Buildings in Belfast, and livestreamed to four satellite locations around Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. ‘Refresh’ is an initiative that the church hopes will provide ongoing fellowship and encouragement to ministers on the front line of pastoral ministry after an unprecedented year in the life of the all-Ireland denomination.
Rev Niall Lockhart, who is the convener of PCI’s Pastoral Care for Ministers and their Families Panel, said that he hoped that today, along with the weeklong initiative itself, when ministers would normally have attended the General Assembly, would be an important time of reflection, rest and refreshment. “This past year has been a tough year for many people in their working environments. It’s been tough for those who work in healthcare, in education, in retail, in business, and it’s been tough for those who work in churches.”
“Covid has turned things upside down, with sustained periods of time when our church buildings could not open and new skills having to be learnt quickly. It was also time of profound challenge in the context of ministry, with how we have preached, pastored, and journeyed alongside others in times of illness, anxiety, and loss, all having had to change. People in any working context grow through encouragement, and we felt that this was something we wanted to take time to speak into through ‘Refresh’,” he said.
Wearing face coverings, over 100 ministers took part in Assembly Buildings with more than 70 joining via livestream in the four satellite venues - Presbyterian churches in Drogheda, County Louth, Ballymena, County Antrim, Armagh City and County Londonderry. PCI’s Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, and Mr Lockhart led a time of worship, which included 30 ministers, their wives, husbands and children from across the island, reading pre-recorded verses from the Bible. The Clerk of the General Assembly, Rev Trevor Gribben, led those in Assembly buildings and in the satellite venues in prayer.
Mr Lockhart, who is minister of Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church in Newtownabbey, said that in April and May of this year, as part of the initiative, ministers had been encouraged to join what he described as ‘Refresh Groups’, organised by each of PCI’s 19 regional presbyteries in keeping with their pastoral care responsibilities. “These have played an important part in bringing our minsters together for fellowship, a safe place where they can talk honestly, encourage and pray for one another. Christian ministry is something we do together and we trust that these groups have encouraged everyone who has taken part in them.”
This morning’s time of worship, teaching and reflection also heard from the Dr Bruce, who explored the theme of spiritual resilience for his colleagues in ordained ministry, taken from Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 9), with local consultant psychiatrist, Dr Andrew Collins, setting out the need for self-care and practical strategies for keeping going in leadership. While not able to attend in person, in a recorded message Jonathan Lamb, of the Langham Partnership in London, spoke from the Bible helping those in the hall and in the satellite venues to reflect upon the times that they are called to preach, pastor and lead and how God gives strength for their ministry, even in the most testing of times.
Speaking about ‘Refresh Week’, Dr Bruce said, “I genuinely hope and pray that this service of worship that has brought us together today, for a brief time of teaching, biblical reflection and fellowship, coupled with the thoughts and insights of our guest speakers, will have been a time of blessing and encouragement to our ministers.
“The past 15 months have increased the considerable pressures on our ministers, who have in many respects, also been on the frontline during this pandemic. As part of this ‘Refresh Week’, it is also my prayer that they will be strengthened, have their spirits lifted and their eyes focussed on the work that God has called them to do in the days and weeks ahead.”
Rev Nigel McCullough, Convener for the Council for Training in Ministry, Rev Nigel McCullough, convener for the Council for Training in Ministry and minister of Hill Street Presbyterian in Lurgan, thanked all those who took part. “The men and women who serve as ministers in our congregations across Ireland, come to this ordained task as whole people – people of body, spirit and mind," he said.
"To enable them to care well for others, we need to care well for one another. My hope is that in these unsettled times, Refresh will contribute to this. I would also like to take this opportunity to everyone who took part and pray that they would know God’s richest blessing and the plans that he has for them.”
Photos (1) The Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce addressing 'Refresh' in the Assembly Hall (2) a view from the gallery as Dr Andrew Collins sets out the need for self-care (3) ministers gather in Magheramason Presbyterian Church, County Londonderry, one of the four satelite venues that livestreamed the event (4) Dr Andrew Collins (left) with the Moderator, Dr Bruce and Rev Niall Lockhart, with Jonathan Lamb, of the Langham Partnership, on screen, who contributed to Refresh via recorded message.