Changes ahead for General Assembly

24.1.2024 | General Assembly, Moderator

In just six months’ time, ministers and elders from across Ireland and others who have a right to attend, would have gathered in Belfast for this year’s General Assembly, which will meet from Thursday, 20 to Saturday, 22 June. For those who attended, and for those who follow the business of the annual gathering online, or from the public gallery, they would have seen a few important changes.

Explaining the rationale for the changes and what is due to take place, the Deputy Clerk of the General Assembly, Rev Dr Allen said, “Last year the General Assembly agreed significant reforms to the oppening of the Assembly and installation of the incoming Moderator. Amongst the proposed changes, the formal election and installation would move away from the stand-alone Wednesday night, to later on during the Assembly.”

The Deputy Clerk explained that a significant number of reforms to the General Assembly had been introduced over the last number of years. With regards to the latest changes, it is hoped that separating the opening of the Assembly from the installation of the new Moderator would allow the Church to focus on what it believes the Lord is calling it to do for Him, and to highlight these issues to those outside of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI).

While the act of installation would take place at a different point during the Assembly, as always, it would involve specific prayers and an affirmation made by the incoming Moderator following their formal election. Civic guests would also be present.

The changes would also mean that at the opening of the General Assembly, which will now take place on a Thursday morning, would mean that the outgoing Moderator will be able to approach the task of chairing the first day’s business sessions, and a number sessions on the second day, with the benefit of a full year’s experience in the role. This would also enable them to bring their own insights to bear, having seen the work of each Council, and the work of the Church in general, across the island and beyond, during their year in office.

“At the same time, they will be able to combine their reflections on the past year at the start of the Assembly, with the space to apply God’s Word to the specifics of where the Church finds itself, and to do so from a position of knowledge. As it says in the Report containing the proposals, (pages 10-15) ‘Their address need not, therefore be a swan song…[but] provide a more solid platform for the outgoing Moderator to complete their term of office’, Dr Allen said.

Following a new installation service, that will take place later on in proceedings, the incoming Moderator would then chair the remaining business sessions of the General Assembly until its close on Saturday afternoon.

While it is just under six months away, later on this week the Church will announce the names of those ministers who will be considered by PCI’s 19 regional presbyteries - when they meet across Ireland on 6 February - to determine who will succeed the current Moderator, Right Reverend Dr Sam Mawhinney.

As the outgoing Moderator, Dr Mawhinney will open this year’s General Assembly, on Thursday, 20 June, while the minister chosen to succeed him next month, will not be formally elected and installed at the opening of the General Assembly, but later on during proceedings.

As the denomination’s senior office bearer and principal public representative for 2024-2025, come next year’s gathering, Dr Mawhinney’s successor will then open and constitute the 2025 General Assembly. As well as chairing the initial business sessions, they too would bring their experience of a full year in office to bear on those proceedings.

While some things will change, with regards to the involvement of the outgoing and incoming Moderators, other traditional and familiar elements of the General Assembly will remain. For example, the services of worship, which includes the General Assembly Communion Service, and the Evening Celebration.

You can read (pages 10-15) the General Council’s ‘Report regarding possible changes to the opening of the General Assembly and the installation of incoming Moderators’ that was received by the Assembly, here.

Photos (1) Dr Mawhinney is installed as Moderator of the General Assembly at its Opening Night on Wednesday, 21 June 2023 (2) Deputy Clerk of the General Assembly, Rev Dr David Allen (3) The 1905 Moderator's Chair.

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