PCI’s principal decision-making body, which brings together ministers, elders and others from the church’s 500-plus congregations across Ireland, has been meeting in Belfast since Wednesday evening. Coming together for fellowship, to worship, to pray and to take the decisions that it needs to take, many of which will affect the life and ministry of all-denomination for years to come.
Speaking on the Council for Mission in Ireland’s (CMI) Report to the General Assembly, Council Secretary Rick Hill said that that the Council’s Church Planting Panel had worked hard to develop a Strategy that can guide the denomination in its church planting efforts and offer help to individual congregations seeking to plant.
“Our desire is to fan into flame a vision for church planting…We can point to the need to open an overflow area in Kilkenny, church planting progress in Balbriggan, encouragements in Sligo and Naas, the process of electing local elders in Galway and Corboy. We can point to positive start to the work in West Belfast and a significant property project to establish an inaugural church building in Maynooth, after almost two decades of meeting in rented space.
“More generally there have been new communicant members, the sustaining of stable witness in rural areas, congregations reaching migrants in grace-filled ways, and the fruitfulness of an Alpha Course in the International Meeting Point, which led to more than two dozen baptisms in one of its neighbouring congregations. Praise God!” Mr Hill said.
Quoting from Ecclesiastes in the Bible’s Old Testament, the Council Secretary reminded the General Assembly that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Ecclesiastes 3:2.) “This is the mixed economy of moving forward missionally, as a Church in this cultural moment. Birth and death. Renovation and innovation. Sustaining the old and pioneering the new…”
Addressing the Moderator, Dr Mawhinney, who is currently the minister of Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church, in Dublin, but has also served in two congregation in Counties Cork and Tipperary, Mr Hill said, “you know more than most the reality of ministry in Ireland and I know that close to your heart are the many villages, towns and even cities which lack a strong evangelical witness or reformed church presence.
“Church planting lies in the history and heart of Irish Presbyterianism. For each of our congregations to exist, they had to be planted, and today the need remains to spread our nets wide across this land. If we don’t, we will simply go about the task of reallocating resource and managing decline in a way that gives us our day, but fails in our basic missionary calling.”
He pointed out that over 80 towns of more than 10,000 people had been identified as having no significant gospel witness. “A quick glance at a current PCI map shows significant gaps across Ireland. Of the top 50 population centres, 17 contain no Presbyterian congregation, including large towns and cities like Waterford, Limerick and Navan. Whole counties lack any Presbyterian witness and less than 10% of our congregations are found within the provinces of Leinster, Munster and Connacht. A challenge is identifying the right people to lead such work.” Mr Hill explained.
With that in mind, he said that the Council seeks to establish a called role of ‘Missional Auxiliary Ministry’. This would see appropriately assessed and trained people acting as ‘Mission Pioneers’ in various settings to focus on church planting or strategic pioneering work. They would be approved and deployed by the Council to serve under the oversight of a local congregation, or Presbytery, to focus on church planting or strategic pioneering work.
“Pioneers are those who go first, pave the way and initiate connection with those outside the church to engage them with both the gospel and Christian community. We are praying for those who would carry a vision for the outermost parts of our island; to the towns and cities; the remote and rural; the southerly and westerly; to put their hands up to minister and lead mission; pastor and teach; plant and pioneer; to seek revitalisation and renewal,” he said.
Mr Hill concluded by saying, “We believe there is a way forward for the church in this land. Jesus remains good news, the fields are still harvest-white, and posturing ourselves once again with bold faith, creative imagination and courageous action will help plot a pathway to a more dynamic future.”
Looking at the practicalities of what had been approved by the General Assembly, the Council for Mission in Ireland has developed a ‘Church Planters Network’, which met for the first time in March. On the back of the Church Planting Conference that was held in February 2022 in Dundalk, a ‘Taster Day’ to help identify potential church planters is planned for 21 October 2023. It is hoped that a church planting handbook will be published soon.