Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) normally undertake four presbytery tours during their year in office, but unlike his predecessors, Dr Bruce is the first Moderator in nearly 130 years to serve two terms and has already undertaken six tours. With upwards of 30 separate engagements, Dr Bruce’s forthcoming tour will be very different from the first, which took place in the Presbytery of Down in October 2020. Due to Covid, and the mitigations in place at the time, it was scaled back to avoid unnecessary social interaction and focussed on preaching in congregations and virtual meetings.
As Rev Dr Trevor McCormick, Clerk of the Presbytery of Coleraine & Limavady, explained, with the rhythm of church life returning to normal, he is looking forward to welcoming the Moderator to the Presbytery. “We are looking forward, with great anticipation, to welcoming Dr Bruce and his wife Zoë, to the Presbytery next week. With 36 congregations stretching along the North Coast from Limavady to Portrush and into the rural hinterland from Banagher and Dungiven through the lower Bann Valley and across to Ballyrashane and Ballywatt, we are diverse in our settings and size of congregations.”
The minister of Kilrea and Boveedy continued, “Following the challenges of the past two years we believe that the Moderator's visit will be an encouragement to many within our church families and in the wider community. Dr Bruce will conduct worship in Derramore and Drumchose congregations in Limavady this coming Sunday, and Ballysally, Coleraine the following Sunday.
“He will also lead worship via livestream for the whole Presbytery and close his visit with an in-person rally, the first for two years. This will take place in one of the largest churches in the Presbytery, Aghadowey Presbyterian Church the same evening. Everyone is welcome,” Dr McCormick said.
Aside from preaching, during a packed week of engagements Dr Bruce will pay a courtesy call on the Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens and visit various community projects which involve Ballysally, Terrace Row and Hazelbank Presbyterian Churches. He will take the assembly in the Irish Society Primary School, meet residents and staff at PCI’s care home, Trinity House in Garvagh, while encouraging prison and hospital chaplains at HMP Magilligan and Causeway Hospital. He will also meet senior staff. Meetings with farmers, Coleraine’s Street Pastors, PSNI, and Limavady Chamber of Trade are also on the agenda - along with to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s lifeboat in Portrush.
Looking forward to the tour, Dr Bruce said, “Each Presbytery Tour is similar. They are very much pastoral visits with opportunities to encourage the local Church, especially our ministers, who have certainly been on the frontline over the last two years. They are also opportunities to acknowledge the work that they and their congregations are in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“At the same time, they are also individual and different, providing important opportunities for a Moderator to get ‘out and about’, getting to know the church in a particular area, seeing first-hand the work that congregations are doing in the community. As a church, we also seek to be active in meeting with a range of public representatives and sectoral groups to listen, discuss their concerns, hear and understand the issues that they face. These opportunities also take place on presbytery tours and are incredibly useful,” he said.
During the week he will also meet the Presbytery’s active ministers in four ‘Refresh Groups’, part of the Moderator’s ‘Refresh’ initiative. “The initiative seeks to encourage and equip, inspire and invigorate those on the frontline of PCI’s ministry during the pandemic,” Dr Bruce explained.
“It began April 2021 when we encouraged ministers to join ‘Refresh Groups’, organised by each of our 19 presbyteries as part of their pastoral care responsibility for their ministers. Since then we have followed up with a number of in-person and virtual events involving our ministers, deaconesses, youth workers, community outreach workers, and others, and I am looking forward to meeting our minsters in each of the four groups for a chat, fellowship and a time of prayer together,” Dr Bruce said.
This visit to the Presbytery of Coleraine & Limavady will be the first to be undertaken by a Moderator since 2016. “From the Brexit referendum and Brexit itself, to the impact of the pandemic, much has changed in the last six years since of my predecessors, Dr Frank Sellar, toured the presbytery. It will be important for me to hear how our Presbyterian family has fared and indeed supported their local communities, particularly in the early days of the pandemic and the lockdowns.
“I will be thanking our ministers, elders and volunteers for their supportive work during the pandemic and indeed those also on the frontline, like our chaplains and care home staff who I will be meeting. Coupled with all that happens on a presbytery tour, first and foremost I will be bringing a message of hope, the hope that is found in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Dr Bruce said.
In conclusion, Dr McCormick said, “This is a key time in the life of our congregations and community, when we must seize the opportunities of revitalisation, reconnection and re-engagement. We know that Dr Bruce will play a significant part in this through his visit and time of ministry with us.”
Photos: (1) The Giant's Causeway (credit Petr Brož Wikimedia Commons) and (2) The Moderator with his wife Zoë at home in their Lisburn garden.