The all-Ireland denomination has 19 regional presbyteries and during their year in office Moderator’s undertake tours of four of them. Made up of ministers and elders drawn from local congregations and other ministries in a particular area, each presbytery is responsible for overseeing those congregations in its local area. Stretching from Annalong in the east, through the Kingdom of Mourne to Newry city, the Presbytery of Newry extends west to Markethill, and into South Armagh, taking in 23 congregations in total, two of them falling just south of the border in County Monaghan.
With no less than 24 engagements planned around the city of Newry, Markethill and the Kilkeel areas, Dr Kirkpatrick will have a busy week. While presbytery tours are primarily pastoral visits to encourage the local church, engagements also include visits to Kingsmills Primary School, Newry and Kilkeel High Schools, where he will meet with pupils and staff. Dr Kirkpatrick will also visit PCI’s chaplain and staff at Daisy Hill Hospital and Newry Hospice, the centre of Southern Area Hospice Services.
Agriculture and the fishing industry are also on the agenda with planned visits to Fane Valley Co-Op Society in Altnamachin and Markethill Livestock Sales. PCI’s first Rural Chaplain, Rev Kenny Hanna, will co-ordinate these visits, as well as a visit to some local farming families to hear more about the current challenges farmers face. When the Moderator is in Kilkeel he will have meetings at the Harbour with local representatives from the fishing industry and the Fishermen’s Mission. During the week the Moderator will also visit is the Ely Centre in Markethill, which provides a victim and survivor service in support mainly of service veterans and their families. A visit to Ardmore police station will also take place.
Speaking about the forthcoming tour, Dr Kirkpatrick said, “Having visited the presbyteries of Dromore, Route and most recently Dublin and Munster, this is my fourth and final presbytery tour, and Joan and I are very much looking forward to it. The message that have shared on each of my tours is not a new one and it is not a complicated one, but it is the story of how Grace works. It is also the story of how Grace inspires works.
“While each tour has been different, there has been one constant similarity throughout, and it is how Grace, which is so crucial and foundational to our faith and relationship with Jesus, has anchored those who serve the Lord and their communities quietly behind the scenes for the good of all. I have no doubt we will find exactly the same love and commitment across the Presbytery of Newry,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.
The tour will open with the morning worship this Sunday at Annalong Presbyterian, where Dr Kirkpatrick will preach, and end with the evening service at Kilkeel Presbyterian the following Sunday. Rev David McCullagh, minister of Annalong and Moderator of Newry Presbytery, is also looking forward to Dr Kirkpatrick’s visit. “While here the Moderator will have the opportunity to see ministry and life in both rural and urban settings, meeting farmers, fishermen, and those involved in other industries in the area. He will also meet healthcare workers, local teachers and students, and those serving in the PSNI. On both Sundays Dr Kirkpatrick will conduct worship in local churches and, between the two Sundays, address two midweek meetings.
“We hope that there will be times of encouragement for both the Moderator and members of our congregations. He will be busy travelling the length and breadth of our Presbytery and as he will minister to us, we will uphold him in prayer,” he said.
As the Clerk of Presbytery, Rev Stuart Finlay, who was minister of Annalong Presbyterian Church for 35 years, explained, “With 19 presbyteries Moderators don’t have time to visit each very often, in fact the last time we welcomed a Moderator on a tour of our Presbytery was six years ago. So, when a visit is planned, there is always some excitement and anticipation. It is always our prayer that such a visit will to helpful to the Moderator as he seeks greater understanding of church life in different parts of the island, and also a blessing to us as we receive God’s Word from him. We very much hope that he and his wife Joan enjoy their visit with us,” he said.
During his weeklong tour Dr Kirkpatrick will also preach in Creggan Presbyterian Church near Cullyhanna, Downshire Road Presbyterian in Newry, Ryans Presbyterian near Rathfriland and Kilkeel Presbyterian Church. The Moderator will also meet ministers from across the Presbytery for fellowship, Bible study, and prayer at three separate venues, while the wider Presbyterian family from across the district have been invited to worship together at two Presbytery Rallies. Taking place on Tuesday evening at Downshire Road Presbyterian and on Thursday evening at Mourne Presbyterian in Kilkeel, Dr Kirkpatrick will talk about his visits to Hungary and Ukraine, which he undertook last October.
Photos: (1) The Moderator and his wife Joan with Luna, the family Golden Retriever (credit David Cavan) (2) The emblem of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, he will visit local the local PSNI station during his tour (3) Fishing Boats in Kilkeel Harbour which is part of the Presbtytery (credit Eric Jones and (5) Annalong Presbyterian Church where Dr Kirkpatrick will preach on Sunday morning, opening his Presbytery Tour.