Opening a door to ministry

8.3.2024 | Ministry, Union Theological College, Church Life

If you were asked if you had ever thought about becoming a minister, most people might wonder why they are being asked if they had ever considered a political career. If you are actually thinking of becoming a minister – but of the ordained variety - the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) is holding a Ministry Taster Day, next Saturday, 16 March.

The special open day is for anyone who has been thinking and praying about becoming an ordained minister in the all-Ireland denomination and feel that God is leading them in this direction. It will take place in Belfast at Union Theological College, PCI’s principal body for the training of its ministers prior to ordination.

Encouraging those who would like to find out more about becoming a minister in PCI to attend, Reverend Professor David Leach, Professor of Ministry and Director of the Institute for Ministry, said that you would be surprised at the different backgrounds people come from. “Over the years I have had many conversations with people who have been thinking about God’s call on their lives. They have ranged from barristers to baristas, mums and dads, those who are married and those who are single, students and those in fulltime employment, and our current cohort of students is very much reflective of that.”

The former minister of two County Londonderry congregations, Professor Leach began his working life as a primary school teacher in east Belfast, before training to become a minister. “In all of this we recognise that the Lord leads people in different ways, and at various stages in their lives. The Ministry Taster Day is an opportunity, therefore, for anyone in the wider PCI family who has been thinking about the ordained ministry to begin to investigate the opportunity. We are constantly in need of ministers and have many vacancies across Ireland, so we want to support those who are sensing God’s call on their lives and want to help them explore that.”

Currently, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has over 500 congregations, served by just over 300 ministers. Its ordained ministry of is open to men and women on an equal basis and at the last count, around 40 people had signed up for the Ministry Taster Day.

The day itself, which is free to attend, starts at 10.30am and ends at 1pm with lunch. The format for the Ministry Taster Day is very simple, and those attending will get the opportunity to hear from Faculty at Union College on what it is to study theology, the biblical languages, and how that applies in everyday life and work within the context of a local church.

There will also be interviews with ministry trainees at different stages on their pathway towards ordination, and with other parish ministers in relation to ministering to people in 21st century Ireland. College staff and students will be on hand to answer any questions as well.

As Professor Leach explained, from seeking nomination as a candidate for the ordained ministry, to being eligible to being called to a congregation as a minister, normally takes around six years. “The application process takes a year, and if accepted, is usually followed by three years of study and 26 months as a fulltime assistant in a congregation. If you think that God is calling you to the ordained ministry, the Ministry Taster Day could be part of that journey, and we would welcome the opportunity to see you there.”

First Year student, Christine Craig, who is an elder in Kilbride Presbyterian in Doagh, County Antrim, came from full-time employment. She is now six months into her studies and enjoying the experience. “I strongly sensed God calling me to ordained ministry through the process of becoming an elder in my home congregation, and through my work in PCI’s Mission in Ireland office. I knew something of what was involved by attending a Ministry Taster Day a good number of years ago, which was really helpful.

“While returning to full-time education was a bit of an adjustment, with a different rhythm and routine, I have been really blessed in my first year and it has been lovely to begin studying alongside the others in my year group. I really enjoy the culture at Union College, which I’m looking forward to being a part of for the next three years,” Christine said.

Andrew Ferguson attended the Ministry Taster Day in 2020, just before the Covid lockdown. Now a third-year ministry student, while he didn’t grow up in PCI, his home congregation is Dundonald Presbyterian Church. “I had already begun to explore my sense of call to ministry before attending the taster day, but the event itself was a great opportunity to hear more about Union College and the training pathway to ministry. The application process helped me to explore my call further, although I was a bit nervous about studying at Union having been out of full-time education for over 10 years.”

Andrew, who is Student Assistant in Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in south Belfast, continued, “I have really enjoyed my time at Union, with the broad variety of modules and the friendships that I have formed with my fellow ministry students. I would encourage those who have a sense of call to ministry within PCI to attended the Ministry Taster Day, as it gives a real flavour of what is involved.” Andrew went on to say that the summer placements, which gave him a chance to work in different congregations, was also really beneficial.

If you would like to attend the Ministry Taster Day on Saturday, 16 March, please register by emailing Reverend Professor David Leach, Professor of Ministry & Director of the Institute for Ministry:

You can listen to Professor Leach, Christine Craig and Andrew Ferguson being interviewed by Audrey Carville about the Ministry Taster Day on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence programme here:

Photos: (1) Professor David Leach, Professor of Ministry & Director of the Institute for Ministry, with Christine Craig and Andrew Ferguson outside the BBC when they were interviewed about the Ministry Taster Day on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence Programme (2) Union Theological College (3) First year ministry student, Christine Craig and third year ministry student, Andrew Ferguson.

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