Dr Kirkpatrick was speaking as he visited the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's (PCI) Dromore Presbytery Stand at this week’s Balmoral Show in the Eikon Exhibition Centre. While the Moderator’s father and grandfather were Presbyterian ministers – making him a third generation Presbyterian pastor – his farming roots go much further back.
“Much of my childhood was spent on the farm where my mother was reared, at Ballymena. Here I developed both an appreciation of the hard work and personal satisfaction of rural life,” Dr Kirkpatrick explained, who has been a passionate beekeeper for the past 10 years.
“Coming from such a deep rooted heritage, I studied farm management at Greenmount Agricultural College, did a Social Science and Environmental Studies degree at the University of Ulster’s Coleraine campus, and worked for a year at the Department of Agriculture. But ultimately, as I discovered, my call in life wasn’t to the fields and the harvest, but the mission field and a different kind of harvest,” he said.
During the Show he and his wife Joan – who comes from generations of Fermanagh farmers - had an opportunity to meet a number of different organisations. These included the Northern Ireland Agri-Rural Health Forum, where they attended the launch of the ‘Know Your Numbers’ campaign, which encourages farmers and farm families to have their blood pressure taken regularly. Dr Kirkpatrick also met the Rural Support team who were conducting the 2023 Farm Support Survey and PCI’s Rural Chaplain, Rev Kenny Hanna.
“I would really encourage farmers to get behind the ‘Know Your Numbers campaign, because our health is so vital to our wellbeing, and livelihood. The survey is also an important initiative. Along with other information its findings will ensure that Rural Support programmes and services are designed and delivered to meet the needs of the farming community for next three years. I would encourage as many people as possible to take part in both,” the Moderator said.
“In these days of increasing costs, unprecedented challenge and pressures for famers and faming families, I want to pay tribute to them for the work that they do in providing food for our tables and their contribution to the local economy, while managing the countryside, all of which is often taken for granted.
“Those who support them play an invaluable role, and I include the many congregations that we have across this island of ours, who are part of rural communities and play their practical and, of course, pastoral roles in local life. I include in that our Rural Chaplain, Kenny Hanna, who works alongside congregations in Counties Down and Armagh,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.
The Moderator also thanked the Presbytery of Dromore - one of PCI’s 19 regional presbyteries - which includes 22 congregations in the north eastern corner of County Down, who have been at the Balmoral Show since 2015. “It is so important for the Church to be outward facing, bringing the compassion and the love of Christ to those who may not necessarily go to church on a Sunday. Dromore Presbytery’s Balmoral stand is a fine example of that and it was great to see it so busy and so welcoming.”
Rev Bobby Liddle, the convener of the Presbytery’s Balmoral Show Committee, which organised the stand, thanked everyone for ‘dropping by’. “This has been our ninth Balmoral Show and I hope that everyone who visited was made to feel very welcome and had time to catch their breath over a cup of tea or coffee, or just meet up with friends. It has been good to see the Show buzzing with all the excitement and opportunities that it brings each year.”
The minister of Legacurry Presbyterian Church near Lisburn continued, “For those who came needing pastoral support and a compassionate, listening ear, or a time of prayer, it is my prayer that, as the Apostle Paul writes, that they will know “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…” (Philippians 4:7). As I said last year, and reiterate again, as a Church we want to reassure all farmers and their families of our ongoing pastoral and prayerful support, which is one of the main reasons for us reaching out in the name of Jesus and taking part in the Balmoral Show each year.”
Photos: (1) On the Dromore Presbytery stand at this year’s Balmoral Show are (left to right) Rev Bobby Liddle, minister of Legacurry Presbyterian Church and convener of the Presbytery’s Balmoral Show Committee with the Moderator, Dr John Kirkpatrick and his wife Joan, and some of the members of the Presbytery’s Balmoral team, Brian Copes who is an elder in First Dromara Presbyterian Church, former PW President Elma Leeburn and Alan Martin, an elder in Maze Presbyterian Church (2) Dr Kirkpatrick at the Launch of the Northern Ireland Agri-Rural Health Forum’s ‘Know Your Numbers’ campaign with his wife Joan, Rev Kenny Hanna, PCI’s Rural Chaplain and Forum Chair, Dr Rebecca Orr (3) The Moderator with Victoria Ross (left), Rural Support’s Farm Support Co-ordinator and Gillian Reid, Head of Farm Support, with the 2023 Farm Support Survey.