On the site of St Patrick’s 5th century ‘Great Stone Church’, the King had the opportunity to talk to the Church Leaders and hear something of the work of the Church. The service in Armagh was part of a two day visit to Northern Ireland by the King and Queen, with Her Majesty meeting children in Armagh’s Robinson Library as part of her campaign to encourage reading.
At the same time, in the neighbouring cathedral, there was a period of reflection and intercession during which the Church Leaders – Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, the Presidents of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Ken Nixon and Irish Council of Churches, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, along with the Moderator - prayed for God’s blessing and guidance for the King.
The Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland), represents all-Ireland denominations with churches across the whole of the island of Ireland. It came into existence in the late 1960s when the Church Leaders recognised the value in working together in light of the urgency of political developments of the time. Since then they have met frequently, often speaking out collectively on certain public issues.
The Dean of Armagh, the Very Rev Shane Forster, welcomed him on his arrival as the Cathedral Choir, sang the words of ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’. The choir, which was founded by Royal Charter in 1634 by King Charles I, also sang the gentle and calming words of the ‘Irish Blessing’ during the time of prayer, to a setting by Bob Chilcott.
Speaking about this morning’s service, Dr Kirkpatrick said, “As Church leaders, we had attended the King’s Coronation earlier this month, but this wasn’t a big gathering, or like his last visit in September to St Anne’s Cathedral following the death of his mother. This was a quiet moment filled with symbolism. A monarch bowed in prayer in a place alive with precious Christian history, the reverent silence of waiting before God, then entering once again the vibrant world of people."
Dr Kirkpatrick continued, “Having expressed his commitment to uphold the Christian faith at his Coronation, our gathering in the business of his day, also spoke to me of the significance and value that the King placed on that commitment. Having come to pray, and be prayed for, in the peace of that moment, I think that should encourage people of faith. The visit also gave the King an opportunity to meet a number of people from different aspects of Church life.”
Dean Forster commented, “In this Coronation year it was a great honour to welcome His Majesty the King to the Cathedral and have the opportunity to share something of the story of this ancient holy site and place of pilgrimage with him before all present joined in prayer with the King and for the King. It was also a particular joy for the Cathedral Choir to sing for the King as they are the current members of a foundation which is linked to one of His Majesty’s predecessors and namesake, King Charles I. A moment the young choristers will remember for a very long time to come.”
Accompanying the Moderator was a small group from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The group was made up of Rev Trevor Gribben, the Clerk of the General Assembly, the Moderator-Designate, Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, who will succeed Dr Kirkpatrick at next month’s General Assembly, Rev Dr Ruth Patterson OBE, Executive Director of Restoration Ministries, Karen Jardine, PCI’s Public Affairs Officer and Peter Wright from Waringstown Presbyterian Church, who was introduced to the King and spoke to him about the important work of training young leaders in PCI.
Photos (1) The Church Leaders praying for King Charles at today's service (left to right) Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Ken Nixon and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, along with the Moderator (2) Dr Kirkpatrick and Peter Wight being presented to the King (3) (left to right) Peter Wright, Dr Kirkpatrick, Rev Dr Ruth Patterson OBE, Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, Karen Jardine, and Rev Trevor Gribben (photo credits Press Eye.)