Praise for local schools

14.11.2023 | Church in Society, Church Life, Presbytery Tour, Church leaders, Commemorations

Having visited six schools as part of his seven-day pastoral tour of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI), Presbytery of Omagh last week, the Church’s Moderator, Right Reverend Dr Sam Mawhinney, said that with all the pressures that schools were under, the hard work that was being done, “was impressive and so very encouraging to see.”

The Presbytery of Omagh is one of PCI’s 19 regional presbyteries, which takes in 40 congregations in west Tyrone, and all of County Fermanagh. Each Moderator undertakes four such week-long tours during their year in office as an important opportunity to encourage the local church in their Christian mission and outreach in the service of Jesus. He was accompanied by his wife Karen and local ministers.

During a busy week of upwards of 30 engagements, Dr Mawhinney visited businesses, voluntary organisations, ministers and their families, and preached in different congregations. He also visited a farm, and toured Omagh Hospital. The Moderator knew the hospital from his time as a medical student in the 1980s and occasional visits when he worked in Altnagelvin Hospital, before studying for the Presbyterian ministry. Six primary and post primary schools were also on the agenda: Fivemiletown Primary School, and Fivemiletown College, Gibson Primary School in Omagh, Richmond Primary in Ballygawley, Aughnacloy College and Aughnacloy Primary School.

During his visit to each of the primary schools, Dr Mawhinney was invited to take the morning assembly. “In each of the schools and colleges Karen and I were made very welcome. Engaging with the children during the assemblies was great fun. I talked about my own journey from Ballycastle, where I was born, to my first congregation in County Tipperary, two very different places, and how things weren’t what I was used to. I told the story, that’s found in Acts Chapter 10, about how God told a centurion called Cornelius to send for Peter and how, at the same time, God showed Peter in a vision that He had no favourites and that God wanted Peter to go to Cornelius, who was different from him, and tell his family and servants about Jesus.

“The children were well behaved and receptive to the story, which was great. They were fascinated by the centurion and the angel, who spoke to him. I was even presented with a lovely gift at Richmond Primary, a daily devotional called ‘Truth for life’,” Dr Mawhinney said.

The Moderator also visited two non-selective post-primary schools, and got to spend time with staff and students. “Down the years PCI has had a long and close association with schools across the country, with many of our members serving a teachers, principals, caretakers, cooks, cleaners and governors, along with local ministers who contribute to school life as governors, or take assemblies,” Dr Mawhinney said.

“Education really matters and will always matter. These are challenging times for school leaders and staff, who face many issues and a range of pressures, not least trying to offer the best education possible, while managing, and living within, ever-decreasing budgets.”

The Moderator continued, “Given those pressures, the hard work that is being done was impressive and so very encouraging to see. It was also good to see the strong church and community connections that they had developed over time, and how the underlying Christian ethos was important to them, as the schools and colleges played their important parts in local life, and the lives of the children and young people.”

Photos (1) Rev Jane Nelson, minister of First Omagh Presbyterian Church is with the Moderator after he took morning assembly at Fivemiletown Primary School. He is pictured with Emily and Evie who presented him with a special book (2) left to right are Mrs Patricia Curran and her husband, Rev David Curran, minister of Cavanalek and Aughantain Presbyterian Church at Fivemiletown Primary School with some of the school's P4s to P7s, the Moderator and Mrs Florence Pryce, school principal (3) on a visit to Aughnacloy College are, left to right, Rev Rodney McElnea, minister of Aughnacloy and Ballymagrane Presbyterian Church, Jeffery Reid, collage principal, the Moderator and his wife Karen, with Rev Jonathan Boyd, minister of Ballygawley and Ballyreagh Presbyterian Churches (4) the Moderator and Rev David Curran with as group of students from the College's Scripture Union.

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