Presbytery tours are primarily about encouraging the local church and for the Moderator to get out and about, seeing first-hand the work that congregations are doing in the community. They are also an occasion for them to meet and thank those who contribute to community life in a wider context, with visits to hospitals, the police service, schools, elected representatives, voluntary groups and other organisations. The last pre-Covid Presbytery tour was undertaken by Dr William Henry in March, when he toured the Presbytery of South Belfast, one of the cities three presbyteries.
Due to the current pandemic, however, Dr David Bruce and the local Presbytery have scaled back and limited the scope of next week’s tour. “The Church does an incredible amount of work reaching out and serving the local community quietly and compassionately in the name of Jesus, often behind the scenes. I was really looking forward to discovering for myself what that looks like across the Presbytery of Down, especially in these Covid times,” he said.
“In light of the new enhanced restrictions to ensure people’s safety at this particular time, we took the collective decision to scale back the tour and so avoid unnecessary social interaction, which was the safe and sensible thing to do. The main focus will be preaching in local congregations tomorrow and next Sunday.”
Down Presbytery consists of 21 congregations and has a worshipping community of just over 11,000 people. Encompassing the area along the western shores of Strangford Lough, from Comber to Downpatrick, its southern bounds run from Ardglass across to Clough. The main road from Clough to Carryduff then forms its western boundary.
Rev Mark Spratt, Down Presbytery Clerk and minister of Kilmore Presbyterian Church, said that the visits to congregations that are taking place would be a great encouragement. “Presbytery tours are primarily pastoral visits, so we are very much looking forward to the Moderator bringing God’s word to us in three services at Killinchy Presbyterian tomorrow morning then Second Comber in the evening. Next Sunday morning Dr Bruce will preach in Trinity Boardmills Presbyterian.”
Mr Spratt continued, “Without exception our church services are all organised in a socially distant way, in keeping with a self-imposed two metre rule, where masks are advised and sanitiser used. While things may be different, we are very much looking forward to the Moderator bringing God’s Word to us in the coming days, as His Word is unchanging and offers us all hope, especially in these challenging times.”
Normally during a Presbytery Tour, there would be a traditional ‘Presbytery Rally’, which would bring people together from across the area to worship in a special service led by the Moderator. While this will not be taking place on this occasion, the Sunday evening service from Second Comber Presbyterian Church will be livestreamed from the church. This will mean that people from across the presbytery – and further afield - can take part in the worship from the comfort of their own homes and hear the Moderator preach and be interviewed about his life and role.
Dr Bruce concluded by saying, “While I am looking forward to visiting Down Presbytery, albeit in a much curtailed way, I would have liked to have met some of those in the NHS, emergency services, teachers and others to thank them, on behalf of the Church, for what they have done and continue to do, especially during this difficult time. Like all who serve on the frontline, they will continue to remain in our prayers.”
Photos: (1) Rt Rev Dr David Bruce and (2) the western shore of Strangford Lough, which forms the eastern boundary of the Presbytery (credit Rebecca McConnell).