The Church’s 500-plus congregations across Ireland are divided into 19 regional presbyteries and 21 of them make up Route Presbytery, one of the oldest in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), having been constituted in 1657. Six of the congregations date back to the mid-1600s. From Bushmills in the north, round the coast road to Ballycastle, the Presbytery extends across much of north County Antrim, taking in Cloughmills to the south and Finvoy to the west with the town of Ballymoney at its heart.
Having been selected as Moderator-Designated by Presbyteries in Februrary and elected Moderator in June at the all-Ireland denomination’s General Assembly, each Moderator undertakes four Presbytery Tours. Dr Kirkpatrick’s tour of Route is his second and comes hot on the heels of his weeklong overseas tour of Hungary and Ukraine. During his visit to central Europe, he saw how partner churches are supporting refugees and how some of the £1.3m raised by PCI congregations is supporting and blessing the ongoing humanitarian effort in the region.
Accompanied by his wife Joan, each Presbytery Tour is an important opportunity for a Moderator to get ‘out and about’ and meet with and encourage ministers from across the Presbytery. They are also times to see first-hand and acknowledge the work of local congregations.
Dr Kirkpatrick began his tour when he preached in Dunloy Presbyterian Church this morning returning to his first congregation, Garryduff, to preach a little later on. This evening he was at Drumreagh Presbyterian Church in Bendooragh near Ballymoney. He will also be speaking at a special mid-week service at Mosside Presbyterian on Wednesday and will lead worship at Bushvale Presbyterian Church in the morning and Dervock Presbyterian in the evening of Sunday 6 November.
Looking forward to the visit, the Clerk of Route Presbytery, Rev Noel McClean, Minister Emeritus of First Kilraughts Presbyterian near Stranocum, explained that the tour will be the first to be undertaken by a Moderator since 2017. “Dr Kirkpatrick will be most welcome and was indeed a member of our historic Presbytery when he was minister of the congregation in Garryduff from 1987 until 1993.
“The name ‘Route’ is an unusual one, and is derived from the ancient territory Dalriada, which was occupied by the descendants of Riada, a chieftain who lived in the 3rd century, from which Route is derived. During his tour the Moderator will visit a number of our churches, take services and meetings. He will meet to encourage ministers and manse families as well as seeing some of the local industry, the work of Foodbanks and Christians Against Poverty in Ballymoney, especially in these dire economic times.
“There will be a visit to Riding for the Disabled and Dr Kirkpatrick will also pay a visit to Dalriada Hospital and a number of schools. We will also be in the Royal Hotel in Portrush, on his home patch just outside the Presbytery, for a meal with all members of Presbytery, ministers, elders and their spouses, which we are looking forward to.
Mr McClean concluded by saying, “It will be a busy week, but a productive one I hope and Dr Kirkpatrick and his wife Joan may be fully assured of ‘welcome home’ as they come to encourage the work in an area that has special affection for them,” Mr McClean said.
Presbytery tours normally start on a Sunday and conclude the following Sunday. Dr Kirkpatrick’s tour of Route Presbytery however, will spill over into the following week when the schools return after half term. There is always a strong focus placed on education during a Presbytery Tour and the Moderator will have an opportunity to visit Pinkerton Primary School and Dalriada School in Ballymoney and Ballycastle High.
“This part of the world is very familiar to me, as way back in 1987 I was called to be the minister of Garryduff Presbyterian, my first congregation, where Joan and I spent six happy years before moving on to Portrush,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.
“As I have said before, people sometimes forget that the church isn’t just for Sundays and what we often don’t see is the endless and tireless amount of work done out in the community to help others and I am looking forward to seeing this work. In these hard-pressed times we want to be available to people, as we are a Church where the Grace of God is at work in us, and though us, so that we might be a blessing to others in serving the community where we can make Jesus known. This is why Presbytery Tours are important parts of a Moderator’s year in office as they enable each of us to see that first-hand.
“I am looking forward to seeing that across Route Presbytery this week, at the same time, I will also have a number of opportunities to acknowledge and encourage my fellow ministers. Each tour has a strong pastoral element to it and I am also very much looking forward to meeting with my colleagues in ministry on Wednesday and Friday, when we come together for prayer and fellowship. I will also be spending time with some Manse families as well.”
Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “As our congregations are integral to the life of families and local communities, so are local schools. Next week, as part of my tour, it will be important to take the opportunity to express our thanks to all those who contribute to school life, including teachers and governors. I also want to thank and encourage those who work in the NHS when I visit Dalriada Hospital. It will be a busy tour, but Joan and I are looking forward to it, especially the ‘Racing Breakfast’ on Saturday.”
Photos: (1) The Moderator and his wife Joan with Luna, the family Golden Retriever (credit David Cavan) (2) Dr Kirkpatrick's first congregation, Garryduff Presbyterian Church (credit Wiki Commons) (3) the famous 'Dark Hedges' on the Bregagh Road near Armoy in Route Presbytery (credit Wiki Commons)