A Brief Guide to PCI

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) was established in 1840 with the coming together of two Presbyterian churches, the General Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod. The union of the two churches took place at the first General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in Ireland meeting in Belfast on 10th July 1840.

Irish Presbyterianism had its origins in Scottish migrations to Ulster in the early 17th Century. Ballycarry Presbyterian Church in County Antrim is the oldest congregation dating back to 1613. The newest, Donabate Presbyterian Church in County Dublin, first gathered for worship in 2010.


The Presbyterian form of Christian faith is best described as 'Reformed' with its strong emphasis on the Sovereignty of God, the Kingship of Christ and the authority of the Bible.

Preaching the Word of God is central to Presbyterian worship services that are set amongst a mixture of prayer and praise. There is no fixed liturgy in Presbyterian services of worship. Prayers and hymns, psalms and paraphrases, Scripture readings and sermons are adapted to the needs of the occasion.

The word 'Presbyterian' itself describes the form of Church government, which emphasises the individual and corporate responsibility of members. Ministers and members share in the organising and running of every aspect of the Church's work. In the Presbyterian Church in Ireland this is undertaken at three levels:

The General Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the Church and meets each year in June. One of its roles is to elect the Moderator, the chief public representative of the Church who serves for one year. The current Moderator is the Right Reverend Dr Sam Mawhinney, who has been minister of Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church in Dublin city centre since 2008. He is the first Moderator in nearly a quarter of a century to come from a congregation in the Republic of Ireland. 

The Moderator is not the ‘head of the church’. The Code, or The Book of the Constitution and Government of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland clearly states that ‘The Lord Jesus Christ is the sole King and Head of the Church…’ The Church's administrative heart is Assembly Buildings, which is located at Fisherwick Place in Belfast. General oversight of any proposed changes in the Church's laws and rules, or with other constitutional matters are the preserve of the Judicial Commission. The Commission also decides final cases of appeal against the lower courts of the Church which are the Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries, or cases which have been referred to it.

Between meetings of the General Assembly and as appropriate, PCI’s General Council acts on its behalf. The Council is the largest and most representative body under the General Assembly, with around 70 members. This includes all the Conveners of other Assembly Councils and Clerks of the denomination’s 19 regional presbyteries. Part of the Council’s remit is to co-ordinate the work of all the other Councils.

PCI in 21st Century

Through its congregations, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is very much a part of local community life and an integral part of wider society. Today PCI has over 200,000 members who belong to 500-plus congregations from Bushmills in County Antrim, to Aghada in County Cork. While and all-Ireland denomination, PCI is the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland.

The Church currently has over 300 active ministers, some of whom will have two or more congregations to minister to. In terms of their training, Union Theological College in Belfast’s Queen’s Quarter, is PCI’s principal body for the training of ministers prior to ordination. It is managed by the Council for Training in Ministry. Amongst other responsibilities, this Council looks after all aspects of selection, training and ongoing development of full-time ministers. In addition, it selects, trains and develops auxiliary ministers, accredited preachers and deaconesses who in turn serve in congregations and communities.

Across Ireland congregations seek to build God’s Kingdom in their community, growing in faith as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the Good News of the Gospel can be shared. The Council for Congregational Life & Witness seeks to support the on-going life, mission and witness of congregations in their work with all age-groups. PCI's Linkage Commission facilitates the work of the denomination across Ireland at a local level allocating ordained ministry and related financial resources to congregations.

If you are looking for a local congregation, see the Find a Church section.

At home and overseas

PCI is committed to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all ages across Ireland and the wider world.

Today PCI has partnership links with indigenous churches, Christian institutions or international mission agencies in many countries around the world. These relationships - and PCI's 22 global mission workers who are engaged in mission in varying ways serving in 10 countries - are supported by the Council for Global Mission.

At home the Council for Mission in Ireland's focus is to develop PCI’s strategic priorities in all-age mission across Ireland which develops PCI’s strategic priorities and plans major church-wide initiatives at a General Assembly level. It also considers new church development looking at locations which might be suitable for church planting and oversees all aspects of the work of the Home and Irish Mission, deaconesses and PCI’s chaplains.

The Church has an active ‘social witness’ demonstrating God's love in action by ministering to the physical needs of people, with PCI providing services for a diverse range of people in different locations across Ireland. The Council for Social Witness, PCI’s social care arm, manages the denomination’s day-to-day provision of residential, nursing, supported housing, respite and day care, along with a number of community-based programmes. 

PCI is also committed to building a more peaceful society. It also seeks to make a unique contribution to life on the island of Ireland, by giving voice to the concerns of many people, both within and outside the Church, engaging with government and speaking out on national and international issues. This falls to the Council for Public Affairs, which also develops PCI's thinking in key areas of public policy.

For more information on the work of the Church, its Councils and the Moderator, take a look at the News Section where you will also find public statements and other stories.