The Moderator is the most senior office-bearer within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The Moderator is elected by the General Assembly, following nomination by the local Presbyteries, and serves for one year as the chief public representative of the denomination. The appointee's formal role involves acting as the Moderator (or Chairman) of the General Assembly, overseeing the debates and putting resolutions to the house to be decided on. During the rest of the year, the Moderator acts as the principal public representative for the General Assembly and Church as a whole.
The government of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has a form known as Presbyterian polity, and is much like that of other Presbyterian churches around the world. Individual churches are represented at both the Presbytery level and General Assembly level.
The serving Moderator is given the honorific style, Right Reverend (Rt. Rev.). Former Moderators are known as Very Reverend (Very Rev.). The Moderator is tenth in the order of precedence in Northern Ireland along with the two Church of Ireland and two Roman Catholic Archbishops.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Noble McNeely, minister of First Holywood Presbyterian Church, is the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland for the year 2017-2018.
Only the second Moderator to come from the County Down town, speaking after his election in February, Dr. McNeely said, “I am sincerely humbled. I have served the wider church in a number of roles and I see my nomination as Moderator as another opportunity to serve Christ and His church.”
“At the same time, I recognise the responsibility that has been entrusted to me and I pray that with God’s help and the prayers of the Church, I will be able to fulfil expectations.”
Born in Belfast, Dr. McNeely was brought up in the small rural County Down town of Crossgar. He and his family worshipped at Lissara Presbyterian Church. He attended Crossgar Primary School and Downpatrick Technical College, before gaining a degree in Education at Stranmillis College (1972-1976) specialising in jewellery and silversmithing.
On graduating he taught Craft and Design at Deramore High School (now Balmoral High) in Belfast for two years before starting his studies at the Church’s Union Theological College in 1978, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1981.
After completing his training he was licensed in his home church of Lissara (1981) and ordained as Assistant Minister in Belfast’s Fisherwick Presbyterian Church in 1982, before being called to the County Antrim congregation of First Ballymoney in 1984, where he served for 13 years.
Married to Florence, who is a physiotherapist, they have three adult children. In 1997 the family moved back to County Down when he became Minister of First Holywood, a congregation of some 380 families of around 890 people.
Talking about his ministry, Dr. McNeely said, “A big influence on my call to ministry has involved youth work and evangelism with Evangelical Youth Movement. I have always been keen on sport, using it as a means of reaching people for Christ. I’ve had some experience in chaplaincy in sport and believe this is a great avenue for evangelism to young people as well.
“Throughout my ministry I have always had a strong emphasis on evangelism and concentrated on equipping people to be able to share their faith in everyday life, trusting that an emphasis on God’s Word will encourage people to increase their knowledge of the Bible and apply the Lord’s teaching in their life.”
Thinking about his year in office Mr. Neely said, “2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. During the year I would hope I can emphasise and preach on some of the great principles and doctrines of the Reformation, such as, ‘Justification by faith alone’.
“I am also looking forward to visiting and encouraging congregations across Ireland and having been involved in ministerial training as convener of the Church body responsible for it, for most of the past decade, I look forward to visiting the more recent generation of ministers and possibly giving them some encouragement in their ministry.”
As a passionate Spurs supporter, he often makes the trip to White Hart Lane, but discounts any regular trips to the ground during his year in office. Walking and travelling with his wife is the main way in which he relaxes, but he also enjoys DIY.
Dr. McNeely was officially nominated, elected and installed as Moderator of the General Assembly on its Opening Night in Belfast on Monday, 5th June.
He is the 178th Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland since the election of the Very Rev. Dr. Samuel Hanna in 1840.
To read Dr. McNeely's address to the Opening Night of the General Assembly download here.
For a list of former Moderators, click here.