Clerk and Moderator

The Clerk

The Clerk of the General Assembly is the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) and conducts correspondence on its behalf, and is responsible for all official records and documents of the Assembly. The Clerk officially acts as Secretary to the General Council, Council for Public Affairs and Judicial Commission. Alongside the Moderator, the Clerk is an ex-officio member of all Councils and their respective committees and panels. The Clerk is also one of PCI's principal spokespeople.

There is no annual election of the role of Clerk as, since its inception in the first General Assembly of 1840, the office of Clerk is considered ad vitam aut culpam – for life or until fault.

The current Clerk is Rev Trevor D. Gribben who began his role at Assembly Buildings in September 2014. Mr Gribben was appointed Deputy Clerk in 2008 having served for over 18 years in parish ministry. Having been ordaind in 1988 as the assistant minister of St Enoch's and Duncairn Presbyterian Churches in North Belfast, two years later he was called to serve as minister of Leckpatrick Presbyterian in County Tyrone and then Whiteabbey Presbyterian Church, County Antrim, in 1996.

In 2020, Rev Dr David Allen took up the role of Deputy Clerk and Deputy General Secretary, supporting the Clerk with various duties and responsibilities.

Any questions, complaints or objections relating to the Church should be addressed to the Clerk at:

    Assembly Buildings,
    2-10 Fisherwick Place,
    Belfast, BT1 6DW.

Rev Trevor Gribben can also be contacted via email  or by telephone +44 (0)28 9041 7208.

The Moderator of the General Assembly

Following a minister’s selection as Moderator-Designate by the Church's 19 regional presbyteries, which meet separately across Ireland on the first Tuesday in February each year, the Moderator-Designated is formally nominated, elected and installed as Moderator by the General Assembly on its Opening Night in June.

As the denomination’s senior office bearer, their formal role involves acting as the Moderator (or Chair) of the General Assembly, overseeing its debates and putting resolutions to the House to be decided on. You can see an overview of the 2022 General Assembly here. During the rest of the year, the Moderator acts as the principal public representative for the General Assembly and Church as a whole.

During their ear in office Moderators are styled, Right Reverend, abbreviated to Rt Rev. Following thier year in office, former Moderators are given the title Very Reverend, abbreviated to Very Rev. In recognition of their nomination as PCI’s incoming Moderator, ahead of the General Assembly the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland traditionally honours each Moderator-Desigate with an honorary doctorate of divinity.

Moderator’s serve for one year and during their year in office they typically travel throughout Ireland and overseas to see the work and ministry of the Church and encouraging its ministers and members. This also includes undertaking four weeklong Presbytery Tours and an overseas tour.

During his year in office Dr Kirkpatrick toured the:

In October 2022 Dr Kirkpatrick and is wife Joan travelled to central Europe to see the ongoing work of the Reformed Church in Hungary as it continued to support Ukrainian refugees in Hungary. They also crossed the border into Transcarpathia, a region of western Ukraine and the city of Berehove, spending time with the leadership of the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia and members on the ground, who were caring for the thousands of Internally Displaced People fleeing the conflict further east.

Moderator 2022-2023 - Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick

Dr John Kirkpatrick has been minister of Portrush Presbyterian Church on Northern Ireland’s scenic north coast since 1993. The son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers, he is the first Moderator to come from the congregation.

Born in Limavady, County Londonderry, in 1956, Dr Kirkpatrick was brought up near Ballymena and attended Ballymena County Primary School and Coleraine Academical Institution, going on to study farm management at Greenmount Agricultural College from 1973-1976, with an agri career in mind.

This led to three years of study at the Ulster University’s Coleraine campus, where in 1979 he gained a BSc in Social Science and Environmental Studies. After spending a year working for the Department of Agriculture, in 1981 he attended Belfast Bible College before starting his studies for the ordained ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at PCI’s Union Theological College the same year.

He was ordained in 1985 as an assistant minister in Megain Memorial and Mersey Presbyterian Churches in East Belfast. Two years later he was called to Garryduff Presbyterian Church near Ballymoney, his first congregation, before becoming minister in Portrush in 1993, where he has served ever since.

As chair of the European area for the World Alliance of Reformed Churches from 1995 to 2002 Dr Kirkpatrick helped to develop links between PCI and reformed churches in central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. For seven years he also chair of the New Horizon Christian festival.

With a passion for apologetics and encouraging Christians to grow in their faith, he has links to the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics where Dr Kirkpatrick was part of a team that developed a programme of teaching called ‘Reality 316’. For more than a quarter of a century he has indulged another passion – motorbikes, serving as Race Chaplain to the Motorcycle Union of Ireland.

He has been married to Joan for 40 years, a palliative care nurse, and they have four children and five grandchildren. Aside from spending time with his family Dr Kirkpatrick enjoys walking, gardening and bikes. He is also a keen apiarist – a beekeeper.

‘Genuine surprise’

Dr Kirkpatrick is the denomination’s 177th person to hold the office of Moderator since the Presbyterian Church in Ireland was founded in 1840. By convention, the Church’s 19 regional presbyteries select the Moderator-Designate on the first Tuesday in February. Dr Kirkpatrick was selected from four nominees on 1 February 2022.

At the time Dr Kirkpatrick said, “I am genuinely surprised by what has happened, but very excited at the prospect of the story God is going to write from June and the months that follow. As I continue to serve the Lord Jesus in this new role, I am looking forward to coming alongside our churches at this critical time, encouraging them as we move forward from Covid. I also look forward to building good relationships wherever possible, honouring Jesus and representing our Church across the island and further afield.”

Talking about his faith, he said, “With a father and a grandfather as Presbyterian ministers, you might say that I am not only ‘a son of the Manse’, but ‘a grandson of the Manse’ as well. While I came to a personal faith in Jesus at the age of nine, there was never an expectation that I would follow in their footsteps. But God, obviously, had other plans and I genuinely give thanks for the near 40 years I have spent in the ordained ministry.”

Grace Works – Dr Kirkpatrick’s theme for the year

Talking about his theme in the June edition of the Presbyterian Herald, Dr Kirkpatrick said “Rescuing people from religion seems to be the mission I’ve been on all my life, including myself, because my own heart can tend to that religiousness, that works will always come back.”

On the Opening Night of the General Assembly, which took place on the 22 June, when he was formally nominated, elected and installed to serve as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, in his address the 65-year-old introduced his theme for the year, which is ‘Grace Works’.

Speaking to the Members of Assembly, invited guests, members of the public in gallery - and those watching on line - Dr Kirkpatrick said, “This truth is so helpful and foundational…

“The message that I want to share this year is not a new message and it is not a complicated message, but it is the story that it’s Grace, not works. It is also the story of how Grace alone works and it is also the story of how Grace inspires works. It is also the story of every Christian and one that is really, really needed at this time.”

Dr Kirkpatrick told those gathered in the historic Assembly Hall in the Church’s Assembly Buildings in Belfast that the message of Grace was “so crucial and foundational as it anchors us in our troubled times, it fills our hearts with courage when we might have difficult times, it moves us to forgive and to love, it produces a generous spirit in people, it has sent people to the ends of the earth and it has enabled a lot of people to discover their voice in prayer…”

He continued, “And whenever any person grasps the incredible nature of Grace, it changes their lives and when the Church embraces it and allows it to shape them and move then and direct them, it transforms the church and makes it into something that is really powerful in the world as we have seen throughout many centuries…and that is my prayer for this year that we will be so filled with the Grace of God it will move us.”

Just telling the story

“This is our story, that’s all I want to do this year, to keep telling the story. The story of God’s Grace and how it works in our lives and how it offers possibilities and potential to every life. It is the message that this land has always needed and it is the message that has been proclaimed in this land for centuries - and not everyone has heard it, but we are going to keep doing it while we have our breath. We are going to keep doing it better than we have, we are going to keep doing it in ways that are going to help people understand it,” he said.

“We might have to think harder and work longer, and we might have to sacrifice more to help people understand that Grace really does work, for this can bear the weight of every human need to both change and to unite everyone on this island…nothing else but the Grace of God is ever going to unite the people of this land in a way that works.”

Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “It is not a label, it is not a religion, it is not a denomination, it is bigger than those things, because it was God, whose Grace it is, and that’s the only reason it will ever work, but it will – believe you me - Let’s not give up, let’s keep going in the Grace of God.”

For a list of former Moderators, click here.

Photography credit David Cavan (Dr & Mrs Kirkpatrick walking on the beach).