New Presbyterian Moderator vows to reach out and serve

New Presbyterian Moderator Rev Michael Barry
New Presbyterian Moderator Rev Michael Barry

Incoming Presbyterian Moderator the Rev Dr Michael Barry has pledged that his theme for his Moderatorial year will focus on people and outreach.

The 63-year-old Newry pastor said yesterday his aim would be to maintain the Presbyterian Church as being “fit for purpose” in all of its witness.

Dr Barry, a Carrickfergus man, was elected Moderator by a narrow one-vote majority over two other ministerial contenders – the Rev Liz Hughes, of Whitehouse church in north Belfast, and the Rev Ian McNie, of Trinity Church in Ballymoney. The three had earlier tied in a three-way presbytery vote – the first time this has happened in Irish Presbyterian history.

Dr Barry, minister of First Newry (Sandys Street) church for 28 years, will be installed at the opening of the church’s General Assembly in June, succeeding present Moderator the Rev Dr Rob Craig.

Describing himself as a traditional conservative evangelical, the Moderator-designate said that as a Reformed Protestant minister he could not, for theological conviction, participate in a Roman Catholic mass. But he has and would take part in civic, community and hospital worship at a local level in the Newry area where he ministers.

“I have enjoyed excellent relations with Roman Catholic priests in Newry and our involvement in the various local events and bodies does not conflict in any way with my Protestant theological standpoint,” said Dr Barry.

The former teacher joined the ministry in 1972 and sees himself as a teacher who enjoys conducting worship, preaching Sunday to Sunday and talking to people about faith in more informal settings of worship, pastoral visitation or in wider community life.

“I believe what happens in a Sunday service sets the tone for the week ahead and I try to carry that through my pastoral visitation, my teaching in the congregation and in the many conversations I have with all sorts of people from many backgrounds.”

Dr Barry is a chaplain at Daisy Hill Hospital and he takes a particular interest in Rathore special needs school in Newry and often shares in school assembly – which, he says, is “very rewarding work”.

He ministers to 140 families in what was once known as the “business, middle class” Presbyterian church in Newry.

“We have declined as a Sandys Street congregation due to families leaving the area during the Troubles because of security involvement, but we still maintain a viable witness in a town where the Protestant population is now only three per cent,” said Dr Barry, who was installed on February 28, 1985 – the night nine RUC officers were killed in an IRA mortar attack on Newry police station.

“It was a very sad occasion and tragically it flavoured my ministry,” he said.