Irish Presbyterianism is a broad church, but while there are differences at ministerial level and in the broad membership, there is “a common decency” that binds the church together.
This was asserted yesterday by the Rev Dr Donald Watts, outgoing Clerk of the Presbyterian General Assembly, who stands down after 11 years in leadership at Church House in Belfast.
“Our church is going through a period of transition, as indeed is the whole of society in Ireland both north and south. Positions are being redefined and sometimes we have to speak boldly to be heard,” said Dr Watts.
“Where we do it does not always please everyone, but that is not really what the gospel is about.
“There have been times in my tenure as Assembly clerk when the darker side of cultural Presbyterianism has bubbled to the surface. But I have always maintained that in our church, while we may have differences, there is a common decency binding us together.
“That belief has been sorely tested at times, by people deliberately and persistently misrepresenting what has been said.
“However, despite the trials and frustrations of my job as clerk there is much for which I am grateful,” said Dr Watts, succeeded by Tandragee man Rev Dr Trevor Gribben, his deputy for five years.
Dr Watts, a Newcastle, Co Down man, said it was a privilege to work with many committed people in Church House.
“My job was to encourage those who have a traditional, commendable loyalty to Presbyterianism to widen their horizons and recognise a commitment to the whole church.”
Dr Watts said they needed to set their agenda in the public square. “We don’t need to be always playing catch-up in reacting to others. I am disappointed that having spent millions restoring Church House that we are not using it to its full potential in telling the story of Irish Presbyterianism and through it presenting the gospel of Jesus to the world.”
‘Exemplary’ leader praised
Tributes to the work of the Rev Dr Donald Watts as Presbyterian Assembly clerk were led by the new moderator the Rev Dr Michael Barry.
The moderator, above, making a presentation of behalf of the church, praised Dr Watts for his “exemplary leadership” since taking up the role in 2003.
Tributes were also paid to the clerk’s sterling service by former moderators Rev Dr Stafford Carson and Rev Dr Godfrey Brown.
Dr Carson said Dr Watts, pictured above, had been particularly supportive of him in dealing with problems over the Presbyterian Mutual Society.
Dr Brown said: “As general secretary, Donald Watts had to handle some exceedingly difficult matters, decisions without precedent in the church. In face of controversy, he kept his head and sought at all times to serve the church faithfully.”