Incoming Presbyterian moderator, Dr Michael Barry, has called on the Presbyterian Church to become “a people of service and outreach”, always putting the needs of others first and, by serving them, seek to make a difference in the world.
Dr Barry was speaking at the opening session of the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly in Belfast last night after he was installed as moderator in succession to the Rev Dr Rob Craig.
The new moderator, minister of Sandys Street church in Newry for the past 28 years, welcomed 1,000 delegates and invited guests to the Assembly and in his address revealed that his church is following a five-year plan titled “fit for purpose – becoming the church Christ wants us to be”.
“This year we will think of the church as a people of service and outreach – people who can make all the difference in the world. This is a theme I am happy to endorse and throughout this year I will take the opportunity to promote these twin elements of church membership.
“How can the church do what it is called to do in the best possible way? How can she be effective in her mission in the world? How can we make a difference to the world in which we live? These are the questions we need to ask.”
Dr Barry said St Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi called on Christians – “In humility consider others better than yourselves.”
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others, he said.
“It is against a ‘me first’ mentality that the Apostle Paul is writing. Of course, I wouldn’t engage in such behaviour, but I wonder do I harbour any kind of superior attitude in my heart towards anyone who is different from me?
“Am I better than others because I am white and they are not? Am I better than others because I am Protestant and they are not? Am I better than others because I am heterosexual and they are not?
“The answer is a clear ‘no’ and we must never do or say anything that would give the slightest comfort to those who would attack verbally or physically people they do not like.”
Dr Barry said one thing he had discovered in the last few months is how difficult it is to speak – to be understood correctly.
“Words can be interpreted in a way we never intended. We can be misunderstood so easily. And there will always be those who will deny us the right to speak if they disagree with us, claiming that our words are inflammatory.
“We must be careful what we say and we must be careful to say it in a clear and gracious manner. But we must also be allowed to state our case even when others disagree with us.”
Moderator Dr Michael Barry unequivocally condemned the targeting of immigrants.
Dr Barry, speaking after the weekend attack on two Pakistani men in north Belfast, said: “All such attacks are an affront to us as a democratic and civilised country. That is behaviour that must stop immediately.
“We must never do or say anything that would give the slightest comfort to those who would verbally or physically attack people they do not like.
“We are to treat all people with respect and dignity because they have been created in the image of God.”
Meanwhile, outgoing Presbyterian moderator, the Rev Dr Rob Craig, said that over the past year he had been privileged to speak week by week on the theme of transformation and, in particular, on the church as a place of transformation.
“For this reason, let me consider one sentence. ‘I am making everything new’,” said Dr Craig.
“The book of the Revelation is full of colourful images and pictures which stay long in the heart and mind. One of the most significant is the image of a throne – not just any throne and certainly not an earthly throne.