A new public face of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland was last night voted into office, following a remarkable three-way tie among candidates.
A vote among 19 different presbyteries spread across the island last night eventually selected Rev Michael Barry as moderator, making him the principal public representative of the Church.
Although there have been ties in the past, last night was said to be the first time in recent memory that such a triple dead heat has occurred.
And since one of the three was female, it also makes it the closest a woman has yet come to holding the top spot.
Rev Barry, 63, has been minister of Sandys Street, Newry, for the last 28 years.
In the wake of clinching the post last night, he issued a statement via the Church in which he said: “I am very surprised but pleased that the Presbyterian Church has put its confidence in me and seen fit to give me the honour of serving as moderator.
“I look forward to encouraging the Church and its people in their ministry as I have the opportunity to travel around Ireland and visit congregations and meet people engaged in ministry and mission.”
The race was incredibly tight-run (see below).
The 19 presbyteries – made up of clergy and elders – all met in session yesterday, and phoned their votes through.
But it soon emerged that three candidates were neck-and-neck.
The last time there was a tie was in 2010, said Church spokesman Stephen Lynas, but he added: “I don’t recall a three-way tied vote in quite some time. In fact, I don’t think, in my experience of 20 years, there has been a three-way tied vote.”
Presbyteries were then contacted and asked to vote again to achieve the winner – with one of the remaining candidates being Rev Liz Hughes of Whitehouse.
He added that the last time a woman had come nearly as close to achieving the title was in 2008, when Rev Dr Ruth Patterson (no relation to the DUP councillor) had received a single vote.
Dr Barry, a former teacher, comes from a seafaring family, and grew up in Carrickfergus.
He began studying for ministry in 1979. In 1997 he was awarded a Doctorate in Ministry from Covenant Theological Seminary in St Louis, USA.
A keen singer and self-described “armchair sports enthusiast” (with a particular interest in Glentoran FC), he is also the current chaplain to Daisy Hill Hospital.
His post as moderator lasts one year, starting June 2, when he will take over from Dr Rob Craig.
How the vote was split
l Rev Michael Barry: 5 votes
l Rev Liz Hughes: 5 votes
l Rev Ian McNie: 5 votes
l Rev Robert Herron: 3 votes
l Rev Alistair Smyth: 1 vote
l Rev Michael Barry: 7 votes
(being Armagh, Carrickfergus, Coleraine/Limavady, Down, Dromore, Newry, Omagh)
l Rev Liz Hughes: 6 votes
(being Ards, North Belfast, East Belfast, South Belfast, Dublin/Munster, Monaghan)
l Rev Ian McNie: 6 votes
(being Ballymena, Derry/Donegal, Iveagh, Route, Templepatrick, Tyrone)