Presbyterian moderator on pastoral visit to Lebanon
The five day visit will focus on a biennial conference organised by one of the Irish Presbyterian Church's Middle East global mission partners, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL).
Dr Kirkpatrick will be accompanied by the Presbyterian church's global mission secretary, the Rev Uel Marrs, who was last in Lebanon in 2018.
They will travel to Dhour Chweir, a town 20 miles from Beirut, just north of the main highway to Damascus, for the three-day NESSL ‘Partners’ Consultation’.
While the meeting takes place every two years, and draws representatives of Presbyterian and Reformed Christian churches from Europe and North America, the consultation is taking place for the first time since the Covid pandemic.
Dr Kirkpatrick said: “Historically, PCI has had a long association with the Reformed Christian church in both Syria and Lebanon going back to the 1840s, when Irish Presbyterian missionaries helped establish a congregation in the Syrian capital Damascus.
"From that time, to the 1970s, we sent men and women to the region, our last minister returning in 1984.
"Today, the connections and partnerships we have there continue to run deep, and this includes the relationship that we have with one of our oldest partners, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.”
Lebanon has the largest Christian population of any Middle Eastern country, with PCI sending representatives to many of the Partners’ Consultations over the years.
Dr Kirkpatrick will contribute to the morning Bible studies on the theme of ‘'Hope in the midst of despair".
The moderator continued, “The principal purpose of the meeting is to listen to leaders and ministers from Syria and Lebanon as they share with us the challenges that they face, but equally the opportunities that are being grasped as well.
“The effects of the civil war of the 1970s/80s/90s still punctuates Lebanese society, as does the challenge of migration, where one in three people in the country are not from Lebanon. There is also the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic largely coinciding with an economic and banking collapse, ongoing political upheaval, and the 2020 Beirut port explosion, which made a third of a million people homeless.
“This is the demanding context, a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges, in which we will meet, but it is a precious opportunity to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
"A time to worship and pray together, particularly in the current difficulties, as we acknowledge that through Christ, there is hope even in the midst of despair,” said Dr Kirkpatrick.
*Presbyterian moderator the Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick attended the North West 200 races in recent days in his role as chaplain of the Motor Union of Ireland. Dr Kirkpatrick is a keen motorcycle racing enthusiast.