The democratic structures of Irish Presbyterianism went into top gear this week with the election of a new Moderator and, paradoxically, the result was so conclusive and overwhelming that church historians pondered when last did all but one presbytery vote for a single candidate.
The Moderator-designate the Rev Frank Sellar received backing from ministers and elders in 18 of the 19 presbyteries located across Ireland and the unequivocal mandate he received has left him “humbled, honoured and very appreciative”.
The 57-year-old minister of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in East Belfast is theologically and intellectually well equipped to lead the 250,000-strong Church over a year-long Moderatoral term that begins in June when present Moderator the Rev Dr Ian McNie stands down.
Considered a conservative evangelical, Frank Sellar describes himself as “a gospel radical”. He is certainly a minister with the experience and grace to reach across the religious divide in the two parts of Ireland, without compromising his Reformed Protestant beliefs.
Seventeen years as minister of the influential Adelaide Road Church in central Dublin and eleven years as pastor at Bloomfield in upper East Belfast have given him a unique and clear insight into where the Presbyterian Church pitches its evangelical witness.
His north-east Scottish family roots (around Aberdeenshire), on his paternal side, and mid-Antrim farming stock, on his maternal side, makes the Rev Frank Sellar authentically an Ulster-Scot, which he happily acknowledges with a smile. The Sellars were a military family during the First World War with the three brothers of Frank’s grandfather serving in the Royal Scottish Highland Regiment, two of whom lost their lives and the third received the military medal for gallantry. Frank Sellar is well placed to represent the Presbyterian Church at the upcoming centenary commemorative events on the Battle of the Somme.
A man of striking build, the incoming Moderator is very personable and engaging, with a dry sense of humour. He is also media-savvy and sharp on not only religious affairs but current issues, as I gathered from his performance at his first press conference in Church House on Wednesday.
He frequently presents the BBC Radio Ulster morning ‘Thought for the Day’ item and is also a prolific writer of books and pamphlets.
Among those who congratulated the Moderator-designate on his election was Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke.
“I look forward to working with the Rev Sellar as a fellow Church leader and assure him and his family of my prayers as he prepares for and later takes on this responsible role in the life and Christian witness of the Church,” said Dr Clarke.
The Moderator-designate’s Reformed faith is grounded in both Lutheran and Calvinist doctrine, with his pastoral role very clearly defined and upheld in praying with and to people and in proclaiming the good news of the gospel.