New Presbyterian Moderator the Rev Frank Sellar may be a conservative evangelical in church terms, but as a minister who has served on both sides of the irish border he has shown the capacity to reach oput across the religious divide.
The 57-year-old Coleraine man was elected moderator on Tuesday with an overwhelming mandate from 18 of the 19 presbyteries in the Irish Presbyterian Church and, yesterday, at his first press conference he said he was “humbled, honoured and very appreciative” of the Church for elevating him to this high position.
He said he intended to “represent the Presbyterian Church and the Lord Jesus with integrity and grace”.
Mr Sellar, minister of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in east Belfast, will be installed as moderator on the opening night of the church’s General Assembly in Belfast on June 5, replacing the present moderator the Rev Dr Ian McNie for a one-year term.
Two other ministers figured in the election for moderator – the Rev Robert Bell, of Ballyclare church, who received the vote of his home Carrickfergus presbytery, and First Armagh church cleric the Rev Dr Tony Davidson.
Mr Sellar said his role as a minister was to pray with and pastor to people and to “proclaim the good news of the Gospel”.
Having ministered for 20 years in the Irish Republic (as minister of the thriving Adelaide Road congregation in Dublin city centre) and 11 years in Northern Ireland in Bloomfield, Mr Sellar said he has a vision that the Irish Presbyterian Church should serve as a vibrant Reformed witness throughout every province on the island – “welcoming to all, irrespective of background, culture and ethnicity”,
Acknowledging himself as a Calvinist in Reformed faith, he looked forward to marking the 500th anniversary next year of Martin Luther’s pinning of his thesis on the church door at Wittenburg in east Germany, which began the Protestant Reformation.
“The only Lutheran church in Ireland is located beside Adelaide Road church in Dublin, where I ministered and I made good friends in that denomination there,” said Mr Sellar.
The moderator-designate’s theme for his year in office is to continue Irish Presbyterianism’s role as a church of “global concern, not isolationalist, but part of a wider church”.
In his own congregation in Bloomfield Mr Sellar said they attempted to reach out to people living in both the middle-class and working-class areas of the Beersbridge-Newtownards Roads that surround his church, both in the promotion of church, community and social life and ethnicity and cultural diversity.
“Our ministry in Bloomfield is gospel driven, based on the Bible, passionate about people and centred on Christ,” said Mr Sellar.
He is intensely proud of his family’s military tradition, rooted in the north east of Scotland around Aberdeenshire.
“My grandather Sellar had three brothers, two of whom died in action in the First World War, serving with the Royal Scottish Highlanders. The third brother won the military medal in the war and survived,” he recalled.
The Presbyterian Church will be represented at the various Battle of the Somme 100th anniversary events this summer and Mr Sellar said he expected to be present at several.
Asked about the commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising in the Irish Republic, he acknowledged this was also a significant historical event.
“The great majority of Presbyterians are pro-Union, particularly in Northern Ireland, but there are some Presbyterians who are republican-minded like Heather Humphrey, the Republic’s present culture minister.
“I am an Ulster-Scot – my mother’s people were farming stock from the Ballymena area – the family farm is still there,” said Mr Sellar, who grew up and was educated in the Coleraine area.
On the issue of same-sex marriage, the new moderator reiterated the Biblical standpoint that marriage was entirely a relationship between a man and a woman.
However, he respected individual Christians from a gay orientation, and said: “There is no place for homophobia in our society.”
On Europe, Mr Sellar declined to give a view, stating the debate had still to run its course.