The highly engaging 65-year-old Limavady-born cleric was elected with a clear majority of the 19 church presbyteries, with support significantly from right across the church’s theological and urban and rural spectrum, in Belfast and Dublin and in the staunchly conservative Presbyterian heartland of Ballymena, and in presbyteries in counties Tyrone and Down.
Mr Kirkpatrick, married for 40 years to his wife Joan, a palliative care nurse, and father of four children, is described by a senior ministerial colleague as “a Godly man, highly principled and a caring pastor, widely read with a deep knowledge of the distinct theological doctrines of his church and of the wider Reformed faith. John is a genuine man of the people.”
John Kirkpatrick’s positive ministry extends beyond his own flourishing congregation in Northern Ireland’s premier seaside resort; to the many who holiday there during the summer months, and hundreds of friends and associates who engage with him in his favourite sport of motor cycling.
The new moderator, successor to the present occupant the Rev Dr David Bruce, will be installed at the church’s General Assembly in June and will serve a one-year term. In the election for moderator, John Kirkpatrick received backing from 10 of the 19 presbyteries. There were three other nominees.
Mr Kirkpatrick has been minister in Portrush for nearly 30 years, having served in the north coast holiday town since 1993. Prior to that, he spent six years in the rural Garryduff church near Ballymoney, his first congregation. In Garryduff, he was pastor to the Dunlop family and he officiated at the funerals of motor cycling icons Joey Dunlop, brother Robert, and Robert’s son William, who were all killed in races. His ministry on those sad occasions was tangible.
Speaking about his election as moderator, Mr Kirkpatrick says: “As I continue to serve the Lord Jesus in this new role, I am looking forward to coming alongside our churches at this critical time, encouraging them as we move forward from the covid pandemic. I also look forward to building good relationships wherever possible, honouring Jesus and representing our church across the island of Ireland and further afield.”
When he became minister in Portrush, he also represented the Irish Presbyterian church in its partner relationships in central and eastern Europe until 2005. He is a graduate of Greenmount agricultural colleague with a degree in social science and environmental studies. His training for the Presbyterian ministry began in 1981, at Belfast Bible College and Union theological college.
Today, John Kirkpatrick ministers to a settled congregation of 220 families in and around Portrush. “During the summer months and at Easter our congregation considerably increases, with as many as 700 in attendance, with the need for two Sunday morning services. I would describe myself as a ‘preaching pastor’, as I see the linked importance of preaching and teaching the Bible, coupled with pastoral care being complimentary need to this,” he says.
When John Kirkpatrick is not in the pulpit, or visiting members of his congregation, he enjoys walking, reading, watching films and listening to an eclectic mix of music. His more active pursuits include a love of motorcycle sport, motocross and motorcycle racing.
Looking ahead to his year as moderator, John Kirkpatrick says: “For everyone, the last two years have seen all aspects of life, and church life with it, turned upside down and the story still isn’t over yet. As time moves on, I hope and pray that we will be able to process the many painful memories that it has left behind. I appreciate that this will not be an easy, or a straight forward journey for everyone, as our stories are all different.”