'I moved far from God in my teens' - New moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is chosen with four votes clear of his rival
Rev Richard Murray, minister of Drumreagh Presbyterian Church in rural north Antrim was elected to the role on Tuesday evening.
Mr Murray will be the denomination’s 179th Moderator since 1840.
He was one of five nominees for the Church to choose from this year, which traditionally elects the Moderator-Designate on the first Tuesday in February.
He will be formally elected as moderator by the church’s General Assembly in June.
Until then he is known as the moderator-designate.
In a statement last night, Mr Murray said: “I feel humbled to be called to this office, yet also privileged, and with God’s help I will endeavour to represent the Church and the Lord to the best of my ability.
"My desire is to be committed to the Word of God in everything and my request is that people remember me in prayer throughout my year in office.”
Alongside Mr Murray (who got nine votes, from the Presbyteries of Armagh, Ballymena, Coleraine & Limavady, Down, Iveagh, Newry, Omagh, Route, and Tyrone), the other nominees were:
- Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (five votes, from East Belfast, Carrickfergus, Derry & Donegal, Dromore, Dublin & Munster);
- Rev Richard Kerr, minister of Templepatrick Presbyterian Church in Co Antrim (three votes, from North Belfast, Monaghan, Templepatrick);
- Rev Gary McDowell, minister of Greystones Presbyterian Church in Co Wicklow (no votes);
- and Rev Mairisine Stanfield, minister of First Presbyterian Church, Bangor (two votes, from Ards and South Belfast).
He will succeed the current Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, who will continue in office until then.
– ‘IN MY TEENS I MOVED FAR FROM GOD’ –
What follows is a potted biography of Rev Murray, supplied by the PCI:
As a boy, Mr Murray attended Suffolk Primary School in Belfast and Suffolk Presbyterian Church.
Due to The Troubles, the family moved to Finaghy on the outskirts of the city, becoming members of Lowe Memorial Presbyterian Church, which he considers his ‘home church’.
Having attended Wallace High School in Lisburn, he started his first full-time job with Arthur Guinness & Co in Belfast as a distribution clerk, where he worked for three years before moving to Ulster Bank in Lisburn, where he was a clerk.
In 1989 he went to Queen’s University, Belfast where he graduated in 1992 with a BA in Ancient History and Social and Economic History.
PCI’s Union Theological College beckoned and in 1995 he gained his Batchelor of Divinity, the same year that he was licensed as a minister of the gospel in Lowe Memorial.
He then served as assistant minister in Terrace Row Presbyterian in Coleraine for three years before moving to Hilltown and Clonduff Presbyterian Churches, near Rathfriland in County Down, where he was ordained in 1997.
In 2005 Mr Murray was called to Connor Presbyterian Church near Ballymena, where he served as minister for 11 years.
He became minister of Drumreagh and Dromore Presbyterian Churches, a joint charge, in 2016 with Dromore Presbyterian amalgamating with Drumreagh last year.
Speaking personally about his journey of faith, Mr Murray said: “Growing up I had understood and responded to the gospel through the work of Christian Endeavour, but during my teenage years I had moved very far from God.
"However, in 1986 through the preaching of Derick Bingham at the Crescent Church in Belfast, God came into my life in a life-changing way.
“I immediately sensed that God would call me to preach and over time I began to be invited to speak at different Christian meetings.
"The ‘tipping point’, if I can call it that, was one day when I heard the text: ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch’.
"I did launch out, and here I am!”
Today he ministers to around 360 families in the rural County Antrim congregation totalling around 850 people.
“We are in the country and surrounded by countryside, although Drumreagh has the village of Bendooragh nearby and is only two miles from Ballymoney.
"We seek to make an impact through living out the gospel in workplaces, schools, neighbourhoods and sports fields.
“We also have Sunday School, PW, youth club, Parents & Tots, BB and GB as well as other organisations.
"We have a friendly evangelical ethos and seek to welcome all people in the understanding that sheep without a shepherd are sought by God.”
When he is not in the pulpit, or visiting members of his congregation, Mr Murray serves on the Northern Ireland Committee of the missionary organisation the Middle East Reformed Fellowship, and has taught for a term at their facility in Lokichoggio in Kenya.
He enjoys reading historical biographies and along with his wife Lynn, a Coleraine GP, they are 'compulsive walkers; and like to relax with long walks at the seaside
Their son Andrew runs his own AV business, who along with his wife, is a member of Abbot’s Cross Presbyterian Church.