The 65-year-old minister of Portrush Presbyterian Church in County Antrim, was addressing 800 church members, overses guests and civic dignitaries during the opening service ahead of three days and two evenings of debate by ministers and elders from the Church’s 500-plus congregations.
He said that the famous hymn describes grace ss “amazing”, but said that essentially grace is “God’s favour towards the underserving, something that changes everything for those who understand it…”.
Rev Kirkpatrick added: “If God’s grace works in the hard places then it is seen to stand a real test. The message that I will try to share this year is neither new nor is it complicated - it is the story of Grace not Works.
“This is the story of every Christian and we need often to be reminded about it, to reflect and meditate on it. It is a story that anchors our lives in troubled times, that fills our hearts with courage to face the hard time, moves us to forgive and love our opponent, produces a generous spirit [and] has sent people to the ends of the earth,” the moderator said.
Using the first two chapters of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians as his text, Dr Kirkpatrick looked at grace at work in the past, grace at work in the present and how grace shapes our future.
In terms of that future, Dr Kirkpatrick said, it was a plan that the church is fully included in for the grace of God enables its members to fulfil its work. Citing Ephesians 2:10, he said: “…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”.
The moderator, the 177th person to hold the office since the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 182 years ago, concluded by saying that, “His spirit, the Holy Spirit…is the guarantee, and who unites us to Jesus forever”.