Presbyterians need to show the next generation that Christianity is not “lifeless and uninspiring,” the new moderator has said.
Addressing 800 delegates on Monday night at the Presbyterian general assembly in Belfast, Right Reverend Dr William Henry challenged the church to show how God can “transform your life” and bring hope.
Dr Henry is the youngest moderator since 1931 and takes over from Dr Charles McMullen.
The 50-year-old married father of three children has been the minister of Maze Presbyterian in Co Antrim since 1997.
He is the 174th moderator since 1840, and the fifth to come from a congregation in the Lisburn area.
Four days of debate by ministers and elders from the church’s 500-plus congregations across the island of Ireland will take place – discussing a diverse range of church-related matters and issues of wider public interest.
During his first address as moderator, Dr Henry challenged the church not to simply admire God from a distance, “but to get up close and make a connection with him, and enjoy God”.
Dr Henry is a strong supporter of youth ministry, and urged conference delegates to give young people “hope for the future”.
He said: “We need to grab them with passion, we need to win them with love, we need to hold them with holiness and we need to challenge them with truth.
“That must be a challenge to us to embody and to show the love of Jesus demonstrated in normal living.”
Dr Henry added: “People will not give Christianity a second thought if it seems lifeless, rote and uninspiring. You cannot pass on what you do not feel yourself.
“That is why I feel so strongly about my theme for the year – ‘Enjoying God’.
“It makes no difference whether your church building is old or new, whether it’s big or small, or whether whatever you do in it is formal or casual – you need a passion and a joy for Jesus.”
Dr Henry went on to say: “We need to make the step to enjoy God right now, right where we are and see where that leads us.”
Over the course of general assembly week, the new moderator will preside over 26 assembly sessions with the majority of them open to the public.
During the various sessions, members of assembly will discuss around 110 reports and consider more than 100 resolutions.
The outcomes will set the direction for the life and ministry of the church for 2019 and beyond.
• Dr Henry was born in Belfast and brought up in Mallusk, Co Antrim where he attended Hyde Park Presbyterian Church.
Following his early schooling at Mallusk Primary School, Dr Henry moved on to Antrim Grammar and then Queen’s University.
He graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry.
Shunning the possibility of a PhD in Chemistry or a career in finance aged 22, Dr Henry said he followed “the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit” to the Presbyterian Church’s Union Theological College in Belfast.