Watch Presbyterian Moderator elect Rev John Kirkpatrick explain his vision for year in office

The new Presbyterian moderator has spoken frankly about how his father - also a Presbyterian minister - walked out on his family when he was three but how this has given him an empathy for people living through difficult situations.

By Philip Bradfield
Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 12:52 pm
Updated Friday, 4th February 2022, 1:59 pm

He also relates how his faith journey began after heckling a Presbyterian minister as a teenager at a youth event.

Speaking in an online press conference this morning, Rev John Kirkpatrick, 65, opened up about the “stigma” of growing up in a one parent family.

He said the stigma was so great that his sister avoided claiming the free school meals she was entitled to because the meal tickets were a different colour and would have highlighted their family situation.

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Rev John Kirkpatrick, minister of Portrush Presbyterian Church and the newly elected (1 Feb 22) Moderator-Designate of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Photography by Declan Roughan / Press Eye

Rev Kirkpatrick has been minister of Portrush Presbyterian for nearly 30 years, having served in the holiday town since 1993.

Asked to clarify the situation around his childhood, Rev Kirkpatrick spoke frankly.

“My father was a Presbyterian minister and he left my mother and went away with another person when I was three years of age,” he said. “And I had another story to deal with there, which is the story of forgiveness which is a whole other story.

“I didn’t meet my father until I was 40 years of age but thankfully I did and that was okay. I honour and respect my father and it was a learning for me as well.”

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has selected Rev John Kirkpatrick to be its next Moderator.

Having already touched on the relevance of church in an increasingly secular age and relating to the community on LGBT issues, he reflected that “some of these other issues we have talked about as well are informed in my heart by living through a life that is not simple, living through a life that has a lot of mess in it”.

He said such a life is “not just religious, it is not glossed over, so that has been helpful in my story but not easy. But it has given me an empathy, maybe, with other people.”

He related how his faith journey began while at agricultural college and being invited to a youth event when he was 19.

Now a motorcycle racing chaplain, he said that he had left a group of guys on their motorbikes in Broughshane to attend the Christian event, which he said was “a culture shock”.

The new Presbyterian moderator is also a race chaplin. The Rev John Kirkpatrick (centre) and his race team, assistant chaplins Pastor Edwin Ewart and the Rev Noel Agnew on the Armoy road race start grid.

He began to heckle the preacher, a Presbyterian minister, but soon the feeling descended on him: “I was not making fun of this man - I was making fun of God”.

So began a journey of faith which last several years until it became very personal to him.

Nowadays he is still deeply involved in the motorcycling world. He maintains a love of motocross and motorcycle racing and since 1994, has been Race Chaplain to the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland. The motorcycling world has an admirable sense of community and is “authentic” he says.

Rev Kirpatrick related how he had actually been ready to retire this year but believed God directly guided him to take up the role of moderator.

Pressed on declining church membership in a secular age, he said that he welcomed the process in that it reduced nominal membership and pressed those inside and outside the church to think carefully about their beliefs.

He also related how Presbyterian membership in large parts of the Republic of Ireland is increasing. This he put down to “open” and “developing” churches adopting new formats to reduce barriers, community, a growing interest from people with “no faith”, a focus on hospitality and more emphasis on Jesus Christ as opposed to Presbyterianism.

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