The new Presbyterian Moderator today revealed that his own Portadown church has £1m invested in the beleaguered Presbyterian Mutual Society and described the plight of savers who risk losing their money as one of his greatest challenges.
The Rev Stafford Carson (57), who has also become embroiled in a controversial gender issue involving two churches in Portadown, was last night selected as the new moderator-elect.
He will take office at the General Assembly in June when the current Moderator Dr Donald Patton steps down.
Mr Carson created headlines in 2007 when he refused to permit a female colleague, the Rev Christina Bradley, to preach in a traditional Christmas service in his church “on grounds of conscience”.
Today he reiterated that he has still “not been persuaded of the rectitude of the ordination of women”.
The new Moderator-elect said he believes that the Presbyterian church is working hard to recover the confidence of its members following the collapse of the Presbyterian Mutual Society which has left thousands of investors facing uncertainty.
Mr Carson said he had dealt with a number of cases on a “pastoral level”. It is understood that his First Portadown congregation has around £1m invested in the society.
He added: “I think it is important that the church tries to recover its position with the people, a number of families have been affected by this and that is a great concern to us.”
“I don’t think the church has washed its hands of this — that was originally the impression which was given but that has changed dramatically in the past few weeks.”
Mr Carson also said he did not support the concept of the £12,000 payment to victims proposed by the Eames/Bradley body dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.
He said: “I don’t think any amount of money will solve the problem, but we need to reflect on what is in the report.”
Mr Carson won last night’s vote when he won the support of 10 of the 21 Presbyteries in Ireland. The Rev Derek McKelvey of Fisherwick received six nominations and the Rev Norman Hamilton of Ballysillan received five.
On the subject of the gender row with a female colleague in Portadown, Mr Carson said he did not want this to become a more general argument within the church during his period as Moderator.
He said: “I think the situation in Portadown was a unique one. There is a minority in the Presbyterian church who have not been persuaded on the rectitude of the ordination of women and I am one of them, but there has been a truce over the issue.
“I would be very happy to go to Armagh Road or any church where there is a woman preacher and listen to her.”
He said the situation in Portadown had not yet been settled but that he and Christina Bradley were “on good terms personally”.
“I hope that we will be able to reach an arrangement that will respect the integrity of both ministers,” he said.
Asked on his views on leading the Presbyterian Church, which has over 20 female ministers and a large number of women members, he said: “I realise that I may hold a minority view on the question of women preaching but I don't think that I would have been nominated as Moderator if people had thought I was not capable of doing the job.”
The new Moderator-elect said he was prepared to take part in joint services with Catholics on civic occasions, but would not take part in a Mass. A former Moderator, Dr Harry Uprichard, caused huge controversy in 2006 by refusing to attend a service in Dungannon to celebrate the RUC’s George Cross Foundation because of the involvement of Catholic clergy.
Mr Carson said: “I think that the Presbyterian people should have been represented. It is my intention to represent Presbyterians at joint services which are civic occasions.
“Members of the Reformed faith have some things in common with Roman Catholicism but there are a number of irreconcilable differences including the beliefs on salvation and the Sacraments.”
Mr Carson is married to Patricia and they have two children.