Belfast city centre boss Irvine departs to become preacher
'For me, becoming a preacher is about being part of the wider community, being a contributor'
One of Belfast's most prominent businessman will soon be swapping his white collar for a dog collar.
That is because Andrew Irvine - who steps down as Belfast City Centre Manager at the end of this month - is taking up a new role as the boss of the East Belfast Mission.
It's undoubtedly "the perfect fit" for the trainee minister, as the job will allow him to work in a not-for-profit world while continuing his studies at Edgehill Theological College.
Mr Irvine, who has been at the forefront of battles against on-street drinking, homelessness and organised shoplifting over the past nine years, will leave a large set of shoes to fill.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the 49-year-old said the move - which will see him work full-time for the Methodist Church - marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter in his life.
"I'm looking forward to a new challenge and humbled by the opportunity to work there," he explained.
"I'm hoping to use my skills to build up the social economy businesses of the Mission to be much more successful and to grow, so that the money can be invested to help those who are finding themselves in need in east Belfast.
"It excites me that we're building business to help people, rather than to make a profit. That ticks all my boxes. Frankly, I think it's a perfect fit for me."
Mr Irvine be leaving his current city centre office, overlooking bustling Royal Avenue, when he assumes his position as chief operating officer of the Mission on October 3, and moving to its the organisation's headquarters at the Skainos Centre.
The £23m building on the Newtownards Road comprises a church, a daycare nursery, a cafe, a hostel, apartments, retail units, sports halls and meeting rooms for the local community to use.
"The social economy businesses, the shops, the nursery and the cafe all exist to help fund the Mission and it's my job to look after all 104 staff and 500 volunteers and to run things on a daily basis," Mr Irvine said.
But, parallel to that, he will also be continuing with his training to be a minister for the Methodist Church, which he opted to study on a part-time basis over three years.
"I was accredited as a lay preacher in 2005 and I began training as a ministerial student in September 2014," he said.
"Next week, I'm starting year two out of three. Each year, they send you to a church on placement as part of your training, and this year I am the ministerial student in Sydenham Methodist Church.
"My week is Monday to Thursday as chief operating officer of the Mission. On Friday I'm a student at Edgehill College and then at the weekend I do my ministerial student bit."
But is there now a conflict when it comes to being a successful businessman as well as a man of the cloth? "I firmly believe the church needs to rediscover its role in wider society," Mr Irvine told the Belfast Telegraph.
"For me that's not necessarily about preaching to people - it's about actually being part of the wider community, being a contributor and building relationships in that community, including the business community. There's no conflict, providing you understand that when you're out in the business world you can't go round forcing your religious views on other people.
"I've no trouble going anywhere or dealing with anyone. Stick me in with a bunch of rogues and I'm happy, as long as they're willing to respect me and where I'm coming from."