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Female cleric laments lack of women at top of Presbyterian Church as three men shortlisted for moderator

By Alf McCreary

Published 27/01/2016

Dr Ruth Patterson
Dr Ruth Patterson
Frank Sellar
Tony Davidson
Robert Bell

Presbyterian women have "a hard road to walk", the Church's first female minister has said on the day three men were nominated to contest the election for moderator.

The next Presbyterian leader will be either Rev Tony Davidson of First Armagh Presbyterian Church, Rev Robert Bell of Ballyclare Presbyterian Church or Rev Frank Sellar of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in east Belfast.

No female minister has ever been elected to the top post in the Presbyterian Church, despite the nomination of women in recent years. The Church currently has 345 active ministers, of which only 21 are female.

The first female Presbyterian minister in Ireland was Dr Ruth Patterson, who was ordained in January 1976. She was the first woman cleric of any denomination to be ordained here.

Dr Patterson was nominated twice for moderator, but was unsuccessful both times. Two years ago Rev Liz Hughes of Whitehouse was runner-up, and stood again last year without success.

Dr Patterson left the full-time ministry in 1991 to become director of Restoration Ministries, a non denominational, Christian organisation committed to peace and reconciliation based in Northern Ireland.

"I believe that women make a major contribution to Church life, and when one group is not as well represented in leadership as the others, there is something missing," said Dr Patterson. "Women have so much to offer, and I would like to see a woman elected as Presbyterian Moderator.

"However I believe that women in the Church have a hard road to walk at the moment, and I find that painful, even 40 years after my ordination." A service to celebrate the Church ministry of women and the 40th anniversary of the ordination of Dr Patterson will be held on Friday at Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church in Dunmurry.

Members of the presbyteries will vote for the moderator next Tuesday and the winner by a straight majority will be announced that evening by Church House in Belfast.

The Moderator-designate will be installed at the Opening Night of the General Assembly on June 6, when the current Moderator Dr Ian McNie, from Ballymoney, will step down.

The new moderator will be the 177th to hold the top post since the election of the Very Reverend Dr Samuel Hanna in 1840.

The Presbyterian Church has over 230,000 members belonging to 545 congregations throughout Ireland.

The three shortlisted


Born in 1954, he is the minister of Ballyclare Presbyterian Church. He served in Second Comber and Leckpatrick before moving to his current role in 1989. He is a former Clerk of the Strabane Presbytery and Moderator of the Synod of Derry and Omagh.


Born in 1957, he has served in Stormont Presbyterian Church and Christ Church Limerick before becoming minister of First Armagh in 1994. He is a former Convenor of the Irish Church Relations Committee, and Inter-Church Relations Board. He is Convenor of the Nomination Committee.


Born in 1958, he is currently the minister of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in east Belfast. He was ordained as assistant at Hamilton Road, Bangor, in 1988. He was installed as minister of Adelaide Road in Dublin in 1990, moving to Bloomfield in 2007.

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