Liz Hughes: The woman who's in running to lead Presbyterian flock
The Presbyterian Church has nominated a woman among its five candidates for the election of a new Moderator next week.
Reverend Liz Hughes, of Whitehouse Presbyterian in Newtownabbey, is only the second women to have been nominated by the Church.
Presbyterians were the first of the main churches in Ireland to ordain women ministers many years ago.
If elected, she will be the first woman Moderator of the Church and will follow in the footsteps of two other newly-appointed female Church leaders in Ireland.
Rev Dr Heather Morris became the first Methodist president last year, and Rev Pat Storey, from Londonderry, became the first female Anglican bishop to be appointed in the British Isles when she was installed as Bishop of Meath and Kildare just before Christmas. Rev Hughes, who is currently attending a Church seminar in the US, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I prayed a great deal before deciding to accept the nomination and I will be very happy to accept the outcome, whatever it may be."
She is a well-known figure throughout the Church but she will face stiff competition from the four shortlisted men – Rev Michael Barry of First Newry; Rev Robert Herron from Omagh; Rev Ian McNie from Ballymoney, and Rev Alistair Smyth from Carryduff.
This year's election is unusual because all the ministers are first-time candidates in a contest that normally contains names from the previous year's list.
One Presbyterian insider said: "The wide range of candidates and the fact that they are all first-time contestants makes the result of this year's election very difficult to call."
Representatives from the 19 Presbyteries throughout Ireland will vote next Tuesday and the result should be known that evening, unless there is a tie. In that unusual event, a second vote will be taken.
The successful candidate will officially be installed at the general assembly in June, when the current Moderator – the Rt Rev Dr Rob Craig – steps down from his post.
1 Rev Michael Barry has been minister of First Newry since 1985. He was previously assistant minister at First Larne, and Moderator of the Armagh and Down Synod in 2003.
2 Rev Robert Herron has been minister of Trinity, Omagh and Gillygooley since 1993. He has served in Trinity Bangor and Strabane and has held several key convenorships within the wider church. He has been clerk of the Omagh Presbytery since 2004.
3 Rev Liz Hughes is minister of Whitehouse Presbyterian Church in Newtownabbey, and has also served in Antrim and First Bangor. She was a Presbyterian missionary in Jamaica from 1987-96.
4 Rev Ian McNie has been minister of Trinity Ballymoney since 1991, and has served in Alexandra, Belfast and Kilkeel. He was Moderator of the Armagh and Down Synod in 1991, and convenor of the Youth Centres Committee from 1995-2002.
5 Rev Alistair Smyth has been minister of Carryduff since 1996, previously serving in Great Victoria Street, Belfast and First Rathfriland.