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New Presbyterian head calls on politicians to build bridges after vote

By Brett Campbell

The next head of the Presbyterian Church has called on politicians to deal with difficult issues and said that despite falling numbers the church is stronger than ever before.

Reverend Noble McNeely, newly elected Presbyterian Moderator-Designate, admitted there were "great challenges" facing the church in "an ever increasing secular society", but he insisted church facilities across the country were being used daily.

"In the past people may have attended church out of convention, but I think today there are more people attending out of conviction and I believe that the church is in many ways stronger today," the 63-year-old said.

Speaking about the current political crisis, the father-of-three said he believed the church had an obligation to support politicians and build relationships within communities.

"After the election, I think we all expect politicians to sit down and address the difficult issues and to exercise some goodwill and integrity," he added.

The passionate Tottenham Hotspur supporter was also critical of the Irish language being politicised.

"Historically, Presbyterians have played an important part in the role of the Irish language and it is often said they helped to save the language," he said.

"Regrettably, I think it has been used for political purposes and I would prefer if that wasn't the case."

Rev McNeely, who has been married for 36 years to his wife, Florence, said that while he held to a traditional understanding of marriage, he appreciated the need to address the issue responsibly and pastorally.

"I do understand where many people are coming from and I know from experience some of the pain endured by individuals and families, so I trust that I will always reach out to them in love, but I do accept and hold firmly the position of the Church," he explained.

The former craft and design teacher has served as the minister of First Holywood Presbyterian Church for almost 20 years and was elected on Tuesday night to succeed the current moderator, Rt Reverend Dr Frank Sellar.

Addressing controversial comments made by Dr Sellar in November, when he referred to bonfires in both communities as a "toxic" means for passing on "the sins of our fathers", Rev McNeely said: "I recognise why Frank said it, but I think the emphasis should be on the manifestation of sectarianism, not the bonfire itself, which I recognise as a community expression, but it should be done respectfully".

The incoming Presbyterian Moderator will officially take up his new role on June 5.

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