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Vote for new Presbyterian Moderator finishes in a stalemate

This year's election for a Presbyterian Moderator has ended in a tie for the third time in nine years — as predicted this week by the Belfast Telegraph.

Rev Norman Hamilton from Ballysillan, and Rev Norman McAuley from Newtownards, each received five of the 19 votes from Presbyteries throughout Ireland.

The only woman in yesterday's election was Dr Ruth Patterson, who attracted no votes. She stood for election in 1998 and 2008, receiving only one vote each time.

There will be a re-run of the election on March 2 in which Hamilton and McAuley will be the only candidates. This is the third tied vote recently, with the others in 2003 and 2004.

The other runners-up this year were Rev Derek McKelvey from Fisherwick and Rev Ivan Patterson from Newcastle who each received four votes, with Rev Roy Mackey of Second Comber receiving the remaining vote.

The key to this year's election was the vote of the Church's right wing, which split over support for the conservative candidate, Rev McAuley. This led to wider support for the others, and — given the low number of votes and the high list of candidates — a tie was likely.

The March election will now be a straight vote in which the conservative wing will hold the key. If 10 of those Presbyteries rally behind McAuley, he will be elected, but if the right-wing vote splits, Hamilton has a chance.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph shortly after the vote was announced, Rev Patterson said she had no “hard feelings” about the decision.

She added: “Whoever is elected in March will have my respect, my prayers and my support.”

She considered withdrawing her name but said: “On reflection I felt that it was important to keep the key issues of women and reconciliation in front of the Church.

“This is not a personal issue for me, but in human terms I regret that the election of a woman as Moderator is not happening and I don't think people are ready for it yet. However, it makes me sad, as the Church has had so many opportunities to witness to the wider work of openness and reaching out, and of sharing in the richness of diversity in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Mrs Patterson, who is Director of Restoration Ministries, was the first woman ordained by the Presbyterian Church, in 1976.

Rev Hamilton, who was born in 1946, was ordained in 1983 as assistant minister in Finaghy and has served at Ballysillan since 1988. Rev McAuley was born in 1956 and was ordained assistant in Dundonald in 1984. He was called to Newtownards in 2004.

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