New moderator makes community vow
The next Presbyterian moderator the Rev Roy Patton has pledged to build bridges across the community.
The 58-year-old, who was elected on Tuesday and will take up office at the end of May, said he was prepared to meet Sinn Fein as part of his "prophetic ministry".
"I am committed to reaching out to people with the good news of Christ. I am also committed to building bridges across the community so if I received such an invitation I would have to welcome that and to respond positively to that," he said.
"I believe that I would have a responsibility to challenge but also to bring words of hope to such a gathering as well as words of encouragement. As the church seeks to exercise prophetic ministry in terms of all discussion it means that we bring God`s word, to challenge as well as comfort and to bring hope."
Mr Patton was nominated by eight of the 19 Presbyteries which met on Tuesday throughout Ireland to vote for a new moderator. He will take up office on 28 May, succeeding Dr Ivan Patterson. Mr Patton has been minister in Ballygilbert for 17 years.
The Manchester City football supporter graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1977 with a BA in History, Philosophy and New Testament Studies.
He completed his training for the Presbyterian ministry at Union Theological College in Belfast in 1980 and in 1981 was ordained as assistant minister in St Enoch's in north Belfast before moving to Downshire Road in Newry in 1983. Eleven years later, in 1994 he became minister of Ballygilbert outside Bangor.
Mr Patton said: "The commitment that this church has had and does have in the future will be to building good relationships at a grassroots level and I think that is a very important thing for the church to be able to do as a good neighbour."
He said he planned to attend the Titanic commemoration this year, adding: "The Titanic project has much potential to bring good to this community, certainly the hope is that in terms of tourism that it will be of significance. We don`t want to forget those who lost their lives, at the same time we embrace and welcome this as something that can be very positive in our community."
After being asked whether he considered himself a unionist, the Monaghan-born minister said: "I want to move beyond those kind of labels, my loyalty is larger than that, my loyalty is to Jesus, I am very proud to be from Monaghan, I hold that dearly, I have lived in Northern Ireland for many years now and I am committed to the life of Northern Ireland as well but my loyalties are higher than simply political loyalties."