Belfast Telegraph

Presbyterian cleric Hughes who rebuilt arson-hit Co Antrim church to retire

By Alf McCreary

A Newtownabbey minister who was the first woman to be runner-up in the election for Presbyterian Moderator will take her final morning service at Whitehouse Presbyterian Church on Sunday.

In 2014 the Rev Dr Elizabeth Hughes lost out to the Rev Michael Barry from Newry, who received seven of 19 votes from across Ireland.

She tied for second place on six votes with the Rev Ian McNie from Ballymoney, who became Moderator the following year.

Many people hoped that, having been runner-up, the Presbyterians would elect her as their first female leader, but they failed to do so.

As minister of Whitehouse she showed outstanding leadership in the aftermath of a devastating arson attack in 2002, which was followed by major flood damage in 2008.

She also spearheaded extensive mission work locally through the Alpha Course, as well as overseas where she helped to set up a Connected Churches link with Tearfund for the Moucecoure grouped parish in Rwanda.

On the eve of her retirement from full-time parish ministry, the Rev Hughes said: "This congregation's life and energy does not arise from its minister or Kirk Session.

"By the power of God's spirit, it is energised by the army of unnamed volunteers who are engaged in its many ministries.

"Whitehouse Church members have a heart to serve and a heart for people."

The Rev Hughes, known for her regular BBC Thought For The Day broadcasts, was educated at Portadown College.

She qualified in Edinburgh as a registered general nurse and became a deaconess before taking up the ministry.

She served as an assistant in High Street Antrim and was ordained in 1986. The next year she married the Rev Brian Hughes and they served as missionaries in Jamaica until 1995.

Back in Northern Ireland she was an assistant minister in First Bangor, and was appointed to Whitehouse in 2000.

In 2002 the church was severely damaged by the blaze, but despite a terrifying ball of flame that almost destroyed the Victorian building dating from 1867, the Fire Service managed to rescue a silver bowl.

The Belfast Telegraph published a photograph of the Rev Hughes holding up the bowl amid the shell of the ravaged church.

Under her leadership a new building was opened in 2005. The total cost was £1.2m, of which the congregation raised £220,000. The Government compensation was some £650,000.

Other churches and friends contributed to the rebuilding fund, including £10,000 from local Catholic parishes.

This reflected Whitehouse's strong ecumenical outreach in the area.

Following the reopening, the church was just getting back to normal when extensive rainfall caused severe flooding in the building in 2008.

On November 24 Whitehouse Presbyterian Church celebrated its 150th anniversary.

In 2016 the Rev Hughes was awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity for her outstanding service, becoming only the second female Presbyterian minister to be recognised in this way.

The Rev Hughes hopes to retain her involvement with the wider Presbyterian Church for the next few years as convenor for its Global Mission.

Belfast Telegraph

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