Presbyterians must step out of comfort zone, says new leader Dr Ian McNie
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has been urged to step outside its "comfort zone" if it is to continue to make an impact.
The incoming Moderator, the Reverend Dr Ian McNie, said that "stepping outside our comfort zone will not only be an option, but a necessity".
He added: "To retreat into the corner, keep our hands clean and backs covered is not the policy established by Jesus Christ.
"Today as a church, we need to be there for people who do not expect us to be there; there for people who have no meaningful connection with the Church but who face the everyday challenges of living. The Church must go in, particularly when the world has gone out. And the Church must show the grace of God."
Dr McNie, minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Ballymoney, was elected in February, and he will be in office until next June. Another Moderator-elect will be named next February.
In a veiled reference to same-sex marriage, abortion and other controversial issues, Dr McNie spoke of an intolerance of the Church's world view of a range of issues from the beginning and ending of life, the family, freedom of conscience and sanctity of marriage. In reaffirming the Church's commitment to the Biblical teaching on marriage, he also recognised that "as a church we must defend the right of society to freely express their opinions".
But he emphasised that the Church also had "the right to expect the same level and proportion of tolerance afforded to us that other groups expect to be afforded to them. Tolerance is a two-way street".
He added: "By definition, tolerance accepts that there are different opinions, and that we should agree to disagree in an agreeable manner, not the definition that is currently postulated - that tolerance is the acceptance of different opinions, and that all opinions are equally correct and should be endorsed as correct."
He said this situation "leads to a position where Christians are required to promote ideas and deliver services that are contrary to their beliefs. True tolerance can only flourish in an atmosphere of mutual respect in disagreement".
Earlier the outgoing Moderator, the Very Rev Dr Michael Barry of Sandys Street Presbyterian Church in Newry, said that he found the Church "in good heart".
He added, however, there was also a feeling in some quarters "of uncertainty experienced by some Presbyterians as society questioned and rejected the teaching and the values of the Church".
He said: "My answer is to stand clearly and firmly on the Scriptures."