New moderator pulls no punches over all hatreds
At a time when there are so many conflicting voices in our midst, it was refreshing to hear the new Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Michael Barry, speaking so clearly at this year's General Assembly.
The annual opening night of the assembly is one of the great set pieces of Irish Presbyterianism, with many of the literally great and good of the community listening to what amounts to ecclesiastical state of the nation addresses from the outgoing and incoming moderators.
As religion correspondent of this paper, I have sat patiently through most of these addresses in the last 14 years and, to mix a church metaphor, they are like the curate's egg. Some were good and others were just another dull religious sermon with very little relevance to the world around us.
This year, there were no disappointments. The outgoing moderator, Dr Rob Craig, quoted Van Morrison's song 'Days Like This', and he spoke eloquently about the good days and bad days in our community during his term of office. He also exhorted his listeners to take to heart God's promise of continually "making things new".
The new moderator, Dr Barry, showed a deft touch as a serious and yet witty communicator, and he tackled head-on some of the major social issues of our time.
He criticised the selfishness of the 'Me, too' society, and particularly, its disregard for the rights of others.
Unlike some church messages, there was no equivocation. He said: "We are to treat all people with respect and dignity, because they have been created in the image of God. So when I attack another person, whether physically or verbally or emotionally, I am attacking one who bears the image of God."
The moderator underlined powerfully his message that all attacks must stop. "Regardless of nationality, religion, colour, or sexual orientation, no one should be subjected to any kind of intimidation or attack."
Although race-hate attacks, and wholesale condemnation of the Muslim faith has been in the main news recently, Dr Barry did not overlook the traditional forms of confrontation that scar our society.
Referring to the community confrontations and the marching season, he said bluntly: "Do we not see 'Me first' all around us. When people demand their rights, are they not demanding their way? There are those who demand the right to march, and those who demand the right to protest. But where does such behaviour take us when there is no respect for the other person? We saw the answer to that last year in the rioting that blotted this city – behaviour that must not be repeated this year."
Will the moderator's words make any difference? Some cynics will say, probably not, but that is not the point. The significance of the Presbyterian moderator's speech is that these words need to be heard clearly, and well above the din of constant confrontation that so disfigures our public life nowadays.
Some leaders have tended to soft-pedal their message for fear of upsetting people, and their contributions were so layered that they were quickly forgotten.
So, in an era when some Christian speakers have been spouting intolerance and appalling bigotry, it is important that the leader of the Presbyterians Church states clearly that the true Christianity stands for equality, respect and love for all people, regardless of their background.
Dr Barry has spoken clearly and well, and the whole community is in his debt for doing so. I only wish that others would follow his example.
Thought for the weekend... Fr Patrick McCafferty, Belfast Diocese of Down and Connor
God the Holy Spirit is the communion of personal Love between the Father and the Son, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son into the hearts of all who believe (Romans 5:5).
The Holy Spirit draws into the Life of the Most Holy Trinity, making ‘participators in the Divine Nature’ (2 Peter 1:4).
Speaking last year, before Pentecost, Pope Francis said: “In all times and in all places man has yearned for a full and beautiful life, a just and good one, a life that is not threatened by death, but that can mature and grow to its fullest” (May 8, 2013, the Vatican).
The Holy Spirit, ‘the Lord and Giver of Life’ bestows on the fullness of God's gifts, all that necessary so that can choose God's ‘life in abundance' (John 10:10).
The imagery and also the symbols of the Spirit speak of dynamism as well as power — wind, fire, water; but also of peace and healing — oil, breath and the dove.
Words that all of us can all relate to.
In God's inner Life, we find the force we need to be effective in our God-given mission, as well as the gentleness Christians need to ministers of consolation.
For “The Holy Spirit teaches us to look with the eyes of Christ, to live life as Christ lived, to understand life as Christ did” (Pope Francis).