Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Many challenges in store for Moderator

Rev Dr William Henry
Rev Dr William Henry

Editor's Viewpoint

The new Presbyterian Moderator, the Rt Reverend Dr William Henry, will be hoping that his tenure of office will attract more positive headlines than followed the General Assembly a year ago.

Then, the Church was at the centre of controversy because of the way it handled the sensitive issue of same-sex relationships.

The Assembly voted to loosen its ties with the Church of Scotland because of its more liberal views on same-sex couples, and refused full church membership to LGBT people or to baptise their children.

The outgoing Moderator the Very Reverend Dr Charles McMullen said yesterday that it was the duty of the Church to uphold scriptural teaching but it should do so in a pastorally sensitive manner.

It is right that the Presbyterian Church, like other churches, should stand by what it sees as God's word, no matter how intense the opposition to that view. Church teachings, unlike secular laws, cannot change according to the prevailing populist opinion, otherwise the faith has no solid foundations. But many people found some of the decisions taken last year, and some of the words spoken, as too harsh in tone. Refusing to baptise the children of LGBT couples was a particularly controversial step.

There is no doubt many in the Presbyterian Church felt hurt by the controversy emanating from the General Assembly and will look at this year's gathering as an opportunity to soften the tone of the debate.

They will welcome the words of the outgoing Moderator who said the church should 'not be perceived to be closing the door to those who would see our churches as a cold place when we know that not to be the case'.

The Presbyterian Church, like other mainstream denominations, is facing many challenges in the modern world, not least the significant numbers of people who have abandoned regular church attendance. How do churches remain relevant in a world where people, particularly many young people, take their opinions from whatever is trending on social media and where everything seems to pass in a blur of confusion.

The new Moderator says he does not want to be a caretaker but to do something. There is plenty for him to do in healing divisions, ensuring the church has a welcome for as wide a congregation as possible and navigating the complex social issues which continue to challenge traditional church teaching.

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