Belfast Telegraph

Inspirational Rev Hughes would have made a great first female Moderator

By Alf McCreary

Tomorrow is the last day of 2017 and it is a time when many people look back reflectively. There will be many watch-night church services at midnight.

Tomorrow will be a poignant day for the congregation of Whitehouse Presbyterian Church in Newtownabbey, who will be losing their minister, the Rev Dr Elizabeth Hughes, after 17 years of dedicated and distinguished service.

Liz Hughes is known widely throughout the Presbyterian Church for her service on its committees.

In 2014, she missed by one vote on becoming the first woman to be elected as Moderator.

This would have been an historic choice, but the Church had the opportunity to rectify this when she stood again the next year.

Sadly, however, the members of the male-dominated Presbyteries did not elect her, much to the regret of many clergy and laity who felt that she was an ideal candidate.

The Presbyterians did award her an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree later on, which was not quite the same thing, although she was only the second female minister to be given such an honour.

The Rev Hughes was almost certainly one of the best female Moderators the Presbyterians decided not to elect, but she accepted this decision with great dignity and restraint.

Her ministerial career, however, was much more than the Moderatorship and she led Whitehouse Presbyterian Church through some of the most difficult periods of its 150-year history, which it marked with special ceremonies in November.

In 2002, the church was almost destroyed in an arson attack, but with courage and vision the Whitehouse congregation, under Liz's leadership, completed a beautiful modern building in 2005.

Three years later the church was badly damaged after extensive flooding. Once again, Liz Hughes led the congregation to overcome all obstacles, and the building was restored to its natural beauty.

As well as all of this, the Rev Hughes and Whitehouse were in the vanguard of ecumenism and mission in the Newtonabbey area, while also contributing to the Church's mission overseas - notably in Rwanda.

As a member of Whitehouse, I experienced first-hand all the disappointments and joys of those turbulent years, but most of all I appreciated the constant friendliness and support of members of the congregation to one another.

I have been at Whitehouse for 49 years and I cannot remember any significant falling-out between people during all that time, which, sadly, cannot be said of quite a number of other churches.

This is perhaps one of the memories which the Rev Hughes will remember and perhaps treasure most as she looks back on her 17 years at Whitehouse, to which she gave such big-hearted leadership.

However, in praising the Rev Hughes for her leadership, I am aware that many other male and female clergy make a crucial contribution to the Christian Church at large by faithfully serving their people to the best of their ability.

The work of a minister or priest requires great dedication and those who retire soon realise the bliss of not coming home and having to deal every night with several urgent phone calls.

In these days, when the churches are criticised mercilessly for their shortcomings, we often overlook the work of parish ministers in visiting the sick, comforting the bereaved and in setting an example of care and concern for others.

These clergy do not make the headlines, and this also applies to leaders within each church who give long and faithful service, without seeking any reward.

This is typified by the remark of the Rev Hughes on the eve of her retirement after 17 years at Whitehouse.

She said: "The life and energy of the congregation does not lie with its minister or Kirk Session.

"Energised by the power of God's Spirit, it lies in the army of unnamed volunteers who engage in its many ministries throughout the week."

That is a truly inspiring thought on which to look back on the past and to welcome another new year.

Coptic Christians under siege by Isis

In the aftermath of Christmas, we must bear a thought for the fate of persecuted Christian minorities

This year, some 115 Coptic Christians have been murdered by Isis militants in Egypt who have stormed churches, homes and businesses to kill and maim.

Such relentless religious hatred is difficult to contemplate, and although these atrocities seem far away geographically, they strike at the hearts of Christians everywhere.

Time we put Christ back into Christmas

A memorable Christmas message came from a columnist in the Sunday Independent .

Brendan O’Connor, asking if we have thrown out the divine baby with the bath water, wrote: “If Christ’s values were more in vogue now, we’d have fewer people ripped off... maybe old people would be less afraid in their home and maybe we would not have to search so hard and spend so much to find the meaning of Christmas.”

Dr Hayes was man ahead of his time

Dr Maurice Hayes was a good man who contributed much to public life in the north and south.

He was as sharp as a pin and he did not suffer fools gladly, but he also had a vision of society that sadly we have not yet seen.

His funeral took place in a Catholic church and he was buried in a Protestant graveyard. That spoke eloquently of the man he was and what he tried to do.

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