Dr. Noble McNeely, whose first congregation was First Ballymoney Presbyterian, has spent his last full week as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, ahead of the Church’s General Assembly, which openned last Monday.
Writing in blog for the Church’s website presbyterianireland.org, Dr. McNeely has said that throughout the year he has been “constantly reminded of the humbling experience it is to serve Christ and His church.”
Dr. McNeely spoke about the privilege it had been of meeting a “huge variety of amazing people” and how he had been “greatly heartened” by the church that is responding to the pressures and challenges throughout Ireland.
“We saw many church members, faithful Christian people, just getting on with life - being good neighbours and helping one another, recognising these demands and being prepared to try new ways to share the gospel,” he said.
“For me, the most outstanding memories have been the opportunities that we had to visit church members at home in Ireland and further afield. Many were just humbly and quietly getting on with their work - on top of their day jobs - witnessing for Christ and serving as His disciples. To see this commitment and compassion was amazing, especially in the rural areas. We sometimes forget their struggle, or fail to see the issues that farmers face. It has been a hard year for them, but we found a people committed to the church, their community and their faith.”
During his year in office Dr. McNeely and his wife Florence visited 69 churches where he then preached, while undertaking three busy weeklong tours of the denomination’s Dublin and Munster, Route and Derry and Donegal presbyteries. He also spent 12 days in Zambia seeing first-hand the work of one of PCI’s global mission workers, Diane Cusick.
“Being able to travel to Zambia was very special for Florence and me. This was an exceptional God given opportunity to see Diane at work in a very demanding environment,” Dr. McNeely said.
Dr. McNeely also spoke of his time in Cairo to attend the Reformation commemorations in Egypt, which was hosted by the Protestant Churches of Egypt, the organisation that represents 16 officially recognised reformed denominations in the country.
“In the midst of many invitations the Church received during the special anniversary year, it was felt that it was important to attend as an act of solidarity with Christians of all denominations from across the Middle East, who as everyday disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ have suffered violence, death and general persecution on a scale that has not been witnessed in many years,” Dr. McNeely said.
At home, the Moderator said that some of the events he and Florence attended were also poignant, like the anniversary of the La Mon Hotel bombing he had been invited to. “To see relatives - like so many others who were bereaved - participate with such outstanding dignity was inspirational.”
Another poignant and personal occasion came out of the blue when on a visit to Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, where Dr. McNeely found the name of a childhood Boy’s Brigade friend on the last page of a Book of Remembrance. Corporal Trelford Withers had been the last Royal Irish Regiment soldier to be killed before the 1994 ceasefire.
“Seeing Trelford’s name on an illuminated page, being at the La Mon commemoration and visiting the memorial to the victims of the Kingsmills Massacre; experiencing the emotion and just some of the pain and sense of loss brought to mind the importance of the whole issue of legacy and getting to grips with dealing with our troubled past, especially for the sake of those who still live with such pain and loss,” he said.
Dr. McNeely will share his reflections in his final address as Moderator on the Opening Night of the Church’s General Assembly on the evening of 4th June, which is open to the public. Members of Assembly and invited guests will join together in worship and witness the installation of the Church’s 179th Moderator, Rev. Charles McMullen, minister of West Church, Bangor in County Down. The ceremony will be broadcast live on Radio Ulster 1341 Medium Wave from 7pm. A live daily Twitter feed can be followed at @pciassembly, or using the hashtag #pciga18.
You can read more of Dr.McNeely’s reflections on his year in office in his blog at www.presbyterianireland.org.