The 210th Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland met on Zoom from Monday 7th to Tuesday 8th June. It had been hoped to meet in person but the hotel cancelled due to government restrictions.
Philip Moffett of Cullybackey was appointed Moderator for the year. He preached on Jeremiah 50:34, reminding us that in a world where our cause (Christ’s crown and covenant) risks being drowned out by competing voices, Christ himself pleads our cause. The meetings began with the outgoing Moderator, Nigel Agnew (Newry RPC), leading in worship.
As changes in the Roll of Synod were noted, tribute was paid to three ministers who had died since the last Synod meeting: Stuart McMahon, David Silversides and Robin Patterson. Wallace McCollum spoke movingly of the friendship he had enjoyed with Stuart. Robert Robb paid tribute to David’s wide ministry before his diagnosis with MSA, an aggressive form of Parkinsons. Stephen Robinson spoke of Robin’s ministry in Creevagh for nearly 20 years, while also teaching New Testament in the RPCI’s theological college.
The Mission Committee paid tribute to Osy Graham’s work as chairman over the last 5 years – he has been at the forefront in guiding developments in Spain.
- A major strategic issue for consideration going forward is the feasibility of having 2 workers in each of our current locations. The report from the work in Spain was very encouraging, especially in respect to the working relationship between the RPCI’s missionary Isaac Berrocal and Martin Rizley of Malaga Reformed Baptist.
- Isaac continues preaching to the original group of reformed and presbyterian believers who meet in his house in Rincon in the outskirts of Malaga. He has also received a call to an independent presbyterian congregation in Seville. The Synod decided that he should remain in Rincon for a further year (he moved there 12 months ago) to give his family stability and continue working with Martin. During that time he will preach occasionally in Seville and the congregation will explore the possibility of joining the RPCI.
- The Nantes Fellowship hope to have their building work started before new legislation regarding international financing of groups comes into force in Spring 2022.
The Home Section continue to fund the Cookstown work after it had a favourable 5-year review by the Eastern Presbytery. The Somerton Road outreach was brought to an end due to a combination of covid restrictions and lack of response. Billy Hamilton has retired after 30 years as a missionary in Galway but “continues to do what he did before!”. It is hoped to have a thanksgiving event for his ministry in the future.
Men for the Ministry
- The Eastern Presbytery reported that Sam McDonald and Jonny Fitzsimons from the Woodstock congregation have been have been accepted as students for the ministry.
- The Southern Presbytery have accepted Kenneth Stephenson as student for the ministry.
- On 1st July, the 3 current students of the Reformed Theological College will graduate (after having finished their classes via Zoom).
- John Hawthorne is stepping down as convenor of the Theological College Committee after 20 years and will be replaced by David Fallows. Stephen Neilly was appointed as Professor of Old Testament, replacing Andrew Kerr who has accepted a call to Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. John Watterson was appointed Hebrew Lecturer.
It was underlined repeatedly at Synod that it is a matter for much prayer that we currently have 9 vacant congregations.
Finances and Material Provisions
- The Western Presbytery reported encouragements in the provision of a new building for Milford RPC in Donegal.
- Ballenon RP Church has been refurbished and it is hoped that the manse in Clare will be ready by the autumn.
- The Congregational Aid Fund paid £77,000 to 5 congregations to help support their ministers. This is one significant way we all help support our brothers and sisters in smaller churches.
- The Finance Committee proposed a 1% increase in ministers’ salaries and pensions. It was agreed that each congregation would annually contribute the equivalent of 1% of salary to an emergency fund for ministers who have been unable to take out adequate personal cover for death-in-service or incapacity due to ill health.
- The General Benevolent Fund was able to support the RTC students in summer 2020 when their summer placements were cancelled.
- Through the Ministers’ Pension and Sickness Fund we paid £55,000 to support 12 retired ministers and missionaries, and the Ministers’ Widows and Orphans Fund supported 7 widows.
Ongoing Ministries and Works of the Church
- The Public Morals Committee corresponded with governments and public bodies on: Sunday trading, pandemic restrictions, Pride, relationships education, abortion, euthanasia and conversion therapy. Philip Dunwoody is stepping down after 5 years as convenor and he was thanked for his work in liaising with the Northern Ireland Executive during the pandemic through the faith-leaders Working Group.
- It was encouraging to hear how Camps gave considerable thought and effort to support our young people during last summer’s disruption.
- The Global Alliance have worked on providing education models for seminaries where RP works are developing. Synod noted that Sabbath 3 October has been set aside as a day of prayer for the RP churches in ‘East Asia’.
We give thanks that overall, our congregations have largely been kept from the pandemic. Only one congregation (of around 40) noted that a large proportion had contracted the disease, but that was not the result of a church event.
On Tuesday night we discussed renewing our covenant commitment to the Lord Jesus. This stems from the Covenants of the 1600s, from which we get the name ‘Covenanters’. Periodically we have renewed and given fresh expression to our covenant commitment to the Lord Jesus. This was last done in 1990. We plan to renew our covenant commitment at Synod next year, and then this will ripple out to the congregations. Our denomination and congregation will build towards this over the next year.
Joel Loughridge, Cloughmills RPC