In a process that sometimes reminds me – admittedly in some small ways – of the election of a US President, only two ministers were put forward for the vote this year, so the 19 Presbyteries (groups of ministers and elders in different geographic areas) had a straight choice between Rev John Dickinson and Dr Craig. [Presbyteries end up like a US state, each with only 1 vote in the electoral college.]
For nearly twenty years, Dr Craig has been minister to the congregation up in Kilfennan in Derry’s Waterside. It is undeniably symbolic that a local minister was chosen as moderator (17 out of 19 presbyteries) in the year the General Assembly will escape from Fisherwick Place in Belfast and be held in the Millennium Forum in Derry.
The tweeting moderator previously worked in Clough and Seaforde congregations as well as his assistantship in Glengormley. He’s a past pupil of Armstrong Primary School in Armagh and Wallace High School in Lisburn.
Asked to rate the health of the denomination he would shortly become the figurehead of, he said that statistically there are signs of “ailing” when you look at the declining numbers of members, baptisms and new young communicants. However, he also recognised that “those who have stayed, stayed because it matters to them, because their faith is a living thing and in that sense the church may be more vibrant than it has ever been”.
He said that “the foundations of Christendom have crumbled and that means the church now finds itself in a new situation” no longer holding sway over Western Europe. He added “there are competing voices – the church is just one of those voices – and we must learn to listen, to respect, to engage and then to present our case”.
He described the denomination’s need to be “salt of the earth and the light of the world” and to have an impact on the world. I suggested that perhaps the church was better known for being salt than light with recent media coverage noting the denominations’ anti-same sex marriage, anti-flag protests, and anti-abortion statements.
Dr Craig said that the church “is responding to these ethical issues that present themselves”. However, he countered that
“…if, for the sake of argument, the church is seen as against abortion we also want to say that is because the church is for life. If we say the church is against same-sex marriages we want to say no the church is for marriage and a much richer and deeper understanding of human sexuality.
And also I would want to say alongside that that the church is for compassion, and for caring for people, and sometimes when statements are made which are true and to which we sign up, it’s not possible to show that human face and caring dimension of the church which I know is there … I hope that’s the kind of ministry I’ve had and I don’t want to [as moderator] be any different.”
Dr Craig takes over from the current moderator Rev Dr Roy Patton on the evening of Monday 3 June.