Wednesday, February 06, 2013

In conversation with Presbyterian moderator designate Rev Rob Craig

Rev Rob Craig was elected last night as the next moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He’s termed “moderator designate” until he takes over at the opening night of the General Assembly in June.

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.

I spoke to the new moderator designate today at lunchtime and he explained to me what his role would entail and what had gone through his head when he heard the result last night. He spoke of the opportunity that the out-of-Belfast General Assembly offered delegates in June and hoped that many would choose to stay overnight in the area and change of atmosphere would be reflected in the nature of the debates and discussions.

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.


Anonymous said...

He should get a real job. People who believe in fairy-tales and imaginary friends need therapy, not fancy positions.

Anonymous said...

People who leave that kind of comment might want to be willing to put their name to their comments!

John said...

Where is this "Derry" place that you speak of? It is neither "Derry" nor "Derry-Londonderry" as I see the Moderator-Designate refers to it - the name of the city is Londonderry, pure and simple! Please show the courtesy of giving it it's correct title

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Maybe the Derry is the local government district ... and it is referred to as the "Presbytery of Derry and Donegal" ...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Alan! I enjoyed the interview, as a Presbyterian it is interesting to hear about my own church and its interesting democratic leadership, its views andso on. I liked Dr Craig. Is he from the "liberal" wing of the church?

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

I'm not sure Dr Craig would describe himself as 'liberal'! But he's certainly less conservative than some of his colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Is this the same Reverend Craig who has criticised Pastor James Mconnel? Thank you Mr Craig. Less and less people are going to Presbyterian church these days.

I once attended a Presbyterian church on the Lisburn road but was introduced to islam when I attended the multinational drop in centre on the Lisburn road.
I have now converted to Islam and working hard converting others. Christianity has lost its way, gay marriage was the last step. Only Islam will burn out the sin of Ireland but it will take time.
My former Presbyterian church will be the tallest mosque in Ireland in less than 20 years.