“I’m really humbled and honoured and appreciative to the Presbyterian Church throughout Ireland for entrusting this role to me. As someone who has received God’s great love for Christ I will be able to share it north and south of the border.”
Frank’s hopes for the coming year include extending what he describes as the three privileges of his calling as a minister: “to pray with and for people; to pastor people often at the most fragile moments of life; and to proclaim the gospel in all its fullness”. He’ll continue to do that, but with a wider than usual set of people. And Frank is keen that groups and organisations that mightn’t normally invite a moderator will approach him during his year of office that begins with the week of General Assembly in June.
Currently minister of Bloomfield Presbyterian in East Belfast on the corner of Cyprus Avenue and Beersbridge Road, Frank sees that the people he is “fortunate to pastor also have significant front line roles” in society. He aims to “encourage, enable, strengthen and enliven people for their ministry” in areas he could never be directly involved in himself.
“If the church is not for its non-members, it’s not fulfilling its mandate.”
Frank also led the Adelaide Road congregation in the heart of Dublin city centre for 17 years. The church building was renovated to better serve the local community, offering childcare provision, and working with refugees and asylum seekers as well as offering practical assistance to the unemployed.
Asked more generally about the church’s response to refugees, Frank was delighted by the work of the International Friendship Centre on the Lisburn Road which “works with people from 30 different countries” and gives “vital” support.
“It is not them who benefits from us so much as us benefiting from them” was how Frank described families from overseas in his own congregation. Having asked Frank on Sunday about the week ahead, one man in his congregation promised that “I will be praying and fasting for you”. This was an example of bringing “the light of Christ from other parts of the world and contributing to our society here”.
Asked about the continued lack of resolution around victims and legacy issues, the moderator-designate said he while he was “glad that A Fresh Start has broken the deadlock” but was “disappointed that legacy issues remain”. He expected the denomination to “continue to work publicly and behind the scenes” to bring about agreement.
While Frank accepted that the label of “conservative evangelical” was a good description of his style of faith, he would prefer to be seen as a “gospel radical”.
Asked for his opinion on the court appeal that was beginning half a mile away across Belfast, Frank commended Peter Tatchell for “being big enough to acknowledge his change of opinion” on the matter of the decorated cake that Ashers Bakery refused to supply.
News stories over the last year have sometimes been accompanied with the suggestion that Christian rights are being corroded in Northern Ireland. The East Belfast minister explained:
“I have a dog, I love my labra-doodle and it’s a privilege to be able to have a dog. I’d hate for someone to tell me I was unable to enjoy a pet. But with every privilege comes responsibility. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing but there are responsibilities.”
Should members of the clergy be allowed to be gay?
“Some of the people I admire most and respect most are same-sex attracted. And it’s vital that people hear that. There is no place for homophobia …”
He named Vaughan Roberts – Church of England cleric and director of Proclamation Trust – and Ed Shaw as clergy he admired. For Frank it was important to note that these figures he admired “have chosen to place their sexuality under the authority of the Lord Jesus and live under the parameters the Bible sets”. He repeated that “it is vital to say that as people so often make the simplistic assumption that Christians hate those in the LGBT community” and affirmed his belief (aligned with PCI General Assembly’s agreed policy) that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Frank was heartened by the strong attendance at the denomination’s recent conference looking at significant historical events in 1916. The Rising and Somme “impacted society and shaped our consciousness”. While “inevitably the majority of our members are pro-union, there are many north and south who are pro-republican”. He was “hugely impressed” by the conference contribution of Minister Heather Humphries TD (who worships in a Presbyterian congregation in Monahan) and is responsible for the Irish Government’s commemoration. The 1916 Rising was in Frank’s opinion a “significant event that’s worth commemorating” though he distinguished commemoration from celebration.
Taking over as moderator in June, Frank sees it as a “privilege” to represent the church at Somme memorial events which will have a poignancy given that two of his great-uncles were killed in the First World War.
Also - Belfast Telegraph and News Letter coverage.