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Sunday evening – Ordination Service


On Sunday evening 18 June at Fisherwick Presbyterian Church in Belfast, four ministers participated in that defining moment of their journey when they became ordained presbyters of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

This is always a deeply meaningful service. The scene this year was set by the President of the British Conference, the Rev Dr Roger Walton, who examined the calling of a minister in a very thoughtful and challenging sermon.  The response of the congregation came through in the wonderful organ playing and enthusiastic singing.  Then it was the turn of the four ordinands to give accounts of their journeys thus far which were very concise and to the point.

The Rev Sharon Connor was the first to speak.  Sharon described her early call, but said she had an initial unwillingness to answer it.  However, the influence of others, especially the Rev Tommy Stevenson, prompted  her to candidate.  She said she learned that there was nothing special about her – she was a vessel to be filled with the wine of Christ.

The Rev Alan Craig described the way God spoke to him after his mother died. The words ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ had a particular resonance for him and he started reading his Bible.  The first verse of Isaiah 61: ‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news…’ set him off on the path of local preaching and ultimately candidating for the ministry. In that journey, the words of the Rev Winston Graham were a great encouragement to him: ‘Alan, we are not called to do great things.  We are called to be beacons.  It is God who does great things.’

The Rev Mark Durrell said that it only seemed like yesterday that he had prayed to God that he would make him the person that he wanted him to be.  He wasn’t sure how God was answering that prayer, but there was a restlessness in his heart that the Rev Andrew Kingston suggested might be a called to ordained ministry.  Initially, Mark ignored this but eventually gave in, the restlessness disappeared and God took him on a journey in which he was also greatly helped by his friends, including Mandy who was to become his wife.

The Rev Philip Gallagher said that he had his first feelings of a call to ministry around seven years ago and typed out an email to the Rev Dr Heather Morris who was at that time Director of Ministry in Edgehill College.  He was still debating whether or not to send it when he realised he had pressed the ‘send’ button. Looking back, he knew he wouldn’t have had it any other way.  He had family support through thick and thin and it was the grace of God that had brought him to where he was today – to God be all praise.

Following the laying on of hands and the acclamation that the presbyters were ‘worthy’, the entire congregation took part in the Sacrament of holy Communion.

It was an uplifting and encouraging service.

The Ordinands (from left): the Revs Sharon Connor, Alan Craig, Philip Gallagher and Mark Durrell. Photo: William Newell


President of Methodist Church in Ireland condemns mosque attack

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The newly elected President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Dr Laurence Graham, has joined with the Leaders of the Methodist Church in London in condemning the attack on Finsbury Park Mosque.  He asks that Methodists in Ireland join with them in praying for all who are affected by this attack and that violence would not breed violence.

‘Almighty, all-merciful God, through Christ Jesus you have taught us to love one another, to love our neighbours as ourselves, and even to love our enemies.

‘In times of violence and fear, let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, so that we may not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good. Help us to see each person in light of the love and grace you have shown us in Christ.

‘Send your Spirit and renew the face of the earth; teach us to be compassionate towards the whole human family; strengthen the will of all those who fight for justice and for peace.

‘Put away the nightmares of terror and awaken us to the dawning of your new creation. Establish among us a future where peace reigns, justice is done with mercy and all are reconciled with each other.’


Conference Saturday – a people on the move

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Saturday morning at Conference began with a challenging Bible study from Rachel Lampard, the Vice-President of the British Methodist Conference, in which we reflected on the story of Ruth and Naomi and its application to the situation of the many people coming to our shores as refugees and asylum seekers.

We heard the story of one Syrian refugee, Milad Korkis, who had come to live in Northern Ireland and whose overwhelming need during his first years here was for friendship and community which he sorely missed after leaving all his family and friends behind in Syria. We were reminded that through Ruth came David the great king of Israel and that every refugee or asylum seeker has the potential to, and in many cases, is already contributing greatly to society here.

Much of the morning’s business was taken up with discussion around the future shape of ministerial training within the Church and the fact that that ministry is not confined to ordained clergy but is the responsibility and privilege of all members in response to God’s call.

The nature and location of that training for ministry – both lay and ordained -will continue to take place in Edgehill College, which will in addition become the Connexional headquarters of many Church departments such as IMYC, WDRC and the Trustees Office. Ministerial formation may now vary quite considerably in length and outline depending on the age and previous experience of the candidate. There will also be a new Worship: Leading and Preaching course for local preachers which is currently being piloted with eleven participants.

After lunch, Conference heard more from the Rev Dr Laurence Graham on his Presidential theme of the Rhythm of Grace – Meeting Jesus, Sharing Jesus. We were asked if we were truly hungry for God and examined the concept of priesthood. Conference spent some time in Buzz Groups discussing the image of priesthood and the idea that we all now have direct access to God and are called upon to bring God to others and to bring others to God. Then we will be living stones: mobile, missional, a people on the move.

Anita Gracie

Rachel Lampard gives the morning Bible Study ( Photo: William Newell)


Conference Friday – proposed new Connexional Structures, President Designate and Lay Leader Designate


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The normal pattern of Conference resumed, following the previous morning’s suspension for the funeral of the Rev Margaret Ferguson.  Worship was led by the British Vice-President Rachel Lampard, who, in following her theme of ‘Our relationship with creation’, asked Bishop Paul Boafo from the Methodist Church in Ghana to give Conference a flavour of the effect of climate change in his country.  Rachel told us that the people most affected by climate change are the poorest on our planet and that change is all happening very quickly.  We need to change our outlook rapidly, so that all creation can move together towards our creator God.

The first item in of business was a discussion on Connexional Finance introduced by Harold Baird who reported a reduction of 9.5% in the comprehensive assessment.  The proposed new Connexional structures should not result in an increase in the assessment.  Speaking for the Audit Committee, Mr Baird told us that although overall finances were in a healthy position with £m21 on the balance sheet, that should not take away from the fact that 28% of Irish circuits ended the year in deficit.  A report on Ministers’ stipends by John Buchanan recommended a 4% increase and that stipends and allowances be consolidated so that ministers with children should not be adversely affected by recent changes in taxation.

Conference then moved into the subject that was to be the main discussion point for the day – the revision of Connexional structures.  The topic was introduced by the Home Missions Secretary the Rev Dr Heather Morris who told us that the proposal was for the eight current districts to be reduced to three.  However, the three District Superintendents would be ‘separated’ appointments, not part-time appointments as at present.  The new DSs would report to a Connexional Team and the whole process would be reviewed after five years. There was prolonged discussion following the report with concerns about financial implications, authority and loss of local input.  However, the general tenor of the discussion was in support of the changes, particularly from those with experience of other Connexions where separated appointments were the practice and the overall principle of the changes was endorsed.

Following lunch there was some further discussion on details of the proposed changes in Connexional structures.  There was also discussion on the Church’s attitude towards the impending Brexit, on alcohol abuse, City Missions, the Ministry of Healing, MWI and the Methodist Historical Society.

The Rev Billy Davison was elected as President Designate and Methodist Newsletter readers will be proud to learn that the senior editor Lynda Neilands was elected as Lay Leader designate.

A full day’s business was followed by an uplifting evening celebration, focusing on a wide range of missional initiatives. It included a time of prayer for Tara, James, Leanne and Jonny who are engaged in the ‘Multiply’ programme, where they have made a commitment to do mission where they are and for the team going out to work in Ibiza with 24/7 Prayer. Bishop Paul Boafo brought greetings from the Church in Ghana and the Lay Leader shared observations and missional learning from his time in South Africa,

Peter Mercer

Photo: Prayer at the evening celebration

Conference Thursday – Responding to challenge

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As a mark of respect, Thursday’s Conference business session did not start until 2.00 pm to give members the opportunity to join the hundreds of mourners attending the funeral of the Rev Margaret Ferguson in Mountpottinger Methodist church, Belfast.

It was a moving service celebrating the vibrant life of a dedicated minister of the Gospel – one who touched many and was loved and valued by all who knew her.  The Rev Jim Rea gave the tribute and the President expressed the sympathies of the Methodist Connexion to Margaret’s family, assuring them of our support and prayers.

The positive spirit and trust in God which Margaret demonstrated in the face of terminal illness came through in much of what was said, as did the passion and drive with which she had seized every opportunity to reach out to others and build God’s kingdom.

That afternoon, back at the Conference church in Lisburn, that same sense of challenging circumstances calling for a demonstration of spiritual passion, trust and drive came through in many of the reports.

On the one hand were discouraging statistics and difficult issues – and on the other encouraging stories of Methodist people making a difference on the ground. Members of Conference were eager to come to the microphone to speak of what was happening in their locality, while PowerPoint presentations illustrated the positive difference being made in the lives of some of  the world’s most vulnerable people through the work of Methodist World Development and Relief.

Partnership  and relationship were key words throughout – partnership with other departments within the Methodist Church in Ireland, with other agencies, with other denominations, with people from other cultures and backgrounds. It was agreed that from now on the Methodist Missionary Society (Ireland) would be called World Mission Partnership with a new vision ‘Together, sharing Christ around the world’.

At the end of the evening Home Mission Secretary, the Rev Dr Heather Morris, summed up both the challenge the Church faces and the manner in which members need to respond saying: ‘I sense  in my spirit and my heart that we know what God is calling us to do. It’s to be God’s witnesses. It’s to do it. Let us not delay in being the people God is calling us to be.’

On the platform (from left) the Rev Bill Mullally (Past President). Dr Fergus O’Ferrall (Lay Leader), the Rev Dr Laurence Graham (President of the Methodist Church in Ireland), the Rev Dr John Stephens (Secretary of Conference) and the Rev Dr Tom McKnight (Assistant Secretary) –  Photo: William Newell





‘Mission needs to be an instinct before it is a strategy’: Methodist President highlights the ‘rhythm of grace’

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The newly installed President of the Methodist Church in Ireland has urged Methodists to rediscover the ‘rhythm of grace’, meeting and sharing Jesus in a way that comes as naturally and instinctively as breathing.

Speaking this evening, the Rev Dr Laurence Graham – whose doctoral studies were in methods of mission in the Early Church – referred to the symbols on his presidential scarf, explaining to the large numbers gathered in Fisherwick Presbyterian church, Belfast, that it showed ‘an empty cross where we meet with the risen Jesus and then go from that empty cross to share him with others but also go back to meet him again. The rhythm of grace.’

In is inaugural address Dr Graham drew from a wealth of experience of mission at home and overseas. ‘In 1999, sixty of us from Ireland went to be with the Methodist Church in Uganda.   At that time it had only recently begun and there were five congregations. The Church in Uganda has lots of structural and organisational problems and very few resources but the fact is that five congregations in 1999 are 41 congregations in 2017,’ he said.

Most recently he has  revisited  the Methodist Churches in Haiti where he took part in that Church’s bi-centenary celebrations.  Although the Church there is 200 years old, it retained ‘an absolute instinct for mission, whether or not resources are available’, he told the congregation,

One of the key decisions to be taken by this year’s Methodist Conference is with regard to a change to the structure of the Church. ‘The idea behind these proposals is that they would better facilitate and enable mission through our Church,’ Dr Graham said. ‘However, in all of our talk at Conference about new structures and systems to manage for mission, let’s never forget that the structures for managing mission don’t matter if there is no mission to manage.’

Married to Karen, Dr Graham is currently superintendent of the vibrant, multi-ethnic Dublin Central Mission (DCM), and the DCM Praise Group took part in tonight’s service. Before entering the ministry, he worked in Haiti and Antigua and then as a lay pastoral assistant in Belfast before going on to minister in Longford, Cork and Killarney where he oversaw encouraging church growth.

 The Rev Dr Laurence Graham delivers his inaugural address. (Photo: William Newell)


London killings: President of the Methodist Church in Ireland condemns ‘act of barbarism’ and issues call to ‘rise up in prayer’


The President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Bill Mullally, has issued the following Statement in the wake of the London killings:

‘Once again the City of London has been subject to carnage, with the slaughter of seven innocent people and nearly 50 injured as a result of the evil actions of others.

‘I want, like others, to utterly condemn this act of barbarism and to praise the swift response of the police, ambulance and response units.

‘I encourage politicians to unify and redouble their efforts to ensure that there are sufficient resources made available to every department, so as to prevent such happenings in the future.

Such acts are designed to terrify populations and if this happens then the perpetrators have achieved their goal. Rather, on this day of Pentecost, remember God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Let us rise up in prayer and overcome the enemy, because the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (I John 4:4).

‘Those who have lost loved ones or have members of the family or friends among the injured will be in my prayers.’