Three new ministers are installed in Carrickfergus Presbytery
Three of the area’s oldest Presbyterian churches have installed new ministers to fill their vacant pulpits.
Ballycarry, Ballyclare and Cairncastle congregations – all within the Presbytery of Carrickfergus - have had new clergy installed, the services taking place in line with current Covid restrictions.
The new minister at the oldest Presbyterian congregation in Ireland, at Ballycarry, is Rev Mark Russell, a 55 year-old father of two married to Libby, who was minister of Leckpatrick and Donagheady Presbyterian Churches in County Tyrone since 2010.
Having studied for a BA in Business Studies at Ulster University’s Jordanstown campus, he went on to complete his theological studies at Queen’s University and Union College, graduating with an Masters in Divinity and a Post graduate Diploma in Ministry.
The former civil servant was licensed to preach the Gospel as a probationer for the ministry, known as a ‘licentiate’, in First Carrickfergus Presbyterian Church, his home church, in 2008. The following year, he was ordained as the associate minister in Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, before being called as the minister of Leckpatrick Presbyterian in 2010 (the congregation was linked with Donagheady in 2017).
Rev. Russell served just over 10 years in the congregations, before being called to Ballycarry. He was installed as minister of Ballycarry Presbyterian Church in January and the installation service took place in the church and was undertaken by the Presbytery of Carrickfergus under current Covid restrictions.
This meant that only a very limited number of participants could take part. The service was, however videoed so that members of the congregation, who couldn’t attend, could watch the service later.
The Ballycarry congregation was founded in 1613 and has a membership of around 580 people, made up of some 260 families
The vacancy was caused by the retirement of Rev Gabrielle Farquhar, who had been the minister there for the past 25 years.
Another new face is Rev. Andrew Watson at Cairncastle Presbyterian Church.
For nearly half of Mr Watson’s ministerial career, the father of four adult children has ministered in County Donegal, serving the congregations of Carrigart and Dunfanaghy for five years before being installed as the new minister of Cairncastle Presbyterian Church in December of last year.
Prior to that he served in the Ballyshannon and Donegal Presbyterian Churches between 1992 and 2001.
He gained a BA and BD from Queen’s University in Belfast in the 1980s, and a Master in Theology in the 1990s, and was licensed as a probationer for the ministry in a special service in his home congregation of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church in June 1989.
Mr Watson, who is married to Hazel, was then ordained as an assistant minister, serving in West Kirk Presbyterian in North Belfast prior to accepting the first call to County Donegal. From 2001 he served as minister of Scarva Street Presbyterian in Banbridge for 12 years.
The installation service took place in Cairncastle Presbyterian and was undertaken by the Presbytery of Carrickfergus under current Covid restrictions. Members of the congregation were able to watch and take part from home via Facebook Live.
Cairncastle Presbyterian, formed in 1646, has a membership of around 470 people, made up of around 200 families. Rev. Watson succeeds Rev Fiona Forbes, who accepted a call to become the minister of Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church in Lisburn.
The third of the new ministers in the area is Rev. Jonathan Moxen, who takes charge of Ballyclare Presbyterian Church.
The 54-year-old father of three had been the minister of Greystone Road Presbyterian Church in Antrim since 2008 and is married to Gillian. He studied Philosophy and European Studies at Ulster University’s Magee and Coleraine campuses, and at Queen’s University studied theology and trained for the Presbyterian ministry at Union College in the 1990’s. He previously worked for a map survey company in Coleraine.
He was licensed as a probationer for the ministry in New Row Presbyterian Church, Coleraine, his home church, in 1997. Three years later, he was ordained as minister of Ballynure Presbyterian, where he served for 8 years, before being called to Greystone Road.
His installation as minister of Ballyclare Presbyterian Church in the first week of January was livestreamed so that members of the congregation could watch and take part in the service from home.
Founded in the mid-1650s, Ballyclare is one of the largest congregations in the Presbytery of Carrickfergus and has a membership of around 1,200 people, made up of some 540 families.
The vacancy there was caused by the retirement of Rev Robert Bell, who had been the minister for 30 years.
Explaining the process of installation, Rev David Allen, Deputy Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said, “Each minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament in a service of ordination, which is conducted by the local presbytery. When a vacancy occurs in a congregation the local presbytery has responsibility for appointing a minister from the presbytery who acts as the ‘vacancy convener’ for the congregation. They will look after the congregation while it is deemed to be ‘vacant’ or without a minster, and will work with the congregation, leading it through the process of calling a new minister.
“Any serving minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s 500-plus congregations can apply. Congregations can also approach ministers and eligible assistants, asking them to consider becoming the minister of the congregation. Normally the elders will interview prospective candidates, and some may be asked to preach in the church building. The congregation then meets to vote for, or call, their new minister. The presbytery will then hold a service of installation.”
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