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The next Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev William Henry, has been awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity. It was conferred upon him by the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland (PTFI) at its annual graduation ceremony at the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Assembly Buildings in Belfast.
The PTFI awards degrees by the authority of its Royal Charter, which was granted by Queen Victoria in 1881. Dr Henry was one of a number of recipients of various awards, which included 5 ministry students at Union Theological College (UTC) graduating with Postgraduate Diploma in Ministry and 2 students graduating with Graduate Certificates in Youth Ministry.
The citation was delivered by Rev Professor Michael McClenahan, Professor of Systematic Theology at UTC, who spoke about the years that he had known the Moderator-Designate, who was selected by the denomination’s 19 presbyteries to be the next Moderator in February.
Professor McClenahan had spent an eight week placement in Dr Henry’s Maze congregation as part of his application for the ministry.
Describing him as his “respected brother in Jesus Christ and as a minister of the Gospel of God,” to those graduating, their families and friends, members of Faculty and staff, Professor McClenahan also spoke of the Dr Henry’s clear sense of God’s call on his life to the ministry. This included serving in Whiteabbey Presbyterian Church, as Assistant Minister to Rev Trevor Gribben, who is now Clerk of the General Assembly, and Dr Henry’s call to Maze Presbyterian Church in 1997.
He also told those gathered in the Assembly Hall of Dr Henry’s close involvement with the local community, his 20 year service on the Board of Governors of Meadow Bridge Primary School, for example, of which he was chairman for many years. Mention was also made of the additional responsibility he was given in 2001 for Ballinderry Presbyterian, where he is the Stated Supply minister. His service to the wider church and his work on various church bodies was also detailed.
Speaking of his congregation, and referring to the church’s neighbours at the former prison a few miles away, Professor McClenahan said, “William was installed in Maze at a time in the history of this province when ‘being installed in Maze’ meant only one thing to most people…”
“His ministry has been marked by a number of priorities: priorities with which he began his ministry and which he continues to prioritise. William describes his ministry as ‘nothing out of the ordinary’: a commitment to the Bible, to prayer, and to people. His preaching is clear and challenging. The claims of the Lord Jesus Christ are pressed on those who hear him,” he said.
Speaking of his early days at Maze, which he said was well known to the thousands and thousands of commuters who see it every day from the M1, “The large buildings and the young vibrant congregation should not mask for us the history of William’s ministry. By his own testimony the early years in the congregation were far from encouraging. There may be over 100 people in bible study groups today, but there were 6 at his first midweek, 5 at his second.”
Professor McClenahan, however, spoke of a key moment in those early years when a visiting speaker spoke about Joseph and the time that he spent in an Egyptian dungeon. The story not only strengthened Dr Henry’s resolve, but reassured him that he was in the place where God wanted him to be.
Looking to the immediate future, Professor McClenahan concluded by saying, “The Church awaits his term of office with anticipation that his leadership will enable us to understand our contemporary situation more clearly and to grasp more fully the significance of Jesus Christ and his cross for this generation. We assure him, is wife Nora, and children Bethany, Megan, and Connor of our warm good wishes and prayers for the year ahead.”
The evening was presided over by the Principal of Union Theological College, Very Rev Professor Stafford Carson. The former Moderator congratulated the Church’s next holder of the office on his honorary doctorate, along with the graduates and the ministry students in particular, congratulating them on reaching this stage in their preparation for ministry.
“It has been a joy and a delight to work with these students and to see them develop and mature as they prepare for the next chapter in their ministry. We are thrilled and excited that you can look forward to full-time ministry within our Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Many of us believe that the local congregation is ‘where the action is’, in terms of the advancement of the kingdom of God. To be actively involved in that work of preaching and pastoring and leading a local congregation is a challenging task, but one which can be so fruitful, so rewarding and is so God-honouring,” he said.
“We pray for you what the Apostle prayed for the Colossians that “just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, you may continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”