Rev’d Tony Davidson DD (minister of First Armagh)View all articles
At the recent “virtual” graduation ceremony for The Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland, two honorary degrees were awarded. One of those honoured was the minister of First Presbyterian Church, Armagh, Rev Dr Tony Davidson. Tony describes his long-standing friendship with the other honorary graduate, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, this year’s Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Proverbs 27v17 - “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another.”
In 1978, I was elected onto the executive committee of the Christian Union, in Queen’s University in Belfast. This group of 9 creative, sincere, young people were thrown together on the basis of our christian commitment, educational opportunity, and leadership skills. It was during that year that I first befriended David Bruce. This raw, ginger haired, Doctor’s son from Lurgan was highly organised, enthusiastic, bordering on the intense, and hugely talented. His drama skills stretched to playing a deliberately, wayward Prodigal Son. In 1980 I followed David to King’s College, Aberdeen to train for the ministry.Theological study and being President of Aberdeen University Christian Union had honed his leadership skills and matured his thinking. We both undertook a course entitled “the Church in the modern world,” where various lecturers presented a short course on their area of expertise. They were all humble enough to allow themselves to be questioned by two inquisitive young Irish students, trying to work out how the Bible would apply to our future ministries in a conflicted neighbouring island.
Meanwhile our friendship grew as we shared perilous winter journeys to and from Stranraer. Our friendship was tested on the soccer field, as the tall, gangly David played goalkeeper, and I played right back on the Divinity Faculty team. A few dodgy pass backs and slipped crosses may have caused occasional steely looks and quick interchanges of opinions. Thankfully we didn’t take our soccer as seriously as our theology.
On return to Belfast, we both embarqued on final year studies in Union Theological College in Belfast, and again had the opportunity to have almost private classes on the Westminster Confession of Faith with Professor John Thompson.
As the 80s merged into the 90s, David by now married to Zoe, and I to Christine, were both called to congregations in the Dublin and Munster Presbytery. I remember a few Monday morning rendezvous in cafes in the Midlands, half way between Dublin and Limerick, as well as socialising on holidays in Portrush with our growing families.
As we both were called back north it was easy to renew our friendship.Over the years we have shared a love of words and books. David has a remarkable ability to express profound ideas, freshly and creatively. We participated, with others, in a poetry evening in the Market Place Theatre, Armagh and have met regularly with other friends to ponder the meaning of books as well as enjoying regular Friday night get togethers with Christine and Zoe, to go the cinema or theatre or just eat and talk together.In more than forty years of friendship there have been many occasions when David and I would have disagreed. Our friendship has allowed us to develop our ideas, spiritualities, and personalities at different paces. Our family backgrounds, ministerial contexts, and time pressures have often led us down different paths but we have enjoyed being sharpened by each other. In the last month we have both become grandfathers again. Then last Friday we both received honorary Doctors of Divinity from the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland.Knowing David as well as I do, I am convinced God has given him the wisdom, gravitas, humour, and courage to give the denomination real leadership through these unusual times. Do continue to pray that God would guide him through the unpredictable year that is to come.