The new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will start the role next week.
Rev William Henry, who was brought up in Mullusk and attended Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, has received an honorary doctorate in advance of becoming the 174th Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland next Monday.
The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon the former Antrim Grammar School student by the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland (PTFI) at its annual graduation ceremony at the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Assembly Buildings in Belfast on Thursday, May 23.
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 five ministry students at Union Theological College (UTC) graduating with Postgraduate Diploma in Ministry and two 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 Minister of Maze Presbyterian Church, which included an eight-week placement in Dr Henry’s 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.”
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, he said: “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 six at his first midweek, five 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, his 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.
Dr Henry was selected by a vote of the Church’s 19 presbyteries on February 5 and will be officially elected and installed at the Opening Night of this year’s week-long General Assembly, which opens on the evening of June 3.
The Opening Night will be streamed live on the PCI website, www.presbyterianireland.org
It will also be broadcast live on BBC Radio Ulster 1341 Medium Wave. The live stream will continue throughout the General Assembly, which closes on June 7.
You can also follow the debates on Twitter @pciassembly using the hashtag #PCIGA19.