The new Presbyterian Moderator, former teacher, the Rev Noble McNeely, is a minister who places a strong emphasis on evangelism.
The 63-year-old First Holywood Church cleric was a teacher before he entered the Presbyterian ministry and, while he would be seen as a conservative to middle churchmen, he has a reputation of reaching out to other denominations in the North Down area.
Mr McNeely has a clear overall mandate for his year as moderator, winning the votes of 10 of the 19 presbyteries in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in a contest that involved three other ministers. He succeeds present moderator the Rev Dr Frank Sellar at the Church’s General Assembly in June.
The stipulation that a Presbyterian moderator can only serve a one-year term does hamper continuity in the leadership of the church. A moderator is elected in February, installed in June, but from the following February, he is effectively in count-down mode until his successor is installed the following June.
A two-year term would undoubtedly give a Presbyterian Moderator more time to inject his personal leadership qualities and theological and social interpretations into the position. However, it is highly unlikely that the Irish Presbyterian establishment would move away from a tradition that has been in practice since 1840.
The new moderator sees his role as an opportunity to serve Christ and his church.
“I recognise the responsibility that has been entrusted to me and I pray that with God’s help I will be able to fulfil expectations,” he said.
Belfast-born Mr McNeely was brought up in Crossgar, Co Down where his family worshipped at Lissara Church. He taught craft and design at Deramore High School (now Balmoral High) in Belfast for two years before beginning studies at Presbyterian Union College. He was assistant minister in South Belfast’s Fisherwick Church in 1982, before moving to First Ballymoney in 1984 where he served for 13 years.
His thriving First Holywood congregation has 380 families comprising 890 worshippers.
“Holywood is a town with a good community spirit and the congregation has contributed widely to good community relations. A big influence on my call to ministry has involved youth work and evangelism with the Evangelical Youth Movement. I have always been keen on sport, using it as a means of reaching people for Christ. I’ve had some experience in chaplaincy in sport and believe this is a great avenue for evangelism to young people as well.”
As a keen Tottenham Hotspur supporter, he often makes the trek to White Hart Lane in London.
Mr Neely pointed out this year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. “I hope I can emphasise and preach on the great principles and Reformation doctrines, such as ‘justification by faith alone’,” he said.
“I am also looking forward to visiting and encouraging congregations across Ireland. I look forward to visiting the more recent generation of ministers and possibly giving them some encouragement in their ministry.”