For the first time since 1894, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) will have a moderator serve a second term of office.
Normally, moderators only serve for one year. They're formally elected annually by the Assembly at its opening meeting, with the nominee having been selected by PCI's 19 regional presbyteries earlier that year.
This time around, Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland explained that following normal practice, towards the end of 2020, PCI's presbyteries forwarded to him the names of ministers who they would like to see considered as the denomination's next Moderator.
He then wrote to each minister to see if they would be willing to allow their name go forward to the next stage, which is the selection of the Moderator-Designate by voting in presbyteries meeting separately across Ireland in February.
"When I heard back from each colleague, only one minister, David Bruce, our current Moderator, consented to his name going before presbyteries for consideration, which by convention should have taken place on the first Tuesday in February," Rev Gribben said.
"Taking an overview of the current situation, with our presbyteries not being able to meet physically, due to current restrictions in both jurisdictions, and the fact that only one name was under consideration, the General Council's Standing Committee, acting with delegated authority, unanimously agreed that Dr Bruce's name be forwarded to the General Assembly for appointment as Moderator for the 2021-2022 church year."
He said that this rare occurrence is another sign of the coronavirus shaking up the way churches operate.
"As we have journeyed through these last 11 months, the rhythm of church life, and life in general, has changed dramatically for us all," he said.
"We have learned what it means to walk by faith, and not by sight, and we have experienced the amazing grace of our faithful God as he led us on that journey. The nomination of our current Moderator to serve a second term is a significant change. Since our General Assembly came into being in 1840, this has only happened on six previous occasions, the last time being in 1894, 127 years ago.
"However, the outcome of this year's nomination process is a further demonstration not only of the unprecedented times that we are living through, but also of leading of the Lord, as we have prayerfully sought his guidance for the days ahead."
Dr Bruce has said he's "honoured to serve a second term".
"To be considered for a second time is also truly humbling," he said.
"When I was first nominated a year ago, no one could have possibly anticipated the challenges that we would face the following month, let alone a year on. The whole of our society - indeed the entire world - has had to face a pandemic which has devastated economies, destabilised governments and led to the deaths of millions of people. Perhaps the world will never know the full cost of the spread of Covid-19 and its variants.
"In addition, and in Ireland, north and south, 2020 began and ended with Brexit, the complex implications of which are being played out before us right now. The Church currently finds itself unable to meet face-to-face for worship, and with its normal programme of activities heavily curtailed. Ministers, pastors and priests of all traditions are re-inventing their patterns of life, while doing their utmost to act in support of families, many of which are in crisis. These are difficult days for us all."
He added that he hopes to share a message of hope during his second term.
"..…Just as the dawn comes after a dark night, and spring arrives after a long winter, for the Christian, resurrection bursts upon us after the devastation of the Crucifixion. As Moderator I will aim to bring a message of hope in the coming year, with the prayer that when the restrictions begin to lift and the amazing vaccines, which have been offered to us all, begin to have their effect, we will emerge again, ready to serve and love and worship as God's people.
"This is not a time for grand promises and detailed plans. This is a time for careful reflection and faithful trust that God will see us through. There is hope."
Once coronavirus regulations allow, Dr Bruce and his wife Zoe hope to travel across Ireland meet congregations during the year.
The Moderator concluded by saying, "My wife Zoe and I hope that, regulations permitting, we may be able to travel across Ireland to visit and encourage congregations, and presbyteries during the year. We pray for our overseas partners in some of the poorest regions of the world, and hope that we might be able to offer encouragement to them by standing with them in solidarity as they seek to bear witness to Christ in face of unimaginable challenges. In short, we hope to serve the Church in this year, and by doing so, to honour Christ who has loved us and called us."
Listen to Premier's interview with Dr Bruce here: