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World News

Irish Presbyterian Church assembly meets in person for first time in two years

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is holding its first general assembly meeting for over two years.

Around 450 ministers and elders from congregations across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will meet in Belfast from Monday to Wednesday.

Topics of discussion will include vaccines, climate change, gender identity and issues related to the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The current moderator of the church, Rev Dr David Bruce, will also be confirmed for a second term of office. Rev Bruce will be the first moderator to serve consecutive terms since 1894. 

In his opening remarks, Rev Bruce paraphrased some of the remarks he delivered at an event two weeks ago which marked the centernary of the first sitting of the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1921. Rev Bruce implored colleagues to "work tirelessly to sort out the new configurations of our cultural, commercial and spiritual connections" across the island of Ireland.

As he reflected "on the future of Ireland and its people", Rev Bruce urged Christians "to be a people of hope rather than despair", adding that "the gospel surely demands this of us". 

Rev Bruce noted that he "did not want to minimise the challenges of speaking grace into some of the most contentious issues facing us in the public sphere for generations", before mentioning "ethical issues" relating to sexuality, human identity and gender.

He also addressed the legacy of the Troubles and justice for victims:

"The question of legacy and the need for justice for victims of the troubles is by their own admission the most complex matter facing legislators in the current round," he said.  

Rev Bruce added that criminal prosecutions "may not be feasible in the vast majority of cases, not because of a lack of political will, but because of the entirely appropriate high threshold of evidence and proof required, beyond reasonable doubt, to secure a criminal conviction".

"Does this leave victims without hope?" he asked. "Perhaps some families might take comfort and even a degree of resolution in a separate process which offers, on the balance of probabilities, an outcome which while short of a criminal conviction, may nonetheless provide a degree of closure for them.

"As pastors and leaders of churches, this may be welcomed by many."

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