Church elects new moderator

A former missionary in Indonesia has been appointed as the new moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Reverend Ken Newell of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast was elected on Tuesday by 12 out of the 21 presbyteries which comprise the church's General Assembly.

The other nominee, Dr Harry Uprichard, minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Ahoghill, received nine votes.

The vote was taken after a poll last month ended in a tie for the second year in a row.

Mr Newell, 60, said he was "surprised, delighted and humbled at the support for me which has remained since last year."

He added: "I'm also appreciative of the support given to me by Dr Uprichard. The year ahead is a great opportunity to serve Christ and the church and strengthen the bonds of unity within the church."

Ken Newell described his ministry as "attempting to bridge the gap between the church and those for whom the church is an alien place".

He said he was from a strong evangelical tradition but also described himself as "comfortable and relaxed within the wider Christian ecumenical family".

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Wednesday, Mr Newell said the unionist community had "taken a hammering" over the years but that he sensed a growing confidence.

However, he added that only the "burial" of all paramilitary activity was needed to build inclusive politics.

"I think both of the large unionist parties do reflect constituencies that are united in one thing and that is they want to develop inclusive, positive co-operative politics," he said.

"But that can only be done if we as a community encourage very soon and very seriously the burial of all paramilitary activity and violence."

Governing bodies

In an initiative between 1990 and 1993, Mr Newell was involved with others in separate dialogue with Sinn Fein and loyalist paramilitary groupings which helped create an atmosphere in which ceasefires could be discussed and agreed.

More recently, he served as chaplain to Belfast's first SDLP Lord Mayor Alban Maginness.

Mr Newell will succeed the current moderator Dr Ivan McKay whose year of office ends in June.

Presbyteries are the governing bodies responsible for groups of about 25 congregations in different areas.

Each one has a membership composed of all the ministers and a representative elder from every congregation in its area.

The members of each presbytery vote among themselves to decide who their presbytery will nominate.