The Irish Times

Presbyteri­an Church notes

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Presbyteri­ans in the US have added their voices to protests against presidenti­al candidate Donald Trump’s latest anti-immigrant comments. Although our context is very different, recent comments from the moderator of the Presbyteri­an Church in Ireland seem applicable. The Rt Rev Dr Ian McNie was speaking against the politicall­y loyalist, Protestant Coalition’s anti-refugee march in Belfast. While Dr McNie recognises his responsibi­lity as moderator of the denominati­on across the island, he chose to focus on the specific area of contention.

“As someone with leadership responsibi­lities within the largest Protestant Church in Northern Ireland, I want to state unequivoca­lly that the teaching of scripture is absolutely clear – all Christians are called to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbour.

“Out of heartfelt concern we need to pray for those living in troubled parts of our world and for those fleeing conflict. And when such people come among us, they need to be welcomed with a generosity of spirit that reflects the love that we ourselves have come to know in Jesus Christ. To do anything else dishonours the name of our Lord and saviour.”

In an open letter previously sent to Mr Trump, the clerk of the Presbyteri­an Church (USA) Rev Gradye Parson said, “Presbyteri­ans through decades of policy have demanded humane treatment of people of all nationalit­ies and faiths who find themselves within our border… As a Presbyteri­an I acknowledg­e my immigrant ancestors and my new immigrant sisters and brothers. I also respect that we came uninvited to a land already occupied by people. This creates a sense of humility about my citizenshi­p that shapes my views on those who seek a place here.”

In this advent season, we prepare our hearts and minds to hear afresh the Christmas message of God’s kingdom brought to earth in Christ. In doing so, may we reflect on the truth that the Jesus himself was a refugee, a stranger, an exile, fleeing terror and political despotism. To that end, several Presbyteri­an churches across Ireland have opened their doors to those from overseas who need help.

For example, the Internatio­nal Meeting Point located on Belfast’s Lisburn Road, reaches out to migrants and asylum seekers in the city.

Funded by Irish Presbyteri­ans, via the denominati­on’s United Appeal, and also by the South Belfast Presbytery, the Internatio­nal Meeting Point (IMP) was set up in 2010 by Presbyteri­an Irish mission worker, Keith Preston.

Along with a small team of volunteers, the IMP began serving tea and coffee and offering English classes to migrants and asylum seekers in the city.

Now, five years on, the centre welcomes people from more than 30 different countries and is dedicated to meeting their practical and spiritual needs. Its activities range from serving food and drinks in the cafe, to offering legal advice, English classes, helping the unemployed find jobs, and leading Bible studies. The IMP’s 80 volunteers come from more than 20 churches. Its motivation is to reach out to the stranger with the welcome of God’s love shown to us in Christ.

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