Woman in running to become first female Moderator of Irish Presbyterians

Presbyterianism is the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland

For the first time the Presbyterian Church in Ireland may be about to elect its first female Moderator, or principal public representative.

Elections for the post take place in 19 presbyteries throughout the island on Tuesday February 5th and four Ministers are allowing their names go forward.

Among them is Rev Mairisíne Stanfield (53) minister of First Presbyterian Church, Bangor in Co Down since 2013. Ordained in 1990 as assistant minister of Regent Street Presbyterian Church, Newtownards Co Down she was installed as minister of First Presbyterian Church, Ballynahinch Co Down in 1993, before being called to First Bangor 20 years later.

The other three candidates are Rev David Bruce (61), secretary to the Church's Council for Mission in Ireland; Rev William Henry (50) of Maze Presbyterian Church at Lisburn, Co Antrim; and Rev Albin Rankin (55) of Stormont Presbyterian Church in Belfast.


The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland holds the post for one year, from June, or from General Assembly to General Assembly. The current Moderator is Rev Dr Charles McMullen.

Of the Church's 19 presbyteries on the island those of Monaghan and Dublin, as well as Munster are in the Republic, while the presbyteries of Derry and Donegal are cross-border. All others are in Northern Ireland.

Each presbytery is made up of Ministers and Elders, drawn from the local congregation.They are responsible for overseeing the congregation as well as the annual election of a Moderator.

As is the tradition on the first Tuesday of February, next week Ministers and elders from 535 Presbyterian congregations on the island will gather in their respective presbyteries to select by majority vote their nominee as next Moderator.The overall result is usually available by 9pm on the Tuesday evening.

The first woman ordained a Presbyterian Minister in Ireland was Rev Ruth Patterson OBE in 1976. Since then three women Ministers have received nominations for Moderator but none has been elected.

Irish Presbyterianism has its origins in Scottish migrations to Ulster in the early 17th Century. Ballycarry Presbyterian Church in Co Antrim is the oldest congregation on the island, dating back to 1613. The newest is Donabate Presbyterian Church in Dublin which opened its doors in 2010.

The largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has approximately 220,000 members on the island.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times