Northern Ireland

'Zoom wall' guests involved in Church service

The Rev Dr Tom McKnight has been installed as the Methodist Church's president
The Rev Dr Tom McKnight has been installed as the Methodist Church's president

UNLESS you happened to be a video conferencing enthusiast, "honoured guests on the Zoom wall" is a phrase almost no-one was familiar with this time last year.

The fact that it didn't raise an eyebrow at last night's service to install the Methodist Church's new president and lay leader is a reminder of just how completely coronavirus has changed every facet of life.

Social distancing, another essential element of the Covid-19 era, meant that just five people were involved in a ceremony which traditionally takes place in front of a large congregation, including representatives from other traditions.

Those who followed the livestreaming - a by-now familiar aspect of church activity - saw the Rev Dr Tom McKnight, minister of Donaghadee Methodist, become the denomination's president, a position he will hold for the next 12 months. He succeeds Rev Sam McGuffin.

Hazel Loney also took up her role as lay leader, which carries a two-year term.

In his remarks, Dr McKnight addressed "honoured guests on the Zoom wall and those joining online, including my friends and family in Dallas".

He said he had chosen "grace without limits" as the theme for his year in office.

Methodists traditionally hold their annual meeting of lay people and clergy, called the Conference, in early June but the coronavirus restrictions meant it could not go ahead as normal.

If the public health situation allows, they hope to hold the Conference in October.

Last night's service was hosted by the Presbyterian Church in Assembly Buildings, Belfast, and in a further inter-denominational nod, Dr McKnight's 'presidential stole' was gifted by not only his own Donaghadee congregation but also the town's Church of Ireland parish.

"I doubt that our Church - I doubt that society - will ever be the same again," he said.

"Covid-19 should teach us that to meet together we don't always need to travel, with the time, expense, and harm to the environment that entails.

"And the protests following the heart-rending death of George Floyd should remind us that we must not limit our understanding of God’s grace to those like ourselves and that, as has often been repeated, 'Black Lives Matter'."

Mrs Loney, whose husband Bobby is a Methodist minister, is a well known figure in the Church.

They previously worked in Indonesia and she said that mission was at the heart of the Christian calling.

"It's not so much the case that God has a mission for His Church in the world, as that God has a Church for His mission in the world," she said.