Friday morning I spoke at a fraternal for ministers, their wives, and church workers at the Mount Merrion Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast on “Maintaining a Healthy Devotional Life in the Ministry.” Mount Merrion FP is pastored by Rev. Paul Thompson. It was great to meet other familiar ministerial friends there, including Revs. Stanley Barnes, Alan Cairns, Ron Johnson, and Andrew Woolsey. In the afternoon Mary and I visited Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Murdoch and saw his antiquarian book collection. In the adjacent photograph, I am pointing to one of ten volumes by Thomas Smyth—a rare set of complete works by a remarkably able and prolific divine that I do not possess. I will be the first bidder if Jimmy decides to sell it!
In the evening, we had dinner and wonderful fellowship at the home of Rev. Paul and Kay Thompson family (7 beautiful children), together with Rev. Alan and Joan Cairns and Rev. Stanley and Ina Barnes. Both Rev. Cairns and Rev. Barnes have a lifetime of ministerial experience behind them (both ordained in the 1960s), so I took the liberty to ask them a number of questions about the past revival they went through in their denomination (the FP) in the mid-1960s, about what was most important in the ministry as they looked back, and about how it felt now to be “retired” without a congregation, though both men maintain an itinerate ministry. I wish I had taped some of their memorable answers. Both men stressed how unworthy they were to be ministers of the gospel and yet what a privilege it was to serve the Lord Christ. They both miss full-time ministry immensely—as do their loving, faithful spouses. (Meanwhile, Mary was asking them similar questions about being ministers’ wives for several decades!) I was particularly impressed with a lengthy answer that Rev. Barnes gave stressing the importance of magnifying the loftiness of the ministry. I again felt how much we have in common with these FP ministers. I spoke three times on Saturday, February 8, at the Whiteabbey Congregational Church to about 170 people at the Puritan Conference: The Puritan Theology of Worship; William Gouge on Living in the Family; Practical Lessons from the Puritans for Today. That evening we spent some time relaxing with the Dowling family and their precious children. After playing hide-and-seek with the children, Rebekah Dowling beat us all quite badly in a game of Monopoly, to our great sorrow. We are coming home soon—very bankrupt. On Sunday morning, I preached on Jesus’ tears at the Belfast Mount Merrion FP Church for Rev. Paul Dowling. We then were taken to our very good friends, Rev. Andrew and Joan Woolsey, to have lunch in their Crumlin home, before driving to preach in the evening on Jesus’s Tears and Ours in Omagh Evangelical Presbyterian Church for Rev. Andrew Lucas, who has become a new friend.