Dr Bruce was speaking during his visit to Iveagh Iveagh PCI Rectory, which involved farm visits and lunch with senior agricultural representatives and the denomination’s rural chaplain.
The meetings and visits were part of 20 separate engagements during his week-long tour to one of ICP’s 19 regional presbyteries. The parsonage itself covers an area of the popular seaside town of Newcastle to the east, then stretches northwest through the foothills of the Morne and the Bann Valley, passing through the towns of Rathfriland and Banbridge . It then extends to Gilford, Donacloney and Tandragee on its western border.
During a working lunch in Banbridge with Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) President Victor Chestnutt, UFU Chief Executive Wesley Aston, John McCallister, who represented the President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, and the Rev. Kenny Hanna, ICP Rural Chaplain, Dr Bruce heard and discussed the concerns of farmers and farm families.
“As a church, we seek to be active in meeting with a range of public representatives and sector groups to listen, discuss their concerns, hear and understand the issues they face. Presbytery visits are primarily pastoral visits to the local church, to encourage and see firsthand the work they do in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, but also opportunities to meet others who serve to different titles,” Dr. Bruce said. .
“We had an in-depth and very informative discussion on many issues that continue to impact farmers and rural communities. These included, Covid, the potential impact of climate change legislation pending in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Brexit outcome, related ongoing negotiations around the Northern Ireland Protocol North and the opportunity to develop a new policy to support agriculture,” he said.
“We also heard about the sustained and heartbreaking impact of bovine tuberculosis on local farms and possible mitigations, as well as the likely global impact on grain supply and what that and the increase in Energy and fertilizer prices will mean to local farmers as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Discussions also focused on the impressive work being done on sustainability and how whose local farmers “were on the page” when it came to farming with nature and leadership in carbon sequestration.”
Dr Bruce continued: “Farming is not easy at the best of times, but what has been very clear to me is the resilience, persistence and determination of those who work the land in our interest to all. As they seek to produce our food and run the countryside we know and love, in increasingly difficult times, I wanted to make it clear that the wider church cares and is committed to those charged with managing God’s provision. They all deserve our prayers – and not just at harvest time.
Accompanied by ICP Rural Chaplain Reverend Kenny Hanna and Reverend Mark McMaw, Minister of the Presbyterian Church of Tandragee, Dr Bruce then spent a rather wet afternoon visiting two dairy farms around the town of County Armagh and talking to farmers.
Speaking of the day and his role as a rural chaplain, Mr Hanna said, “Farming is in my blood and although I was away from our farm for 27 years, I enjoyed being a part-time farmer when I had the chance. . As the moderator said, farming is not easy, it is a 24/7, 365 day a year occupation that comes with all kinds of trials and tribulations . At the same time, there is also joy and contentment in a very personal vocation and connection to the land, a connection that often goes back several generations.
“As Christians, we care about farmers and farm families, just as Jesus cares about them, because he came as a good shepherd to lay down his life on the cross so we can be forgiven. This is why these meetings have been useful and highly appreciated. We are also a very rural church and we are here to pastorally support farmers, regardless of their church background, or none, working with them and their representatives in partnership as part of our mission.