New President

The Rev Dr Laurence Graham, a President who will be concerned with worldwide mission

The President Designate is profiled by the Rev Nigel Mackey.

 

At his ordination in St Luke’s in Cork, Laurence introduced himself to Conference as a ‘son of the manse’. He was not just describing a mechanical relationship with a particular house or church or even an individual youth group, but rather that the nature of his upbringing was such that his whole experience of life, love, faith and family was imbued with meaning from within home and beyond. He is a product of a rich and varied movement of the Holy Spirit that has taken him around Ireland and overseas in service to a call that was heeded earlier by his grandparents, parents and uncles.

Now that call is tested in partnership with his wife, Karen, and heeded by his children, Hope and Paul, as they continue the service of the Gospel from within the community called Methodist in Ireland and abroad. It is this faithfulness to the call that has led Laurence to respond to this high office within the Church and to serve in this capacity for the coming year.

Laurence was born 1968 in Lisburn, County Antrim, but almost immediately travelled to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) where his parents, Winston and Blanche, were mission partners. He returned to Ireland before his second birthday and has fond, early memories of Birr, County Offaly, where he began his schooling at St John’s National School. He moved regularly in response to his father’s itinerancy, growing up in Dunkineely, County Donegal, and Portrush and Glengormley, County Antrim.

It was at Portrush CSSM, at the age of 12, that Laurence made a personal decision to ask Jesus to be his Lord and Saviour. He was also deeply affected by his time in the Glengormley youth choir, where he sang loudly if somewhat tunelessly. The friends he made there have been lifelong, especially Karen Owens, the love of his life.

After A-Levels, (physics, chemistry and biology), Laurence spent three years in Reading University studying for a BSc in agriculture. There he was fully involved in the Christian Union and debated in the Students Union on many issues still pertinent to the work of our Council on Social Responsibility today.

In 1990, Laurence went with the Methodist Missionary Society to be a mission partner with the Methodist Church of Haiti. He went there as an agriculturist and most definitely did not feel called to the Methodist ministry. However, it was in Haiti that a call to ministry began to stir and so he went on trial as a local preacher. His first sermons were preached in Haitian Creole.

In September 1991, Laurence was providentially evacuated from Haiti after a coup d’état and ended up spending ten months in Antigua, again working on an agricultural project with the Church there. In Antigua, he had many more opportunities to preach (this time in English) and he also began to complete his local preacher’s studies.

On returning to Ireland in 1992, he successfully applied for a position as Lay Pastoral Assistant at Cregagh Methodist church. This was a time for him to test this growing call to ministry and also to finish the remaining local preacher’s studies. After two years in Cregagh, Laurence candidated for the ministry and entered Edgehill College in 1994.

As single students, Laurence and I were obliged to live in and we became firm friends and colleagues. We courted our then girlfriends (now wives) on parallel dates. We would ride up to Ballyclare and Glengormley on Laurence’s 250cc motorbike at break-neck speed, Laurence up front manoeuvring Haitian style and me clinging on whilst learning deep prayer!

In 1997, Laurence married Karen, graduated with a BD, left the sanctuary of Edgehill and went to Longford, all within a three-week period! We spent many Saturdays, prior to children, learning together to hear from God and deepen the spiritual tools required for ministry in the modern world. Laurence and Karen’s amazing son Samuel was born in Longford. His short, but beautiful and joy-filled life ended tragically with many tears only nine weeks later. I will never forget being called by a prefect from class to go to the Children’s Hospital in Crumlin to minister to my friends as Samuel died. Those moments and prayers still evoke deep emotions today. Samuel is buried in Longford and his grave is an annual pilgrimage for the family.

Five years in Longford were followed by six in Cork and seven in Killarney, during which multiple congregations were planted. Hope and Paul were both born in Cork, and have, since moving to Dublin, harboured a deep longing for the wilds of the west. Hope is now studying in Wesley College and Paul, a dedicated Kerry supporter, is in Whitechurch National School.

Recently Laurence, an avid lifelong learner, completed a PhD at Queen’s University Belfast, analysing the methods of mission of the Early Church. This study is particularly applicable to the church expansion currently being sought in the Dublin District, in particular in the multinational environment of Dublin Central Mission, where Laurence is the Superintendent. Laurence is also ministerial secretary of MMS(I), which has ongoing projects in mission and reconstruction in Haiti.

With such a young family, I beseech the Connexion to uphold Karen in prayer as she cares for the children in a year when enormous demands will be placed on Laurence’s time. We pray that, as they lead the Church, they will know God’s richest blessing and provision. And we hope that Laurence’s message, calling the Church to serve and share Christ deeply and fearlessly, will be used by the Holy Spirit to encourage renewal and mission across this island and beyond.

 

Methodist Newsletter June 2017