The Rev Kenny Hanna started work last week as the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) first Rural Chaplain.
Having been commissioned and inducted into this new pioneering role at a special service held in Mourne Presbyterian Church, Kilkeel, on Sunday, November 7, he has hit the ground running.
On Monday evening he was out with farmers at the Downpatrick Mart, Tuesday saw him at the Mart in Rathfriland and on Thursday he was at the sheep sale in Hilltown.
The new Rural Chaplin will operate in four of PCI’s 19 regional presbyteries – the Presbyteries of Armagh, Down, Iveagh, and Newry – which means that Mr Hanna’s focus will be on farmers and farming families who work and live in all of County Armagh and most of County Down.
The main function of the new role is to provide a chaplaincy service to the rural and farming communities prioritising the pastoral and spiritual needs that are associated with geographical and social isolation of those working in the rural and agri-food sectors.
Mr Hanna’s announcement as Rural Chaplain was made last month at the PCI’s General Assembly.
The new role has been developed by the Church’s Council for Mission in Ireland (CMI) and is part of the Rural Chaplaincy Pilot Scheme, which will be for an initial three-year period, subject to review.
The council provides operational management and support to a range of missional activities on the island of Ireland, including the provision of chaplaincy services in universities and colleges, the healthcare system, the prison service and the armed forces.
The Commissioning Service was held by the Presbytery of Newry and was conducted by its Moderator, the Rev Robert McClure, minister of Newtownhamilton and Freeduff.
Speaking after his commissioning to the 500 or so members of Mourne Presbyterian, friends and family, along with representatives from various agri-food and rural agencies, farming organisations and sectoral bodies, Mr Hanna said that he had been “so humbled and encouraged by everyone who has come, especially the key players in the rural sector… I believe that we have a common goal and our common goal is to care for farmers and farming families…”
Mr Hanna, who grew up on the family farm in the Kingdom of Mourne, had been in parish ministry since 2001, serving for the past 10 years as minister of Second Dromara Presbyterian Church.
“If anything is to be done of eternal value through this post, Kenny Hanna will not do it, God will do it, and God will do that if we pray…
“This post is about Jesus, all about Him, centred on farmers and farming families.
“It is important work because it is about farmers and farming families and they are massively important to me.
“I also want to make it clear that I am here for any farmer and any farming family from any background,” Mr Hanna said.
He told the congregation: “Farming is in my blood. I’ve been away from our farm for 27 years, but have enjoyed being a part-time farmer when I have had the opportunity.”
He also talked about working in partnership with the four presbyteries, the 100 or so congregations across them and “the wider rural fraternity”.
Mr Hanna also said the he would be an accessible rural chaplain, both in person and via Facebook and Instagram, along with the Rural Chaplain’s diary, which will appear in the farming Press.
Summing up the rural chaplaincy and his new role, he said: “As a farmer and a pastor with a farmer’s heart, I long for farmers and their families to know Jesus the Good Shepherd.”
PCI’s rural chaplaincy will cover an area that reaches from Comber in the north, along the western shores of Strangford Lough, and down the coast to Ardglass and on to Warrenpoint.
It also takes in the towns and villages as far west as Benburb, reaching up once more to the southern shores of Lough Neagh.
As part of the service the Rev Gareth McFadden, convener of CMI’s Rural Chaplaincy Task Group, which undertook the work to establish the role, explained the reasoning behind it.
The minister of Kilbride Presbyterian Church near Bally-clare in County Antrim said: “It is a very important role and the vision has been to create this full-time position to work in the four presbyteries… and is being made in the prayer that what is sown in this pioneering ministry will be blessed by God with a long-term harvest of effectiveness.”
Mr McFadden said the Church has many rural congregations that are active in their local communities “…and much good work is already underway.
“The Rural Chaplain will not operate instead of, or above congregational minsters in their local setting, but will be a member of the team… adding to the work that meets the needs of the community, especially the pastoral and spiritual needs associated with social isolation of those working in the agri sector.”
He said that the work was about “building relationships within the rural community and sharing the Good News of Jesus relevantly and warmly with people of all backgrounds”.
During the service, Mourne Presbyterian’s minister, the Rev William Bingham, also offered his congratulations on Mr Hanna’s call and induction as Rural Chaplain, saying: “…in one sense you go where no PCI minister has ever gone before…
“We are glad of the enthusiasm you have for this post, we are so glad of this sheer sense of the call of God upon your life to this ministry…”
Preaching on John 10:1-18, which had been read earlier by William Irvine, Deputy President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union and an elder in Mountnorris Presbyterian Church, Mr Bingham preached on what makes a ‘good shepherd’.
Following the service, PCI’s Moderator, the Right Rev Dr David Bruce, brought his own personal greeting.
Dr Bruce said that he had known Mr Hanna since the latter had became a Christian in the early 1990s.
“Across the Presbyterian Church in Ireland we are standing with you today. All 500-plus congregations, north, south, east and west, we are all in one way or another journeying with you, and we are just thrilled and delighted that we are at this stage.
“Kenny understands the context and setting that God has clearly called him to minister.
“May you know God’s blessing as you go about this strategically important work for the glory of Christ,” he said.