THE Rev Dr Stafford Carson – well-known for his opposition to women ministers - was officially appointed on Tuesday as executive principal of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) Union College in Belfast.
The position was confirmed at the PCI General Assembly in Londonderry. And Dr Carson, minister at First Portadown Presbyterian Church, insisted immediately that he would have no problem being in charge of the College, which trains the Church’s student ministers, among them an ever-increasing number of women.
He said, “I will have no problem being in charge of ‘mixed’ students, and will treat the women and men equally. The rules are set down by the PCI – they decide on the selection process and the courses. It is up to me to oversee the training and act in accordance with the Church’s policies and its courts.”
He insisted this was not in variance with the gender row between his own church and neighbouring Armagh Road Presbyterian back in 2008 when he refused to allow Rev Christina Bradley into his own pulpit for the traditional united Christmas Service, going back the best part of a century. No compromise was reached, the services were abandoned.
“That did cause me some heart searching,” reflected Dr Carson, who was Presbyterian Moderator, 2009-10 and said he was following Scriptures.
Mrs Bradley, though, said she was “deeply hurt” at the time, and is known to be dismayed by the PCI’s opt-out clause that allows male ministers to bar women from their pulpits, even though women have full status within the church generally, with the first - Dr Ruth Patterson – having been ordained over 40 years ago.
However, Dr Carson pointed that he’d had a courteous and happy working relationship with women elders - who have the same status as ministers – when he was ministers at Carnmoney Presbyterian Church from 1991-2000, “and I will show the same equality and courtesy to the women at Union College”.
He has two BSc degree in biology (University of Ulster), two MAs (in education and religion, the latter being from the Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia), plus a Master of Theology from Queen’s, Dr Carson is fully suited to the post. He was Academic Dean the Westminster Seminar from 200-2005 before coming to First Portadown.
He said, “I really enjoy Portadown and will be sad to leave, although my wife and Patricia plan to remain in the town where we have made so many friends. But this is such a challenge and I am looking forward to it.”
Originally from Larne, Dr Carson (61) has a grown-up family – Sara, Luke and Ruth, all living and working in London.