Paisley steps down from pulpit after 60 years of preaching
Published 19/12/2011 | 05:00
A LITTLE bit of history was made last night when Ian Paisley delivered his last sermon from the pulpit.
The former Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader has already retired from politics and now his ministry, which has spanned more than 60 years, is also winding down.
The 85-year-old gave his last sermon at the packed Martyrs' Memorial Church on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast.
Ahead of his final sermon, Dr Paisley said he was relinquishing some duties as he prepared to write his memoirs.
"People are facing the fact that we're all getting older and they have to look that straight in the face; you can't go on forever," Dr Paisley said.
He said he didn't have any unfulfilled ambitions, apart from writing about some of the "very interesting happenings" he has experienced in his life.
"There's a public image of man and a private image and I think the interesting thing is the comparison of both," Dr Paisley said.
"We're all weak and the strongest man is only a pygmy. I'm delighted that people are prepared to listen to me."
Last month he broke the news to his congregation that he was standing down from the Free Presbyterian Church.
But last night he vowed not to do a disappearing act from the church he helped establish 60 years ago.
He will remain the pastor emeritus and do a small amount of church-related work.
"I'll be back in pulpits but not in the sense of being in charge of the church," he said.
Highlighting the achievements of his long career, Dr Paisley said his ministry was one of converting people who were far away from the Gospel.
"I have seen people change, enjoying the peace of God," he said.
"My last sermon will be very interesting because it's about things you can't beat God on such as eternity and death.
"Mankind is put in his proper place by God and if you face up to the omnipotence of God and the ambitions of God and so on, man is a very poor person and he needs the strength of the almighty to get him through."
First Minister of the Stormont Assembly until 2008, he set up the Free Presbyterian Church in 1951 after a split with the main Presbyterian Church.
The Armagh-born leader, who stepped down as an MEP in 2004 and retired as MP for North Antrim after 40 years ahead of the 2010 general election, was moderator of the church he founded for most of its history.
Known throughout the world as a powerful evangelical orator, he stepped down from the role three years ago, but continued to preach in Martyrs' Memorial.
The former DUP leader, who has been at the forefront of political and religious life in the North during his long career, said he has never set out to offend Catholics and intended to remain active during his retirement.
"I will be telling some stories that will make some people laugh and others blush," he said.
A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor said: "We wish Rev Ian Paisley best wishes and every blessing in his retirement."