Woman cleric in race to be new Presbyterian moderator
A woman peace activist is in the race to become the first female Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The Reverend Ruth Patterson is in the running for the church's top office in a field of six candidates.
The winner will be elected by 19 presbyteries in the Republic and Northern Ireland in a first-past-the-post ballot tomorrow evening.
Ms Patterson became the church's first ordained woman minister in 1976.
In 2001, she became the first woman to be awarded an honorary doctorate by Union Theological College in Belfast, in recognition of her peace and reconciliation work.
In 2003, the Dunmurry-based pastor was voted Moderator of the Synod of Belfast.
This will be the third time Ms Patterson, who is on the liberal wing of the church, has been tipped for the moderator position, which is a rotating one-year post.
However, Ms Patterson is viewed by some as too pro-Rome on account of her ecumenical activities and writings.
Informed church sources in Belfast told the Irish Independent that Ms Patterson would not be the bookies' favourite.
The front-runners are the Reverend Norman Hamilton (64), minister of Ballysillan in north Belfast; and the Reverend Derek McKelvey (65), of the fashionable Fisherwick Church in south Belfast.
Last year, Mr Hamilton and Mr McKelvey were runners-up with five and six votes respectively, an inside track that puts both men close to the line for tomorrow's moderator battle.
Insiders, however, have tipped the Reverend Norman McAuley (34), of Newtownards, to emerge as the winner.