A Short History of the Presbyterian Churches of Ballymoney, County Antrim.

Chapter III.

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FROM 1800 TILL THE PRESENT TIME.

small image IN the Minutes of the Synod of Ulster in 1800 it is reported by the Presbytery of Ballymena "that Rev. Benjamin Mitchell from the Presbytery of Root passed second Tryals with them, but returned to the Presbytery of Root in consequence of a call from Ballymoney, a congregation under the care of that Presbytery. And at the same Synod a memorial was presented from Ballymoney praying to be disannexed from the Presbytery of Root and put under the care of the Presbytery of Ballymena, on account of the treatment which that congregation had received from the Presbytery in the affair of the Rev. Benjamin Mitchell, being a candidate for becoming the stated Pastor of the congregation."

It was unanimously resolved that Ballymoney be put under the care of the Presbytery of Ballymena, and it remained under their care till the union of the two Synods in 1840, when it returned to the Route Presbytery.

The dispute about Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Park says, had reference to his political views. He had been called by a large majority of the people, and some of the minority, supported by several magistrates, petitioned against his settlement amongst them. A committee of Synod was then ordered to proceed to his ordination, and he was ordained in Ballymoney, 12th November, 1800. The weakness of his health, intensified by troubles in the congregation, interfered with the performance of his duties and he resigned in 1815. Miss Mitchell, who still resides in Ballymoney, much respected by the whole community, is a daughter of the late Rev. Benjamin Mitchell.

The congregation of Ballymoney, after hearing on trial a number of licentiates, called the Rev. R Park, M.A., of Stewartstown, a licentiate under the care of the Presbytery of Tyrone, to be their minister, and on the 18th of March, 1817, he was ordained to the pastoral charge of the church. The session of the congregation at this period consisted of

William Thompson, of Greenshields.
James Hopkin, of Ballymoney.
James Small, of Kilmoyle.
James Hemphill, of Culbrim.
William Knox, of Currysiskan.
R McAfee, of Currysiskan.
John Cochran, of Bannside.
Thomas Neill, of Dunaverney.

About the time of Mr. Park's coming to Ballymoney the committee of the congregation were completing the reslating of the front roof of the church, and funds were collected with considerable difficulty, so that the remainder of the work was left over till a later date.

Mr. Park was also very anxious to have the church which stood on the edge of the Fair Hill enclosed by a wall. He was not able to accomplish this design until he received a bequest from Mr. William Dinsmore, "an active zealous supporter of the House," part of which was to go to the poor householders of the parish, 50 to aid in building a wall round the Church, and 5 to buy a Bible cushion. In addition to this bequest 200 was raised by congregational subscriptions, and thus Mr. Park's desire was accomplished in 1818. Still the rear part of the roof of the church required to be renewed, and the congregation seems to have been assessed in 1½ years' stipend, and the work was completed in 1824-25, after an expenditure of about 120.

In 1821 Mr. Neal Kennedy, for many years a member of the congregation, died leaving a sum of about 1,000 to trustees, viz.: "the clergyman of the Church of England and the clergyman of the Church of Scotland of the parish of Ballymoney for the time being," to be invested and the interest applied for the benefit of "poor housekeepers and room-keepers of said town of Ballymoney." This trust has been and is still a great benefit to those for whom it was intended.

 

image: Interior of First Presbyterian Church, Ballymoney.

About the year 1820 the following were added to the Session of the Congregation.

R McFee, of Bootin.
John Wallace, of Lower Bootin.
Hugh Knox, of Secon.
Joseph Small, of Moneygobbin.
R Knox, of Currysiskan.
George Thompson, of Greenshields.
Adam Thompson, M.D., Ballymoney.
John Biggart, of Cabragh.
and at a later date,
William Hopkin, of Cabragh.

"In 1828 Mrs. Hunter died leaving by will directions to her executors to purchase an elegant large Bible and Psalm book to be presented to the Rev. R Park, to be used by him in the public services of the congregation; also a Psalm book to be used by the singing clerk."

At a meeting of Elders during the Synod at Cookstown in 1828, it was agreed to request the Moderator to call the attention of ministers and elders to that part of the Code of Discipline relating to the duties of Sessions in Congregations, with a view to promoting still farther the revival of religion which through the blessing of God had begun amongst them.

At this time Mr. Park refers to a marked improvement begun in the religious condition of the congregation, and in 1828 he brought the matter before the Session. They unanimously agreed to proceed to the election of new elders and to divide the congregation into twenty-four districts.

The following were the elders appointed in 1828:-- William Huston, Peter Gamble, jun., James Hay, William Hopkin, sen., John Brown, jun., James McMaster, John Mullan, R Neillie, Thomas Patton, Andrew McKeague, R Knox, Joseph Small, Hugh Knox, John Hayes, Alex. Creighton, William Moore, George Thompson, Wm. Matthews, John Townsend.

Elaborate arrangements were made for the various duties of this large Session at the communion seasons.

And it is interesting to find that in a historic statement printed after Mr. Park's death, these communion seasons are thus described. "The sacramental seasons under Mr. Park's ministry will never be forgotten. These were the solemn occasions of the year. The usual length of the communion services was from 10-30 to 6 p.m., with about forty minutes' intermission. Usually there were six tables and about six hundred communicants. When the time of awakening came in the Revival of 1859, Mr. Park found that many traced their deep impressions to these solemn communion services."

He was called to the Moderator's Chair of the Synod of Ulster in 1829, and presided at the eventful special meeting at Cookstown, "where occurred the last and most terrific collision between Cooke and Montgomery" in the Arian controversy. He opened the Synod of 1830 by preaching from the text "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty: only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." -- (Gal. v., 13). In 1830 he was chosen to be assistant clerk of Synod, and on the removal of Dr. Reid in 1841 to the Chair of Church History in Glasgow University, he was chosen Clerk of the Synod of Ulster and Junior Clerk of Assembly, but it devolved upon Mr. Park to perform almost the entire duties of the office.

For a good many years there had been in the Ballymoney Congregation a number of families in sympathy with the Arian views, championed by the Rev. Henry Montgomery. In 1831 Mr. Park reported to the session that a deputation from these families had waited on him and presented an address, the following extract from which explains their position: "We, the undersigned individuals, hitherto members of your congregation, conscientiously differing in our interpretations of revealed truth, from those views of scripture doctrine advanced by you in your discourses from the pulpit and believing that the worship and service of Almighty God to be acceptable in his sight, must be the service of the understanding as well as of the heart, feel that we cannot longer continue our attendance on your ministry. We have therefore united with several other individuals in a resolution, to use every Christian and lawful means of obtaining public worship, in which we can conscientiously and satisfactorily join. Preparatory to so doing, we deem it a mark of respect due to you in your pastoral character, to inform you of our determination; while at the same time we wish to assure you of our continued esteem and express the high sense we entertain of your worth as a private individual and a friend."

In conformity with the desire expressed in this address these families were formed into the Unitarian congregation of Ballymoney in connexion with the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster.

About the year 1834 the accommodation in the church proved quite inadequate for the worshippers, and a new congregation was erected in Ballymoney in connection with the Synod of Ulster.

In the year 1834 a new congregation was established at Drumreagh close to the river Bann, and a church built. In this church Rev. Thos. Beare, who had previously been ordained as minister of Ringsend, was installed as its first minister by the Presbytery of Coleraine in 1838.

"In the religious movement of 1859 Mr. Park took a deep interest. He regarded it as a genuine work of God, and he laboured earnestly during that season of earnestness, preaching daily in the open air and visiting early and late. It is believed he quite overtaxed his strength and led to the attack of paralysis which came on him in 1861." In 1861 he obtained leave to retire from the active duties of the ministry, but it was not till 1866 that steps were taken for the appointment of a second minister.

 

image: Past Ministers of First Presbyterian Church -- Rev. Robert Park, Rev. Alex. Patton, Rev. Nathaniel Ross, Rev. J. D. Osborne.

Mr. Park took an active interest in public affairs both in the church at large and in his own district. As a pastor he exercised great influence by his tact and wisdom, and by the weight which his large experience gave to his words. He died 9th May, 1876. He is buried with his wife and children in the old churchyard of Ballymoney, within the old church which was, as the inscription on a stone in its old tower says, "builded to the glory of God, 1637."

Most of the quotations made above are taken from the "Historic Statement" in the memorial pamphlet published after his death.

The following is the inscription on the beautiful mural tablet erected in the First Presbyterian Church.

"In memory of Rev. R Park, A.M., Minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Ballymoney, and Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Born 15th day of April, 1794. Ordained at Ballymoney 18th March, 1817. Moderator of the Synod of Ulster, 1829. Appointed Clerk of Assembly, 1841. Died 10th of May, 1876.

"Erected by his congregation in grateful recognition of his personal worth and public services and of his loving, earnest and successful pastorate."

"Who bestowed much labour on us." -- (Romans, xvi., 6).

"They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the Firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the Stars, for ever and ever."

The following additions to the Eldership of the congregation were made in the latter years of Mr. Park's ministry:-- Wm. Knox, R Forsythe, Daniel Kerr, Hugh McC. Hamilton and William Adams, and at a later date, after Rev. A. Patton had become his assistant and successor, Daniel Patton, W. J. Orr, Benjamin McKeague, Andrew McKeague, Wm. Hamilton, Alex. Getty, Alex. Knox, James Hayes, James Robinson, Dr. Reynolds, James Jordan, Wm. Perry, David Camac, and Wm. Jno. Knox.

On the 3rd of August, 1866, a unanimous call was made out by the congregation of Ballymoney to Rev. Alex. Patton, M.A., after hearing several licentiates on trial. Mr. Patton was a licentiate of the Limavady Presbytery, and was ordained in First Ballymoney, in November, 1866. Rev. Robt. Park offered up the ordination prayer, and has left this touching entry in the Session Book with regard to his assistant and successor: "He enters on his labours under most favourable circumstances. May the blessing of the Great King and Head of the Church rest on him and the aged Minister, the Session, and Committee and all the members of the First Presbyterian Church of Ballymoney."

Mr. Patton's ministry in the congregation was blessed with success and happiness, his powerful preaching and his warm-hearted interest in the people have left a deep impression on the congregation which will not easily be removed. The church was enlarged and remodelled in his time, and its appearance greatly improved. A manse had previously been built for him at a cost of about 900, and in the arrangements for this erection Mr. Park assisted him greatly. In 1879 he accepted a call to Bangor, Co. Down. A few years later he was made a Doctor of Divinity, and after a happy ministry in that place died in the prime of life, greatly beloved and lamented.

 

image: First Presbyterian Church Hall, Ballymoney

As the events of Mr. Patton's ministry are still fresh in the memory of the people it has not been thought necessary to go into details.

Mr. Patton was succeeded in 1879 by the Rev. Nathaniel Ross, A.M., LL.D., who, like his predecessor, was called as a licentiate to become the minister of the church. Mr. Ross was a man of remarkable gifts as a preacher, and wherever he went attracted large audiences. He was a man of very kindly and affable disposition, he remained only two years in Ballymoney, and is now the popular, distinguished and influential minister of the important congregation of Newcastle-on-Tyne.

The Rev. J. D. Osborne, M.A., succeeded Mr. Ross. He was ordained in 1882. During his ministry a comfortable new Session room and handsome railings were provided for the church, and other improvements made at a cost of nearly 900. As pastor and preacher he was greatly esteemed in Ballymoney, and has been called to be the minister of the important congregation of Rutland Square, Dublin, where his career is equally successful.

During the ministry of Rev. J. D. Osborne, the following Elders were added to the Session of the First Presbyterian Church:-- Wm. Hunter, Wm. J. Megaw, David Moss, Thomas Macafee, S. Perry, Matthew White, Wm. James Knox, Samuel B. Knox and James Robinson.

In March, 1890, the present minister, Rev. A. H. Dill, M.A., was ordained, and the members of the congregation have just completed the erection of a large and commodious church hall, at a cost of about 1250.

It may be mentioned here that the first Sabbath School in the town was a united one, and was held in the Old Town Hall. When each congregation organized its own school the children of the first Presbyterian Church continued to meet in the Old Town Hall until the new building was opened.

 

 

 

 

small image

 

^ top of page