Centenary Book of the First Presbyterian Church Portadown

Chapter V


To fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mr. Vint a call was presented to Rev. W.J. Macaulay, of Stranorlar, where he had been minister since October 1874. He having accepted the call the installation took place on 20th January, 1881.

Mr. Macaulay began his ministry under most favourable conditions. He had the good-will and sympathy of the entire body of members, by whom he was held in very high esteem. The congregational committee set to work with a hearty good will to give the manse a thorough overhaul, worthy the reception of its first lady occupant, who was for so many years destined to preside over it, and to dispense in generous hospitality all through the years alike to the members of the congregation and to visitors and members of other communions. In the matter of zeal and evangelistic fervour Mr. Macaulay proved a worthy successor to Mr. Vint, while in visitation and in the exhibition of a more personal concern for the material welfare of his people he was much more forward. He also took a more lively interest in all the questions, moral and philanthropic, which affected the people in general, and soon became very popular with all sections of the community. He was called on, at an early date, to decide on a matter of great moment and much delicacy -- the appointment of a successor to Mr. Geddis in the principalship of the School. The position was complicated by the fact that there were local candidates connected with the congregation. Mr. Geddis had by his ability worked up the attendance until the School held the first place in town, so the responsibility was correspondingly great. It is pleasant to record that in the selection of a Principal Mr. Macaulay on this occasion, as on all subsequent ones, placed merit first and gave the appointment to the person he believed most competent. His choice fell upon Mr. John Bell, M.A., and was pre-eminently justified, but of this more will be learned in the chapter on "Education."

The first financial expenditure during Mr. Macaulay's ministry occurred in 1882. One of the side walls of the church had shown signs of weakness a considerable time earlier, and the committee feared further delay. It was therefore decIded to rebuild the wall, which was done at a cost of £375. An attempt to raise some of the money was made at the time, a number of ladies making a collection. A further effort was made a year latter, when, as the result of Mr. Macaulay's first appeal, the congregation brought to the church in one day contributions totalling £200.

A few years later another expenditure of money became necessary, which had far-reaching consequences. The Day School premises were condemned by the National Board as unsuitable and unsanitary, and it became necessary to build new schools on a better site. The school consisted of the old church, to which had been added another building of similar size. With the mistaken idea that it was necessary that the whole floor space should be undivided the back wall of the church had been taken out and the roof supported on metal columns. The result was a large unsightly room, badly lit and very unsuitable for progressive work. The procuring of a suitable site was not an easy matter, but perseverance brought its reward and a splendid position, an acre in extent, was secured on the Carrickblacker Road from the Baroness Von Steiglitz, one-half of which was generously given free and for the remainder a rent of £5 was charged. Upon this ground a two-storied building was erected with modern class-rooms, and affording accommodation for 400 scholars. In addition a teacher's residence of superior character was also built, the funds for this latter being provided by two loans, one for £300, upon which interest is still being paid, and £250 from the Board of Works, the final instalment of which will be discharged next year. The school is vested in the National Board, with the result that any one-third of its cost fell to be raised locally. This proportion, a matter of £500, was raised principally by a Bazaar.

In the year 1890 two different congregations cast their eyes upon Mr. Macaulay, one of them intimating that it was prepared to make out a call if any encouragement were given. This becoming known a meeting of Session and Committee was held, at which a resolution was passed agreeing, subject to the approval of a congregational meeting, to undertake the enlargement of the church provided Mr. Macaulay would accept their earnest request to remain their minister. The congregation heartily agreed, and on the urgent appeal of a deputation Mr. Macaulay acceded to its request. The proposed enlargement entailed the extending of the church backwards, appropriating for the purpose a portion of the space occupied by the old schoolroom. The architect took advantage of this encroachment on the latter building to effect its complete renovation. The improvements comprised the enlargement of the church by the addition of two large transepts, a lecture hall 70 by 25 feet, a vestry, and the heating of the church by steam, the entIre outlay reaching £1,800. A contributory scheme running over five years was inaugurated, and at its expiration not much remained to be collected. Before enlargement the church had a seating capacity of 550, and the enlarged church holds 900 people. But for the absurd and wasteful system of pew-letting the former church was ample in capacity for the people attending each Sabbath day.

During the time these extensive alterations were in progress the congregation worshipped in the Town Hall. After an interval of eight months the work was completed. As became such an important occasion re-opening services were held on three successive Sabbath days, the preachers following each other thus -- November 29th, Rev. S.L. Wilson, M.A., Belfast; December 6th, Rev. Professor Pettigrew, D.D., Londonderry; December 13th, Rev. W.J. Jackson, M.A., Belfast. The total sum realised by these services was £230.

The importance of the occasion was further signalised by a social meeting in the Town Hall of a singularly happy character, at which fully 500 people were present. Occasion was taken to show honour to the minister by presenting him with new pulpit robes and a sterling silver salver. The funds were procured by a few ladies calling on the members of the congregation. Mr. Clow, as the senior elder, presIded, the address was read by Mr. John Bell, M.A., congregational secretary, and Mrs. Acheson and Mrs. Wallace made the presentation. The speeches were of an exceptionally hearty and cordial nature, those taking part being the Chairman and Messrs. J.R. Henry and John Young, M.A., representing the congregation; Revs. J.H. Hanna, B.A., Tartaraghan; William Clements, Benburb; H.W. Morrow, M.A., MarkethIll; and Rev. S.E. Wilson, M.A., Armagh, representing the Presbytery; Rev. William M'mordie, M.A., the General Assembly; and Rev. Robt. Jeffrey, B.A., the Armagh Road congregation.

The spiritual wants of the people were, as already stated, carefully looked after by the minister, but in addition the help of leading evangelists was secured. Thus in the month of February, 1891, Mr. Samuel Montgomery, of Bangor, held a very successful mission. Meetings were held every evening, the attendance rising from 180 to 350, and on Sabbath nights to over 500. Afternoon meetings for children were also held, and a preliminary prayer meeting well attended. At the close of the mission a special service for those who had received blessing was attended by 130 people, forty of whom took part in a prayer of special dedication of themselves to the Lord. One result of the mission was the formation of a Missionary Band when 100 Boxes were distributed and over £60 received the first year.

In the latter years of the nineteenth century the ChrIstian Endeavour movement came into great prominence in Great Britain, as likewise in Ireland. Viewing it with favour, Mr. Macaulay encouraged the formation of a society, which captivated many young people in the congregation, and soon became helpful in many ways. Satisfactory as was the progress of the movement in Ireland, it, yet, received a great fillip through the British Union holding its annual Convention for 1899 in Belfast. Fourteen hundred delegates, including many of the greatest Ieaders in Britain, as well as Mr. J. Willis Bear of Boston, the general secretary, crossed the Irish Sea to take part in the Convention. Belfast was taken by storm, and enthusiasm rose to a high pitch as the meetings proceeded, and as a consequence there was a large accession to the membership in Ireland. Many Irish delegates crossed to London the following year to attend the World's Convention when many thousands of delegates from America, the Colonies and the Continent were present. In 1901 the Irish Union held its Convention in Portadown, and by universal consent it was characterised as "the best yet." Mr. Macaulay was Chairman of the committee that carried through all the arrangements. "The Irish Endeavourer" of that time wrote: "Never had Convention a better chairman than Rev. W.J. Macaulay, B.A., who has so ably guided the committee in all their arrangements." All through his ministry Mr. Macaulay was generous in testifying to his appreciation of the movement and of the help and encouragement he received from the Endeavourers in his own congregation.

As an illustration of his desire to take advantage of religious awakenings, it may be stated that a mission was held in the church in September, 1900, conducted by Rev. Henry Montgomery, assisted by his daughter, Mrs. Morton, when much spiritual uplift was experienced andmany conversions took place. Writing recently of his visit, Dr. Montgomery says: "I remember that a good many young people made a hopeful profession; indeed, I have nothing but the happiest recollections of that time and of the unity which prevailed amongst the people. The minister, the office-bearers and Sabbath School teachers threw themselves with great heartiness into the work."

Mention may be made also of a work of grace, the result of a mission in June, 1905, conducted by Mr. Arthur Park, then of the Irish Evangelisation Society. The meetings were held in a large tent in a field which now forms part of Portmore Street. The invitation to Mr. Park emanated from a joint committee, and the work had the cordial sympathy and support of the Protestant community, the ministers attending and taking part. At its close lists of converts were supplied to the various congregations, First Portadown's containing a goodly number.

In September, 1909, Mr. Park was again in Portadown this time on the invitation of Mr. Macaulay, and the meetings were held in the Church, when much blessing followed Mr. Park s labours. It can be seen from these illustrations that Mr. Macaulay not only preached a real living Gospel himself, but encouraged the visits of others lIke-minded.

In the year 1896 Mr. Macaulay was appointed by the General Assembly Convener of the Weak Congregations Mission. The sphere of the Mission was Ulster, and its objects to gIve aid to ministers of small and widely scattered congregations in outlying districts by way of traveling expenses, and to give grants to ministers with small incomes who might apply for same. When he took charge the mission was considerably in debt; but by earnest appeals for increased giving, and by careful administration over several years, he not only wiped out the adverse balance but created a credit balance of a considerable amount. When in this position he largely extended the scope of his work by giving an equalisation grant to every minister below a certain income, thus bringing up all incomes to a fixed minimum. In thus acting he commended himself so much to the church that in 1912 the Theological Faculty conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity, and a strong desire was manifested that he should be nominated for the Moderatorship at the General Assembly. At the February meeting of Presbytery in 1913 he received nomination from twenty-eight Presbyteries, thus securing his election. He was cordially and unanimously called to the Chair in June, and during his year of office he gave himself whole-heartedly and unsparingly to the work to which he was called, maintaining the dignity of the Chair, and responding most generously to the requests of his brethren to preach and preside at special functions. He had a very busy year's work, which he thoroughly enjoyed, and he suffered no interruption from ill health. The only occasions when he occupied his own pulpit were the Communion services.

In order that Dr. Macaulay might be quite free to give hImself to the servIce of the Church, the congregation undertook to employ a licentiate to carry on the work. In doing this it continued the services of Mr. Alfred E. Fee, B.A., who had been already acting as assistant, and who was very popular with the members of the congregatIon.

At the annual congregational meeting held on 13th April opportunity was taken of doing honour to Dr. Macaulay on his nomination to the Moderatorship. The meeting took place in the Town Hall, and was very largely attended by the members of Presbytery and many more of Dr. Macaulay's ministerial brethren, as well as by the members of the congregation and invited guests. A number of highly complimentary speeches were made by Rev. Dr. Davidson, Glennan; Rev. G.R. Wedgwood, Methodist; Wilson, Marshall, William Clements, and Dr. Lowe. The latter referred to Dr. Macaulay as the "Prudent Doctor," and to the splendid record of work he had behind him, and complimented him for his great services as Convener of the Weak Congregations Fund. During the presentation ceremony Mr. John Young, M.A., occupied the chair, and in a brilliant speech referred to Dr. Macaulay's manifold labours and to the affection in which he was held by the congregation. "The ladies of the congregation," he stated, "had decided that their minister should be properly gowned when entering on the high duties that lay before him, and they had provided a magnificent set of robes." Mrs. Samuel Sprott and Mrs. Brew placed the gown and hood upon Dr. Macaulay, and Mrs. T.D. Gibson handed Mrs. Macaulay a gold bracelet. Mrs. Brew and Mrs. Gibson, in making their presentations, addressed a few words of cordial congratulation to the recipients of the gifts.

Notwithstanding the fact that Dr. Macaulay had enjoyed perfect health during his Moderatorial year, he began to show symptoms of weakness shortly after he resumed his own ministerial labours. In the hope that rest would restore him the congregation continued, through the aid of the Licentiates' Fund, to provide help. During the succeeding period and until the end came the following licentiates gave generous and very acceptable help:-- Messrs. H.V. Clements, B.A.; David Dowling, M.A.; W. M'Whirter, B.A.; Rev. Frederick Smith, B.D.; Messrs. J.C. Breakey, B.A; and Walter Patterson, B.A. Early in the year 1916 Dr. Macaulay consulted a specialist, who expressed the opinion that an internal trouble, for which he did not recommend an operation, was the cause of his weakness, and counselled complete rest. In consequence Dr. Macaulay brought the matter of his resignation before the session and also before the annual Congregational meeting. Heartfelt and manifold expressions of sorrow were evidenced, and the hope expressed that it might not be necessary for Dr. Macaulay to take immediate advantage of the leave he sought to obtain. At the meeting of Assembly permission to resign was granted. Dr. Macaulay's last appearance in the pulpit was on Children's Day, when he conducted a most impressive service to an unusually large congregation. Ere he left the pulpit he stood for a few moments gazing around the building. What his thoughts and feelings were he never disclosed, but one can imagine. Was he realising that, in all probability, his last word had been spoken, that his earthly ministry was ended, and that, in future, other hands would carry the pitcher, the lamp, and the trumpet he had bourne so long?

The closing weeks of Dr. Macaulay's life were a period of waiting upon God and complete resignation to the Divine will. With unclouded mind and strong faith in Him Whom he had so long proclaimed as the Saviour of the World, he awaited the coming of his Lord. Gradually strength declined, and on Thursday, 21st September, in the 71st year of his age, he passed into the Eternal presence. The interment took place on the Saturday, when, amid many expressions of genuine sorrow, his mortal remains were followed to their last resting place in Seagoe Cemetery by an immense concourse of people. The service in the church was presided over by Rev. Dr. West, of Antrim, Moderator of Assembly, and the address given by his life-long friend, Rev. William Clements, Benburb. On the following day the pulpit was filled by Rev. David Millar, B.A., Armagh, who preached an appropriate and touching sermon.

At a specially convened meeting of Session and Committee the following resolution was placed on the Minutes of the Session:--

"The Session and Committee desire to place on record an expression of theIr sincere regret at the removal by death of their esteemed friend and pastor, Rev. W.J. Macaulay, B.A., D.D, who for a perIod of over thirty-five years discharged in this congregation, with singular zeal and fidelity, all the offices pertaining to the Christian ministry. It is a source of profound grief to part from one so closely related to them in the sacred duties associated with his noble calling, and who for so long a time was a partaker of their joys and a sharer of their sorrows. Ever a welcome visitor, he was especially so when the home was saddened by sorrow, or darkened by bereavement.

"He entertained a very high conception of his sacred office -- his careful preparation for his pulpit ministrations, his keen interest in the young, both in the Sabbath and day schools, his pastoral visitation, all reflected a fully consecrated life. He had. no higher ambition than to promote the spiritual and material welfare of his flock.

"They note with much satisfaction the commanding position he occupied in the town and the value placed on his counsel and advice; they appreciate the testimony borne to his outstanding abilities by the members of the General Assembly, who with such cordiality and unanimity placed him a short time ago in the Moderatorial chair.

"Although his work here is ended the record of his labours will prove a pleasant memory to all who came under his influence. His teaching and example will remain the cherished possession of many lives made better through his instrumentality

"To his sorrowing wife and family the Session and Committee tender their heartfelt sympathy."

The following is the resolution passed by the Armagh Presbytery:--

"The Presbytery of Armagh places on record its sincere regret at the loss it has sustained through the removal by death of the Rev. W.J. Macaulay, B.A., D.D., minister of First Portadown.

"Dr. Macaulay was held in the highest esteem by his brethren for his Christian character and ministerial fidelity. He was regular in his attendance at the meetings of the Presbytery, took a warm interest in all its affairs, and did his full share of its work. His sound judgment was much valued, by his brethren, and by his genial disposition, kind-heartedness, and gentlemanly bearing he endeared himself to all who knew him. He has left behind him a very fragrant memory.

"As Convener of the Weak Congregations Fund, Dr. Macaulay worked incessantly to secure adequate incomes for ministers labouring in small charges, and it is largely owing to his efforts that the Fund has advanced to such a high state of prosperity.

"He was called to the Moderatorship of the General Assembly in the year 1913, and filled the position with great dignity, discharging the onerous duties to the entire satisfaction of the whole church.

"The Presbytery sympathise with the congregation on losing such a cultured preacher and devoted pastor. It sorrows with Mrs. Macaulay and her daughters in their sore bereavement, and commends them to the keeping of Him Who has promised to be a husband to the widow and a father to the fatherless."

Three years after the death of Dr. Macaulay the congregation as a War Memorial spent a sum of sixteen hundred pounds in providing a suitable and substantial vestibule, a want long felt, and in stone finishing the front and sides of the building In the vestibule thus provided were placed an imposing Marble Tablet to the memory of Dr. Macaulay, and a Brass and Ebony Tablet to the memory of the men who had fallen and to those who had served in the Great War. Reproductions of these will be found on other pages.

The congregation's choice of a successor to Dr. Macaulay fell upon the Rev. John Heney, B.A., B.D., of Second Limavady, who was installed on 29th March, 1917. Since Mr. Heney's settlement the congregation has continued to make satisfactory progress, and the liberality of the people has reached a higher standard than in any previous period of its history.

It is not the purpose of the writer to follow the history of the congregation beyond the period of Dr. Macaulay's death. It is a convenient place for him to stop, as well as for the future historian to begin. In bringing this short and imperfect history to a close the writer would express the hope that its perusal by the members of the congregation and other readers will afford them something of the pleasure he has experienced in gathering the materials together and extracting from them what is found in these pages.


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