The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland

The General Synod of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland was only created as recently as 1910 but it represents a liberal theological tradition that runs through Irish history back to the origins of Presbyterianism. Surprisingly there is no generally available history of this small but significant denomination. Over the summer of 2017 I was asked to deliver a series of addresses on this history, I have now put these together on a new website which is intended to give an outline history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (NSPCI) in five chapters.

Ballee Pulpit fall IMTom Caven

Ballee Pulpit Fall featuring the logo and motto of the Church

 

The site is broken down into:

The First Subscription Controversy [of the 1720s]

The Second Subscription Controversy [of the 1820s]

The Dissenters’ Chapels Act [of 1844]

Division and Controversy [the second half of the nineteenth century]

Consolidation [the reunification of the different Non-Subscribing elements in 1910]

It is an interesting and valuable history and one that is increasingly overlooked or misunderstood even by those who are involved in the NSPCI. But I hope this website will go some way to providing an accessible way of learning about this history both for those who are familiar with something of the story and for newcomers. I hope also to make it a useful database for images connected with NSPCI history.

The site can be found here:

https://nonsubscribingpresbyterian.wordpress.com/

Rademon window 2008

Rademon fanlight

 

 

 

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Remonstrant Meeting-House, Ballymena

A visit to Ballymena meant the opportunity to go and have a look at the former Remonstrant meeting-house there. The entry in the Unitarian Heritage book is a bit limited, as the Irish section of that otherwise invaluable book often is. It says simply ’High Street. Antrim. 1845’ in the disused churches section and gives no further details and has no illustrations. Although it is situated on the High Street it’s actually a bit tucked away and not that easy to find.

But as the photos show it is an interesting and unusual building that was erected by the Non-Subscribers in 1845. The date stone can still be seen, and although the congregation finally departed in 1926 it is not ‘disused’ having been the home of the Faith Mission church for decades.

Date plaque Ballymena 04

Having said that there is precious little information on the ground in Ballymena about this building. I asked in the Faith Mission shop if they had any information on the building and they told me no. In the Council run Braid Centre – a Museum and Arts Centre – although they had an interesting collection of leaflets and other pamphlets, they had nothing on this building.

I was surprised the Council had nothing because their predecessor, the Ballymena Borough Council, had thought it worthy enough to merit a plaque which was put up in 1995, on the 150th anniversary of the building’s opening. I knew this because I was there all those years ago and somewhere have a black and white press picture of the occasion.

Remonstrant plaque 03

It is a curious building designed by Thomas Jackson, an architect with a Quaker background, who contributed a great deal to the buildings of Belfast including St Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church which, although much grander by far, nevertheless shares some architectural details with the Ballymena Remonstrant church.

The Ballymena congregation was part of the impressive missionary drive inaugurated by the Remonstrant Synod and was opened on Sunday, 9th November by Rev Henry Montgomery. I am indebted to ‘Dryasdust’ writing in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian in September 1994 for details concerning the congregation’s life. He writes that the original congregation had 57 families in its first year of existence. Given that they had built such a notable edifice they might have been expected to be able to flourish. The first minister was the Rev Francis McCammon who was born in Larne but had been ministering in Diss in Norfolk immediately prior to receiving a call to Ballymena. Unfortunately his ministry ended fairly acrimoniously as did the ministry of his successor James McFerran. However, he was followed by the Rev J.A. Crozier (1855-1865) who seems to have been highly successful in building the church up into a flourishing cause. Unfortunately following his departure to Newry in 1865 numbers never really recovered and the last minister (Rev Halliwell Thomas) left in 1875. The congregation struggled on in some form or other until the First World War but finally closed in the 1920s with the building being sold in 1926.

Faith Mission full view side

The Bible Christian reported the opening in the following way:

The meeting-house of the new congregation in Ballymena, in connexion with the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster, was opened for divine worship, on Sunday, Nov. 9, by Dr Montgomery, who preached from Matthew, 10th chapter and 34th verse, an eloquent and powerful discourse. It has been erected from the designs, and under the direction of Mr. Thomas Jackson, architect Belfast. The style of the building is an adaptation of the ecclesiastical style (commonly, but erroneously called Gothic) of about the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The front elevation is in the form of a gable, boldly enriched by projecting buttresses, with cut-stone weatherings, surmounted by pinnacles and leaving embrasures, with cut-stone dressings, extended between them. The entrance door, with the windows in front, and on the flanks of the building, is surrounded by appropriate cut-stone dressings, the sash frames being of cast metal in imitation of cut stone. In the centre of the front, over the door entrance, is a large ornamental wheel window, also formed of cast metal. The meeting-house contains 250 sittings; it is entered through a commodious porch and hall, over which is a school room, which is arranged so as to admit of being added as a gallery to the house, at a future time, should additional accommodation be required. The committee contemplate the erection of a residence for their clergyman, contiguous to the meeting-house. The following gentlemen acted as collectors on the occasion: Thomas Casement, Esq. J.P. Ballee-house; Wm. Coates, Esq. J.P. Glentoran, Belfast; Archibald Barklie, Esq. Inver, Larne; John Dickey, Esq. Leighenmore, Ballymena; Alexander O’Rorke, Esq. Ballymena; William Beggs, Esq. Lisnafillen, Ballymena. The collection, including donations from parties who could not attend, amounted to upwards of £170.

Faith Mission 03

Events in July at the Lakeside

 

In July we had two highly successful events at the Lakeside Inn, Ballydugan. We were blessed by good weather on both occasions and both events were really well supported.

The first, on 8th July, was a joint Afternoon Tea for members of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough. This was a very pleasant gathering at which a special presentation was made to Myrtle for her thirty years as treasurer of the Downpatrick congregation. As always the lake looked particularly impressive and we were joined (see picture at the top of the page) by the swans, their cygnets and a heron.

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Inside the marquee

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Cakes

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Afternoon tea

On 22nd July we held our Treasure Hunt and Hog Roast. This was another wonderful occasion with many people participating and around £1,000 raised for Downpatrick church funds. It was an especially beautiful night to be travelling around the countryside of this part of county Down and we are indebted, as ever, to those who set the tricky questions, those who marked them, the team who set the cars on their way and those who helped with the parking. Dr Milhench and his family won the Treasure Hunt and very kindly gave the prize back to the church. As always the Lakeside Inn is such a tremendous venue for occasions like this and we are grateful to Margaret and Geoffrey for hosting the event so wonderfully well.

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Setting off from the car park on the treasure hunt

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Annabel, Marion and Margaret

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Gathering after the treasure hunt

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Renee on the keyboards

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Queuing for the hog roast

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Announcing  the results and the winners