Ballycarry Presbyterian congregation has paid heartfelt tribute to long-serving minister Rev. Gabrielle Farquhar.
A special evening was held in the church to mark her departure and make a presentation to the popular cleric, who has retired early for health reasons after almost 25 years’ service.
The church was packed for the occasion as it had been on March 31, when Rev. Farquhar held her last service of worship. Several weeks before, she had informed her congregation that owing to ill health she had sought and been granted early retirement.
On May 17 there was an opportunity for the church members and friends to reflect on the service and commitment which had been given by the Dublin-born cleric, who was installed in September 1994 to what is the oldest Presbyterian congregation in Ireland. She made history by becoming the first woman cleric of the congregation and her first service there was on September 18 that year.
The third child of John and Lily Ellis, she is of Scottish and Huguenot descent and was brought up in Abbey Presbyterian Church in Dublin. She worked for some time in the Human Resources department of the Bank of Ireland in Dublin and later as administrator of the Dublin Central Mission of the Methodist Church in Ireland and, prior to studying for the ordained ministry, was manager of the Barrett Cheshire Home in her native city.
She graduated from Trinity College in 1990 with a BA Hons degree in Biblical and Theological studies and undertook a Masters in Practical Theology at Edinburgh University (New College) the following year. Her career also saw placements at Mildmay Hospice in London, caring for people with AIDS, and the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for psychiatric patients and St. Columba’s Hospice in the city, all as a student chaplain.
In 1991 she became Assistant in Hillsborough Presbyterian Church and was ordained in 1993, receiving the call to Ballycarry in 1994. In 1999 she married Maurice Farquhar, who played an active role within the congregation, not least as an accomplished musician.
Her roles over the years have included many within the wider church structure, including serving on various internal committees, and she was a Governor of Downshire Secondary School 1996-2018 and of Ballycarry Primary School from 1996. She has been a member of the Corrymeela Community since 1978 and is chaplain to Jubilee Farm at Glynn.
The cleric set herself the goal of caring for the forgotten, the stranger, and the vulnerable as part of a personal mission statement and has reflected that over the years through involvement with groups and nursing homes in the area. Her outreach in a wider sense included two visits to India in 1979 and 1989 and she and her husband Maurice co-led three trips from the Ballycarry congregation to Malawi, in 2000, 2004 and 2010. The evening of shared memories at the church heard from some of the people who had been involved in those trips and working in Malawi, all of whom testified how their lives and outlooks had been changed by the experience.
There were also contributions from the youth group – BIG – the Sunday School choir, church officers and members as well as Rev. Dr. John Nelson, who spoke of the co-operation between the churches which had developed over the years and Mrs. Valerie Beattie, past chairperson of the Ballycarry Community Association.
Mrs. Gloria Trueick, principal of Ballycarry Primary School, said that Rev. Farquhar was more than a member of the Board of Governors, being seen by the staff as a friend as well.
Rev. Dr. Colin McClure, speaking on behalf of Carrickfergus Presbytery, praised Rev. Farquhar for the growth she had encouraged in the congregation, which he said was both numerical and spiritual.
He told those present that no one should discount the significant part she had played in the life and growth of the congregation. This was emphasised by congregational secretary Arthur McQuitty, who said the Rev. Farquhar had provided “inspirational leadership” and one manifestation of this was the decision to build an extension – the Brice Room, named after the first minister – which she had driven forward with confidence.
Rev. Farquhar in her remarks reflected on four clerks of session at Ballycarry during her period of minister, Betty Mitchell, Maurice Jackson, Robert Cowan and Daphne Bashford, one secretary – Mr. McQuitty – who had served over 40 years, two treasurers (Maureen Wylie and Elsa Robinson) and the valued service also of committee members over the years. She said she had been merely a facilitator in what had been achieved and had seen people and faith grow within the congregation over her period as minister.
A presentation from the congregation was made by Elsa Robinson and Mabel Bell and the evening concluded with supper in the adjacent church hall.