Presbyterian Moderator joins First Carrick congregation to mark 400th anniverary

The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, has said it was “a privilege” to take part in a special service marking the 400th anniversary of First Carrickfergus Presbyterian Church.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 3:57 pm

The congregation had been planning a number of events for the quadricentennial that have had to be put on hold due to Covid restrictions.

One of the events, however, did take place on Sunday, when the Moderator, Right Rev Dr David Bruce, was part of the North Street congregation’s online Sunday service, which was specially pre-recorded.

Rev Dr Cecil Grant, the congregation’s twenty-second minister since 1641, said: “400 years ago, life in the province of Ulster and in the town of Carrickfergus was both turbulent and unsettled.

Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Right Rev Dr David Bruce took part in the anniversary service from his study at home.

“The policy of Plantation was still having significant effects with people coming and going from the mainland. And so it was that in 1621 a minister called John Hubbard, together with some members of his congregation, arrived in Carrickfergus from London.

“They had been forced to leave the capital because of persecution and came to Carrickfergus hoping for a more tolerant environment in which to worship. The arrival of this group of dissenters provides the notional date for the beginning of a Presbyterian congregation in Carrickfergus, but it is likely that Presbyterian worship had been practised for much longer among the army chaplains stationed at the castle,” Dr Grant said, who became First Carrick’s minister in 2008.

The congregation has been based on its North Street site since 1829. Dr Grant said that over the next 150 years the Presbyterian family in Carrickfergus had grown to an extent that an additional three churches opened.

The second was established by First Carrick at Joymount in 1851, with a further two congregations following, Woodlands Presbyterian, formed in 1977 and then most recently Downshire Presbyterian, which was established through the initiative of Joymount Presbyterian Church in 1985.

“When the time is right, and things are more normal and safe to do so, we will be able to celebrate our 400th birthday properly, giving thanks for God’s faithfulness over the centuries.

“It may be that we will be celebrating our four hundred plus one anniversary in 2022, but we can wait,” Dr Grant said.

Dr Bruce said that it was a privilege to have been asked to take part in the service, which can be watched on the First Carrickfergus’ Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“I know that Cecil has been preaching over recent Sunday’s from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the infant church in Ephesus, a man who never lived to see a church still functioning and growing in the same place after 40 years, let alone 400.

“Such longevity is a testimony to one of two things, I think. Either the dogged determination of a thran and stubborn people whose credo is “we shall not be moved,” or to the gracious testimony of God to his persistent presence in a community which he longs to bless.

“This is certainly a great example of the latter,” he said.

Dr Bruce made history himself last month, when PCI announced that he would be the first Moderator since 1894 to serve two consecutive terms of office, as Moderators usually serve just one year. “With an eye to the 400th anniversary, in my sermon on Sunday I spoke about honouring the past, by telling the story of what God has done for you. Understanding the present, by studying the times that we live in, and the need to plan for the future, by committing to be people of faith, and that is happening all over our denomination,” Dr Bruce said.

“In November I joined members of Donabate Presbyterian Church, in County Dublin, for a livestreamed service to celebrate their 10th birthday. They are the youngest of our 534 congregations. It is at times like these that I remember what one of my predecessors said a few years ago: the number we are celebrating may be significant, the 40th, 50th, 100th or 400th anniversary of a church.

“However special and significant, what really matters is that faithful Christian people saw a need and began something new. They preached the gospel, sowed the seed and above all else they were faithful. That is the story of First Church, Carrick these last 400 years, and for that I give thanks,” Dr Bruce said.

Thanking the Moderator for being a part of the service, Dr Grant said, “Although the last year has meant, like so many churches, that most of our activities have moved online, we continue to be a church that looks to the future.

“The congregation has a strong emphasis on youth and children’s activities, with programmes for children and young people that drew in a significant numbers from across the town, before the pandemic. We have formed close links with our local social services, through whom we are able to supply families in need during the year and especially at Christmas.”

Dr Grant concluded by saying: “We also have excellent relations with many different churches across the town and cooperate in a body called ‘Mission Carrick’, which brings many Christians together at different times for worship and witness. And we regularly reach out to our community on the streets, reminding them of God’s love shown in simple acts of kindness and care.”