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Bailiesmills Reformed church celebrates 200th anniversary

Bailiesmills Reformed Presbyterian ChurchTHE Bailiesmills Reformed Presbyterian congregation on the Drennan Road near Boardmills is celebrating its 200th birthday at special services on Sunday October 25. The early history of Bailiesmills is closely connected with the Knockbracken congregation. In the 18th century Reformed Presbyterians (Covenanters) were organised into Societies - each Society being made up of 8-12 families. The Society was often given the name of the townland where the families lived. These Societies would meet regularly in the homes of one of the members for mutual fellowship, spiritual instruction and prayer.

For many years the Society people had no ministers in Ireland. Occasionally Scottish Covenanter ministers came to preach at large open-air services called 'Conventicles'. At such meetings the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper would be observed and children would be baptised.

In 1772 the Covenanter Societies between Donaghadee and the bridge at Dromore issued a Call to licentiate Mr William Staveley. After Mr Staveley accepted the Call he made Knockbracken the centre of his labours where a meeting house was built.

For some 30 years, after the building of Knockbracken meeting house, the Societies of Carr, Creevy and Bailiesmills were under the supervision of Knockbracken Session and enjoyed the ministry of Mr. Staveley. However by 1807 Bailiesmills had sufficient strength to be organised as a separate congregation.

A contributory factor in the formation of Bailiesmills was a problem that arose among the Seceders at Boardmills.

Some Seceders were aggrieved that their Synod had entered into negotiations with the government to receive grants from the Regium Donum similar to those paid to the ministers of the Synod of Ulster.

A number of families from Boardmills joined the Covenanter Societies in the district to form the Bailiesmills congregation, under the care of the Irish Reformed Presbytery. When the Eastern Presbytery was formed in 1810, Bailiesmills was one of its constituent congregations.

It was some years before the new congregation had its first minister. In 1826 John Wright Graham was ordained and served the congregation with great devotion and distinction until his death in 1862.

Since then the following ministers have served the congregation: Thomas Houston Dick 1863-1882; Samuel Rea McNeilly 18871926; John Watters 1927-1968; James A Ritchie 1969-1974; Stewart McMahon 1978-1988; and George McEwen 1990-2008.

The congregation is presently without a minister and is being cared for by Prof Robert McCollum, the minister of the Lisburn Reformed Presbyterian Church.

In the not to distant future the congregation hopes to have a new minister to lead them in the service of Jesus Christ.

They are looking forward with anticipation to a new chapter in their history.

An invitation is extended to friends and neighbours to join the congregation at commemorative services on October 25. The morning preacher at 11.30am will be the Rev Timothy McEwen, a son of the congregation. The evening preacher at 7.00pm will be the Rev David McCullough, Moderator of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.