|A SHORT HISTORY
FIRST DROMORE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
In his biography of Dr. James Hood Wilson, Minister of the
Barclay Church, Edinburgh, 1865 -1890, Dr. James Wells comments . . .
the consciousness of a godly ancestry brings inspiration, strength, and joy to all righthearted men and women. Dr. Wilson duly appreci ated this precious boon and welcomed all the appeals it transmitted to him. His faith was all the dearer to him that it had been also the faith of his forbears. It gave him a delightful sense of fellowship with them, and reminded him that he was the heir and trustee of a great past. This idea often inspired his appeals to the children of Christian parents. He wanted them to prize the dear inheritance from their forefathers.'
This history goes forth with the same wish and prayer, that it will help the present and future generations of worshippers in First Dromore to `prize the dear inheritance from their forefathers.'
W. D. PATTON.
Dr. J. T. Carson, who read over the manuscript and who made many useful suggestions.
Mr. J. McGrehan, Mr. F. McCarroll, Mr. W. Patterson, Mr. Harold Gibson, Mr. Jim Cochrane, who formed a sub-committee to assist with the publication.
Mr. A. Doloughan, editor of the Banbridge Chronicle, and Mr. V. Brown of the Dromore Leader, for access to back copies of these newspapers.
Mrs. McMordie, Secretary of the Presbyterian Historical Society for her. assistance in examining relevant records held by the Historical Society.
Nestling in a hollow and ringed by hills, the town of Dromore is situated centrally in an area of great beauty. To the south-east stand the mountains of Mourne which sweep down to the sea. Looking west on a good day from an elevated spot, you can see the sunshine dancing on the silvery waters of Lough Neagh. To the east, the Cave Hill struggles to life its head above the smoky air of Belfast.
The town has retained something of its old-world character, but many changes have also been made. Older business premises, such as the hand-stitching firm of W. B. Miniss and Sons, have disappeared, and new housing developments have spread out around the town. However, the air still seems full of history, and the stranger settling here, quickly develops a feel and a fondness for the place. This is essentially a history of rural life, and the town having once been a market town for many years with fair days, was itself at the heart of this.
There has been a settlement at Dromore for many centuries. The name, `Drum-mor, means `a great ridge,' or `the great back of a hill.' In early days the area was fortified by a series of mottes and bailies, which extended in a crescent shape from the eastern to the western side of the town.
Settled life began around A.D. 500, when Saint Colman founded an Abbey for Canons Regular, which afterwards became the head of a See, of which he was the first Bishop. Over the years the area experienced changing tides of fortune. In those early centuries, the peace of the countryside was often disturbed by the feuding of clans, amongst whom were the O'Neills, the McCartans, and the Magennises, and frequent raids by Danish invaders meant an unsettled existence. By the tenth century, the Abbey had acquired extensive possessions.
DROMORE SQUARE IN THE EARLY 1900's WITH THE TOWN HALL IN THE MIDDLE.
The area was devastated, and the Cathedral lay in ruins during the Reformation period, but the See was re-established and reendowed during the reign of James 1. The Cathedral was rebuilt. In 1641, the year of the Great Rebellion, the forces directed by the Council of Kilkenny set fire to the town and destroyed nearly everything. The Down survey of 1657 said of Dromore . . `There are no buildings in this parish, only Dromore, a market town, hath some old thatched cottages and a ruined Church standing in it.'
Following the accession of Charles II the district began to recover. The area was involved in the religious battles of 1688-1690; in March 1688, the forces of James and William met in a skirmish, called the `Break of Dromore.'
By 1881 the population of the town was 2,491 (compared with 1,842 in 1831). The nineteenth century saw a fair degree of industrial development in the area. There were bleach greens, and a prosperous linen trade was established. The linen was famed for its quality, and the trade boasted the custom of Queen Victoria. There were also hemstitching factories, and a market was held two days in the week. A Town Hall, which still stands today, and now used as a library, was built in the Square, the completion having been financed by a loan from the Board of Works.
Today few factories are left. Some of the work force is employed locally but most of the working population not engaged in agriculture travels to work in Belfast, and the surrounding towns.
However, we cannot stop long with the general history. We must travel on through the town, leaving the shops behind and with the countryside around us again, there on the Diamond Road, we will quite suddenly come across First Dromore Presbyterian Church. Built on an outcrop of rock, the Church stands bold and solid, a silent witness to the loyalty and faith of generations past. Writing in 1913, the Rev. Doctor Samuel Prenter, himself a son of the congregation, said . . . `I know the sort of piety that flourishes there, the passionate love of the people for their Church, the ardour with which they cling to the evangelical creed of their forefathers, the affections which cluster round the old cruciform building, and the graveyard so often bedewed from generation to generation with tears, the memories of communion Sabbaths, and the thousand voices of the past which speak home to the heart of a God-fearing, Sabbath loving, industrious and vigorous congregation.'
It is this story which the following pages relate.
The tolerant Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop Ussher, ruled from 1625 and two Scotsmen held Ulster bishoprics . . . Robert Echlin of Down and Connor, and Andrew Knox of Raphoe. A. C. Anderson tells us that until about 1630, 19 Scotsmen and 2 English Puritans were appointed to parishes in Ulster, mostly in Antrim and Down, with one or two in Donegal, Tyrone and Armagh. Some were already ordained, and some were ordained by Bishops Echlin and Knox. These men, then, ministered Presbyterian doctrine to the Presbyterian settlers in Dromore
However, the winds of change soon began to blow.
All over the Kingdom, King Charles I was trying to impose one Episcopal system of government and worship on the people. In Ireland, during 1634 and 1635, the English Thirty-Nine Articles were officially accepted as the standard of the Church in Ireland. Ministers who would not conform, were deposed from their positions. Some continued in private ministry, some returned to Scotland, and some emigrated to the New World.
An uprising in October 1641, known as the Great Rebellion, brought a force of Scots under General Monroe to Ireland to deal with the situation. With this Scottish Army came Chaplains, and they began the formal organisation of Presbyterianism in Ireland. The clergy had suffered severely in the rebellion, and so the Presbyterian Church in large parts of Ulster was not organised. Invitations began to pour in to the army chaplains to supply areas with Ministers.
Within a few years, the King's reign was brought to an abrupt end, and he was beheaded in 1649. The period known as the Commonwealth lasted until 1660, in which year the Monarchy was restored, and King Charles 11 was enthroned. The King and his Ministers soon proved to be no friends to the Presbyterians. The Episcopal system came to the fore again, and Bishops were expected to root out non-conformity. Life generally became difficult for the Presbyterians, perhaps especially so in Dromore where Jeremy Taylor was the Bishop from 1660. He had no personal love for the Presbyterians, having himself suffered earlier indignities at their hands. (He had come over to Ireland in 1658 and lived under the protection of Lord Conway, but was arrested in August 1659. He was taken to Dublin Castle to answer the charge of a Presbyterian from Hillsborough that he had used the Sign of the Cross in administering the sacrament of baptism. The authorities do not appear to have taken a serious view of the charge). After his installation in Dromore, `he found that the benefices were almost universally filled by Scottish Presbyterian Ministers, who, to a man, had subscribed to the covenant to endeavour the extirpation of prelacy.' (Atkinson) Taylor proceeded to remove 36 of the Ministers, and to fill up the vacancies mostly with clergy brought over from England.
This now brings us to the fortunes of Presbyterianism in Dromore, for the congregation has always claimed to have as its first Minister, the Rev. Henry Hunter, and this man, says Atkinson, was one of those 36 Ministers ejected by Bishop Taylor. Hunter was a Scotsman, the second son of Patrick H. Hunterstown, of West Kilbride, Ayrshire. He was educated in Glasgow, gaining his M.A. degree in 1650. He came across the Channel and was ordained in Dromore some time prior to 1660. Although he too suffered for his non-conformity in 1661, he continued to minister. A few years later the position of the Presbyterians was not helped by what became known as Colonel Blood's plot, in which the authorities thought Presbyterians were involved. This led to the arrest of many Presbyterian ministers in Counties Down and Antrim, although they were soon released, and some returned to Scotland.
This was a time when to be a Presbyterian Minister was to court a certain amount of danger. Ministers were obliged to take to the fields and woods to minister in secret to groups of people. Stevenson tells us that Taylor tried to make it appear that Ministers were disloyal, but belief in the untruthfulness of the accusations spread, and by 1668, (Taylor died of fever in 1667), the people were building Meeting Houses in which their banished Ministers were emboldened to preach.
First Dromore congregation traces her origin to 1660. Certainly, there were worshipping Presbyterians then, and it seems unlikely that they had a meeting-house at that date, but one was built around 1670. What would the original building have looked like? A. C. Anderson in speaking of Church architecture generally at this time gives us a good idea. `. . . it seems safe to say that they were of two general patterns . . a plain oblong with the pulpit in the middle of the long side, or T-shaped with the pulpit facing down the leg. Probably, not all had fixed pews. The aisles would be wide to allow the long narrow communion tables and benches to be placed in them. There were of course, no organs, and the number of psalm tunes familiar to the people was twelve. Long prayers, and long sermons were a main part of the Services.' The building itself was probably made of mud walls, perhaps whitewashed inside and out, and finished with a thatched roof.
In such a building planters of Scottish descent would have worshipped. In those days many of these were probably peasants living on the landowner's property. To day, the backbone of the congregation consists of farmers.
Around 1674, the Rev. Hunter fades from the scene, and a new Presbyterian Minister appears. He was the Rev. William Leggatt (Ligat, or, Ligat), and, like his predecessor, hailed from Scotland. Mr. Leggatt was educated in Glasgow, and was ordained at Dartry (Drum) in the presbytery of Down in 1671. He served the congregation for a number of years, but his ministry too was interrupted. He retired to Scotland in 1689, at the time of the Revolution, and officiated in Paisley until 1691. So, it would appear that the congregation in Dromore, like the rest of the country, was understandably unsettled until 1691, when Mr. Leggatt returned to Dromore. In 1693 he was made Moderator of the Synod of Ulster (then the equivalent of the General Assembly). He died in 1697.
The Rev. Alexander Colville followed as Minister after a gap of three years, and was installed in the charge in 1700. Another Scotsman, he received his education in Edinburgh, and was or dained to the charge of Newtownards in 1696. He was a member of the Belfast Society, and Moderator of the Synod of Ulster, 1713-1714.
Only one reference to the life of the congregation during this period can be traced. In the records of the Synod of Ulster for 1711, there is reference made to the case of one, Mr. Mc Gill, (spelt McGill or Magill) from the townland of Tullycarne. Mr. Mc Gill's father had apparently joined in the call to the Rev. Leggatt, and was a respected member of the congregation at that time. However, due to some resentment or other, he later withdrew from Dromore and joined himself to the congregation of Donacloney. Then, around 1711, his son asked the Presbytery of Armagh to allow him to rejoin with First Dromore, and upon the decision of the presbytery going against him, he appealed to the Synod of Ulster. The Synod found in his favour. Now the interesting aspect of this dispute is that Mr. Mc Gill junior, was acting on behalf of the residents of the Tullycarne district, and he therefore wanted the whole townland of Tullycarne declared part of the congregation of Dromore. This was granted by Synod. Here we see the power and influence of what must have been one of the leading families in the district. Mr. Mc Gill senior, seems to have taken with him to Donacloney, a whole townland, which subsequently wished to return to Dromore.
What would a Minister's life have been like in those days? Stevenson quotes from the diary of the Minister of Benburb, and gives us this picture . . .
`A man could be in the saddle for a great part of the day, and night, in fair or foul weather, travelling far, baptising, marrying, catechising, visiting the sick and the dying, attending markets, buying cattle, and sometimes slaughtering them.'
The relative peace of the congregation, and indeed of Presbyterianism generally, was soon to be tried. Questions were being raised in many quarters concerning subscription to creeds and formulae. The issue was to stir up strong feelings and arguments on both sides of the debate.
In particular, ministers and people were questioning subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith. (This confession was drawn up at Westminster between 1643 and 1647, mainly by English Presbyterians, and, says Anderson, was based largely on the Irish Articles of 1616. It has become the test of orthodoxy for all potential Presbyterian Ministers, and subscription is still required from all Ministers at ordination and installation. Together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, these remain the subordinate standards of our Church). Anderson tells us that the Synod took the practice and procedure of the Church of Scotland as its guide, and had laid down that all entrants to the ministry must sign the Confession, `but some presbyteries were being lax about this, and now the rule was being rejected.' Now, in Ireland, as in England, some Ministers were expressing unorthodox views. What they said initially, seemed, on the face of it, to be reasonable enough. The only authority for the Church and the faith is the Scripture. To it every man must repair for the instruction of his conscience, and can only hold to what his conscience informs him is right.
The Confession, on the other hand, was an attempt to answer such questions as . . .`Having examined the Scripture, what do you believe it teaches concerning Christ, The Trinity, etc.?' In the Confession, the Church nails her colcurs to the mast, that all may know what she believes the Scripture to teach.
FIRST DROMORE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH BUILDING IN
THE EARLY 1900's.
However, some were beginning to say that the Scripture alone is inspired, but the Confession is not. Therefore, they questioned the whole idea of subscription to a man-made, uninspired, creed. Those holding these opinions were daubed `The New Light.' There was a sizeable number of people who held these opinions although they always remained in the minority. To the orthodox men, it seemed the followers of the New Light were holding heretical views. They believed the Deity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, etc. were being called into question.
The matter was raised at the General Synod in 1721, and that body reaffirmed its belief in the Deity of Christ. Over the next few years, there were several instances of non-subscribers refusing to submit in this matter to the authority of Synod and presbyteries, and there were divisions in congregations on the issue. By 1726, we find the Synod at Dungannon deciding to exclude the New Light Party from ministerial communion with them in church judicatories.
THE SUBSCRIPTION ISSUE IN DROMORE
It is against such a background that we can best understand the controversy which developed, and eventually split the congregation, in Dromore, in the early 1700's. The Rev. Colville died suddenly in the pulpit on Sunday morning, 1st December, 1719, and the people were faced with the task of finding a new Minister. Mr. Colville had a son, Alexander, who had been pursuing a course of Medical studies, which he completed. Then he spent some time in preparing himself for the Ministry and after completing his theological education, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Cupar in Scotland. This meant he had signed the Westminster Confession of Faith. The congregation in Dromore expressed a desire to hear him, which led to the issuing of a call in his favour. Now, it seems that he had changed his mind about subscription, and he was no longer prepared to subscribe. His sympathies were known in Dromore, and some in the congregation opposed the call. They suspected him of holding erroneous views of the Trinity.
Certainly, in later years, Colville expressed clearly developed non-subscribing views in various publications. In his `Queries,' he takes exception to those who `substitute subscription to an uninspired creed for subscription to the inspired Word of God.' In particular, he objected to the Confession on the grounds of what it taught about the doctrine of predestination, and the civil magistrates. These were his developed views, but certainly the seeds must have been in his mind at the time of the call to Dromore.
The situation then was this. Mr. Colville wished to be ordained into the Presbyterian Church, Ireland, but he refused to subscribe to the Confession, and those in the congregation who opposed him, took this as evidence of his errors. The matter was brought to the Presbytery of Armagh which found against Colville, and proceeded to the General Synod of Ulster, in June 1725.
Meanwhile, knowing that the majority in the Synod were subscribers,
Colville took himself to London. It seems that he must have had in his
possession letters of recommendation from fellow Presbyterians in Ulster.
These he presented to some dissenting clergymen in London. He was then
privately ordained in the vestry-room of Dr. Calamy's Church. The
Ministers involved in this were themselves non-subscribers. Returning home
again, Colville and the majority of his people applied to the Presbytery
of Armagh to install him in Dromore. They considered that all difficulties
in the way of this had been removed. However, the presbytery thought
otherwise. They resented Mr. Colville's conduct and considered he had
evaded Church law. Instead, they sent supply preachers to the party in the
congregation which opposed him. Colville must still have been in touch
with his friends in London, for a letter arrived from Dr. Calamy. He was
enraged by the presbytery's refusal to install Colville, and he threatened
to use his influence to have the bounty withdrawn. (Otherwise known as the
Regium Donum, or King's Gift, which
AT THE SYNOD
So the case of Dr. Colville came before the Synod, June 1725. From the majority of the congregation, and therefore speaking for Dr. Colville, came Mr. Robert Hamilton, Mr. John Eeard, and the Commissioners, Adam Heatley, James Kerr, and George Woods, all of whom appealed against the sentence of the Presbytery of Armagh. Captain John Magill and the commissioners of the Minor Party in the congregation presented themselves to earnestly desire that Colville be not settled in Dromore, since it was against their conscience to submit to his Ministry. A dispute arose as to the proper method for proceeding. Colville and his supporters insisted that the Synod deal with the appeal from the Sub-Synod of Armagh. Others, however, wanted to investigate the conduct of Colville and his people. The latter course was adopted. On June 23rd, the relevant minute was read out to the full Synod.
It appears from this, say the Minutes of the General Synod, `That Colville had produced presbytery certificates from some Ministers in London giving an account that the said Ministers had ordained him, and Mr. Colville wanted to be a member of the Presbyterian Church. Presbytery refused, because he had, contrary to his promise of subjection to that presbytery, and even when his cause was depending before the judicatories of the Church, without their knowledge or consent or any certificates from them, withdrawn himself from under their conduct, and contrary to the rules of the Church on certificates, obtained in an irregular manner, had obtained ordination in London, and since his return from London he exercised his ministry in Dromore in a vacant congregation under their inspection, without their consent, or appointment, or the proper certificates.'
Thomas Witherow indicates that since it appears no written citation was made out against Colville or received by him, he simply went home. Therefore, he thought he could not be called or his case heard. However the Synod continued with the case, and decided to suspend Colville for three months, giving power to the Presbytery of Armagh to terminate or to continue the suspension. This did not conclude the matter. The two sides had made their stand, and neither was prepared to give way. Besides, this case had now become part of the wider subscription controversy.
The Synod appointed some Ministers to supply the congregation on the succeeding Sundays. Mr. Samuel Henry was appointed to read the suspension order to the people, and if the majority refused to give him access to the meeting-house, he was to preach to the minor party. The Synod also decided to censure all other Ministers who associated with Colville, no doubt thereby hoping to isolate him.
In the Minutes of the Synod of Ulster, dated 21st June 1726, we read that Mr. Henry went to Dromore as appointed, and read the sentence of the Synod which suspended Colville. However, we learn also, that he read this to the minor party after having been refused admission to the meeting-house of the major part of the congregation.
Dr. Colville, meanwhile, was not inactive. He continued to preach to the major part of the congregation in disregard of the Synod's sentence. Next, he applied to the Ministers in Dublin to receive him into their Association, and to install him in his charge. He knew there were there enough of non-subscribing sympathies to support him. Now here is where the future course of the wider Church controversy took a new twist. These Dublin Ministers were placed in a dilemma. They debated among themselves whether they should become involved in the case or not. They decided they should. They called on the Presbytery of Armagh to answer Colville's complaint. The presbytery refused to recognise their jurisdiction by so doing, but they forwarded an account of Colville's conduct.
A deputation from Dublin arrived on 19th October 1725, and
attempted to persuade the presbytery to repeal its decision to suspend.
Now the sub-synod of Armagh issued the following letter . . .
The battle-lines were well and truly drawn.
Despite this, the deputation from Dublin received Dr. Colville into their Association along with the congregation . . . and installed him as the Minister of the congregation on 27th October 1725. These Dublin men were Rev. Chappin of Dublin, Rev. Mc Gachy of Athy, Rev. Woods of Summerhill, (i.e. all, of the Dublin presbytery) and Rev. S. Smyth of Limerick. This then resulted in the Synod breaking off intercourse with the Dublin Association, and forming the Presbytery of Dublin from the subscribing Ministers.
What then, of the Minor Party of Captain Magill and friends?
It seems they numbered about one third of the congregation, giving us a figure of 200 families, (the call to Colville was signed by 400 persons, each a head of a family, this being about two thirds of the original numbers). They now found themselves without a meeting-house, and little source of income. Accordingly, at the Synod, on 21st June 1726, Capt. Magill supplicated `that in regard to the paucity of their numbers, and their weakness, that Synod allow them a Sabbath Day's collection throughout the whole Church, with previous intimation the Sabbath before.' Ministers were appointed in different areas to gather the collection . . . in Tyrone, Letterkenny, Derry, Bangor, Strabane, Killeleagh, Templepatrick, Armagh, Coleraine, Monaghan. With the proceeds of this collection the congregation re-established itself, and was able to support the new Minister, the Rev. James Allen, who had been installed by the Presbytery of Armagh on May 18th 1726. This was the orthodox congregation, the mother of the present congregation. This congregation for a time held services in an old kiln at the head of Rampart Street. However on the removal of the Colville congregation to a meeting-house in Pound Street, they returned to the original place of worship on the Diamond Road.
surprisingly, the new congregation continued to watch out for error, as
indeed did many in the whole church over the next number of years. The
Synod Minutes tell us that Dromore, along with Magherally, Dromara, and
Eallyronie, supplicated the General Synod in June 1747, concerning errors
creeping in to the Church. A committee considered this, and a paper called
`A Serious Warning' was drawn up. Synod directed it to be read to all
congregations within the bounds of the Synod. The alleged errors included
. . . denying the doctrine of original sin ; the proper and real
satisfaction of Christ ; the necessity of His imputed righteousness in
order to our justification.
The years 1740-1815 have proved very difficult to research. There are no available records which hint at the life of the congregation during this period. Nor do we know of any noteworthy events which would serve as reference points for further research. However, we do know who the Ministers were.
In 1753, the Rev. William Henry succeeded Mr. Allen who resigned in 1752. He came from Loughbrickland, and was licensed by the Dromore Presbytery in 1751. From May 1753 he ministered in Dromore until 1776, in which year we find he moved to First Comber. He died in 1789, `much and deservedly lamented.' He had a son who entered the Ministry, and also practised Medicine. He was the father of the Rev. Dr. P. Shulham Henry, the President of Queen's University Belfast. He was also Moderator of the Synod of Ulster in 1803.
The Rev. James Cochrane followed in May 1777. He was a son of the Manse at Connor, and was licensed by the Ballymena Presbytery. His ministry was a short one, since he died in 1779.
After the death of the Rev. Cochrane, there followed a vacancy which was
to last for five years. Why the vacancy should have been so long we cannot
know, but it was eventually filled in 1784 with the installation of Rev.
James Waddell. He had been brought up in the Dromore district and was
licensed by the presbytery in 1783. His was quite a long ministry,
spanning 31 years, and he was still the incumbent at his death in 1815.
Mr. Waddell died on the 12th July 1815, and after a space of about 18 months, the Rev. James Collins was ordained and installed as Minister of the congregation. The first son of a wealthy Dublin merchant, Mr. Collins appears to have been a man of some means. He was born in 1795 and educated in Glasgow. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Tyrone in 1814, and ordained in Dromore on 17th December, 1816.
During Mr. Collins ministry, the seating capacity of the Church was increased largely through the generosity of the Minister. The Presbytery Minutes contain a copy of an agreement drawn up between himself and the congregation, whereby Mr. Collins loaned the sum of £37 to the Committee for the erection of a third gallery in the meeting-house. The repayment of this sum, together with the interest due, was to be met by the stipend arising from the seats of the new gallery. Further, it was agreed that after the amount was raised, Mr. Collins would receive . . . `whatever stipend the gallery might produce over and above the sum secured to him in his call from the other parts of the house . . . and that it shall be his property bona fide, as long as he continues the Minister of the Congregation.'
A microfilm held in the Ulster Folk Museum, dated 13th July 1837, describes the church building as a whitewashed, rough-cast edifice, approximately 80 feet long by 40 wide, able to accommodate 1200 people, with an average attendance of 700. Preaching at the installation and dedication of a new pipe organ in the Church on Sunday 15th February 1936, Rev. T. Doey (see page 35) reminisced about the old building. `He thought of the old whitewashed church, with the old stone steps and of the old box pews, and the old pulpit.' It seems the building was constructed in the shape of a Cross. By 1842 the congregation claimed 557 families, with a stipend of £70.
THE INTERIOR OF THE OLD CHURCH BUILDING (PRE-1915).
PRESBYTERY PAYS A VISIT
presbytery visited the congregation in February 1846. The finding tells us
there were 8 elders, a number, which in this age of greater mobility,
would be considered inadequate compared with the number of families. There
were 400-500 communicants on the roll, with 53 new names being added to
the list in 1845. Indeed, throughout these years the number being admitted
each year was fairly substantial. The presbytery had some serious things
to say also. It called upon the large number of families who were only
nominally Presbyterian, and `were living in partial or total neglect of
the public ordinances of the Gospel' to realise their responsibilities in
spiritual things. The presbytery also drew attention to a practice which
seemed to be spreading all over at the time, namely, the habit of serving
`spiritous liquor' at wakes
SUNDAY SCHOOL WORK BEGINS
About this time interest was being developed generally in the need for
more Christian work among children. Sunday Schools were being established
in different congregations to cater specifi cally for the spiritual
education of the young. Before this, the children simply went to Church
with their parents and that was all, apart from the catechising which the
Minister carried out in the homes. In 1837, therefore, some members of the
congregation met with the Minister, and together they established a Sunday
School. The Church still has in its possession the original minute book of
the Sunday School dating from 1837 to 1900, and for almost thirty years
this record was kept by the Superintendent, Mr. Thomas Jamison. The rules
which were drawn up as the basis for the Sunday School make interesting
reading. Here are a few of them . . .
In this day and age, these rules appear strict, but they give us a glimpse of another age, when authority was not so widely challenged as it is now.
Reading through these minutes, one is struck by the seriousness of the religion which the children were taught. Time and again, we read of addresses being given to the children on such texts as `Prepare to meet thy God'. . . This strikes the modern reader as strange, being subjects more suited to adult audiences, but we have to remember the circumstances of the time. Medical facilities were still primitive by today's standards. Disease was rampant, and illnesses which we now regard as curable, were killers. In the minutes we find such references as . . . `School opened today after being five weeks closed on account of scarleteisia. One boy died from the disease.' . . . `A boy, Gilchrist, a very regular attender, died last night only ill a few hours.'
The children had sudden reminders of death all around them. They missed friends who had sat in the Sunday School with them, and they often attended the funerals of fellow scholars and class mates. To be urgent and personal in presenting the Gospel was not in the least out of place or irrelevant. Nor is it out of place today.
The arrangements of the Sunday School were not unlike those we find in any school today. There were Open Days, with guest preachers, and missionaries invited. An outing was held each year, and a Band of Hope was started in 1861 to encourage temperate habits among the young. The dedication of the teachers was impressive, being wisely and warmly guided by the good hand and heart of Mr. Jamison. In 1884 Mr. Jamison wrote . . . `I am today 27 years Superintendent of the Sunday School. I thank God for sparing me so long and for all the real good that He has done. My earnest desire and prayer is that much more spiritual blessings are yet in store for those who may in the future be teachers and scholars. My heart's desire and prayer to God is that every one of our pupils may be saved.'
A DAY SCHOOL IS OPENED
Not only was the spiritual education of the children provided for by the Church, but also the secular. Up until the 1800's there was really no provision made for the education of the children of the working class. However, in 1831, the government began a national education scheme, and by 18;0 the Protestant Churches began to take advantage of it. Soon, day schools in connection with local churches sprang up. So it was that First Dromore erected a school building in the late 1860's. We do not have the exact date, but a presbytery visitation finding for 1871 refers to the school house being built since the previous visitation in 1863. Here the three `R's were taught during weekdays, the building also being used for church activities at night and at the weekends, when required.
At one time the school at First Dromore employed three teachers, with the Minister acting as manager. The school continued its work until 1932 when it was transferred to the Down County Regional Education Committee and in 1936 merged with the schools of the Cathedral and the Non-Subscribing congregation to form the Central Primary School on the Banbridge Road. There are therefore members still living today who received their elementary education at First Dromore school. They remember, `Schoolmaster McAlister;' the stables under the school; and the open coal fires to heat the school room, the coal being partly paid for by pupils' subscriptions.
FIRST DROMORE NATIONAL SCHOOL
By 1857, the Rev. James Collins was feeling the
infirmity of age after a long period as the Minister of the
congregation. Accordingly, in June 1855, he requested the presbytery
to recommend to the Assembly that he be given an assistant and
successor. This was agreed. The presbytery minute provides us with
insight into the character and ministry of Mr. Collins. It reads as
In 1856 Mr. Jackson Smyth was ordained as an assistant and successor to Mr. Collins. He remained until 1859 when he was called to First Armagh and went on to become well known throughout the Church.
At this point, we may note that `the year of grace' began in 1859 in Ulster. Beginning in Ahoghill and Connor, revival came to many parts of the land. Churches and the community generally were changed by the Spirit of God. There are very few references to the effect of the revival in Dromore. However, some statistical returns, noted in the book, `The Year of Grace,' indicate that there were at this time 8 prayer meetings in connection with the church, and that the average attendance at communion increased by 100. Evidently, the Lord did not forget this part of the land, and his saving grace was extended to members of the congregation.
JAMES KIRKER STRAIN
In 1860, Mr. James Kirker Strain was ordained in the Church as assistant and he became the Minister in full charge after the death of the Rev. Collins in 1863. There now began in this ministry a settled period of some fifty years, and during it a great affection developed between Minister and people. J. K. Strain was a son of the Manse in Cremore. Like his father, Rev. Dr. Strain, he had an academic turn of mind, and early distinguished himself as a scholar. He attended Queen's University, Belfast, and scored notable successes in the mental science group, obtaining the senior school in 1858, the year he graduated. He pursued legal studies together with an arts course, obtaining junior and senior scholarships in his Alma Mater. His theological education was completed at Assembly's College, Belfast, and he was licensed by the Presbytery of Belfast in December. During his years as Minister of First Dromore, Mr. Strain undertook further study and obtained his LL.B. and LL.D. (1885). Since it appears he took little part in the wider work of the Church, the congregation benefited from his studies through his pulpit ministrations. He married a daughter of the Rev. Greer of Annahilt, and one of their sons became a licentiate of the Presbytery of Dromore.
A photograph of Dr. Strain, kept in the Minister's room, shows him to be a man of the old Presbyterian school. His bearded face, intelligent eyes, and strong dignified bearing, are the marks of one who laboured steadily in spite of a large share of suffering. The Banbridge Chronicle tells us that he never really enjoyed great health . . . `he was too keen and continuous a student and many a time the lamp of life flickered feebly enough.' This was no exaggeration, as the presbytery minutes show. Twice he wrote to the presbytery advising them of his ill-health. The first time was in November 1880 when he sought the advice of the presbytery as to his resignation from active duty as he felt unable to do all required of him. On this occasion the presbytery undertook to supply his pulpit. Then he wrote again in 1881 asking the presbytery to recommend to the Assembly he be allowed to resign if he found it necessary. He never did, and continued to minister until his death in 1907.
REV. DR. J. K. STRAIN - MINISTER 1860-1907
Dr. Strain was a shrewd observer of life. He studied not only books, but also people. In the late 1860's he undertook a voyage to America and did some travelling there. On his return he gave a public lecture on his experiences and later published this in booklet form. From this it is evident that he had an eye for detail, and his gifted mind and keen insight enabled him to read a person's character accurately. In addition, he had a delightful sense of humour. These qualities are illustrated in the following incidents he relates in the booklet . . . On board the ship crossing to America he writes one Monday evening in the public lounge;
`Let me look around and tell you what the folks are doing just now. Nearly opposite to me .... are two farmers, one Canadian, the other American, and they have set themselves to guess the professions of the different passengers. they thought themselves the only two farmers in the ship, and set down the most of the others as tailors, cooks, mechanics, etc. They could not guess what I was, so I had to tell them; when one of them said he strongly suspected it, as if in were something to be ashamed of. I told him I was not ashamed of it at all, when his friend said it was a calling honourable enough. Dollars and cents, rather then faith and good works, gold rather then Gospel, seems to epitomise their religion'.
Dr. Strain was also a careful and gifted preacher of the Scripture, seeking to explain and to apply Reformed Doctrine. The Minutes of the General Assembly for 1908 refer to him as . . `A preacher of great merit, a diligent student, a high-minded Christian and a faithful friend'. Here is a man who preached with a Pastor's heart. He himself suffered both physically and emotionally through the loss of loved - ones (his daughter Lizzie died suddenly in 1897 aged 16), and he sought to apply the balm of the Gospel to the wounds of his people. Then, too, we find a man who loved his Saviour. Not that he was demonstrative in his faith; it burned quietly, but steadily and strongly. Here is an extract from one of his sermons, illustrating such qualities. The text is John ch. 13 verse 1, . .. `When Jesus knew His hour was come'.
...... Now my friends it is not Ministers who are specifically set apart to spend their time and their life in His dear service, who are called His own'. "This honour have all the saints". You are His own, if you believe in Him if you live in a garret. You are Christ's own, if you only repair a road or sweep a street. You are His own, who believe in His Name, though every day you stand behind a counter, or plough in the fields, or make the hay when the sun is shining. I trust there are some of Christ's here today, though they do not know it. Eought with his blood and they are well aware of it. Chosen from all eternity, and yet they have not discovered it. May God reveal to you His everlasting love, and enable you to make your calling and election sure . . .'
IMPROVEMENTS ARE MADE
It was during this century that a Church, and Manse fund was begun throughout the Church, and at the visitation of 1863, the presbytery asked the Committee of First Dromore to consider erecting a Manse for the use of the Minister and his family. Therefore it would appear that previous to this the Minister had to provide his own accommodation, or it was rented for him. On the Rev. Collin's grave in the Church graveyard, the Minister's address is given as Parkrow House. This is a large house set in its own grounds approximately 200 yards behind the present Manse, and it is still inhabited. Possibly Mr. Collins owned it himself, or it was rented for him by the congregation. Nothing was done about this recommendation for a few years, and there is reference to this in the visitation of 1871. However, by the time of a further visitation in 1878, the Manse had been built on the Dromara Road, and this is the house which is occupied by the present Minister and his family. Set in its own grounds, and surrounded by five acres of glebe, it affords a fine view of the town and countryside.
THE MANSE, 1981
The Meeting-House too was improved during this period. Up to this time, access to the galleries of the building had been gained by way of outside stone staircases. These were removed, porches were built, and new safety staircases were installed. The roof which had previously been thatched, was slated.
A central heating system was installed in the Church in 1895, and it was the job of the new sexton, Todd Barr, to see that this was kept in working order, and the Church properly heated for the Sabbath Services. Services regularly lasted two hours and often would not be finished until 2.00 p.m. The road, say old members, was black with people from 11.30 a.m. making their way to Church. The more wealthy members came by pony and trap, but many came on foot, often walking several miles on the journey to Church and home again. The evening service is quite a recent introduction. There is a reference in the Committee Minute Book of services being held in the school-room in 1902, because there was no lighting in the Church.
The life of the congregation continued quietly. As we have seen, the Sunday School carried on a good work among the young, and Dr. Strain was kept busy with visitation and the superintendance of the eight or more Sunday Schools which met in the outlying areas of the parish. Also, he was involved in the oversight of at least three of the twelve day schools in the district, and attendance at the weekly prayer meeting.
By 1907 Dr. Strain's health was failing, and an assistant was appointed to help him in his duties. He died in December. He was seventy years of age, and he had spent nearly fifty of those years in the Ministry. On looking back over that time it is clear that, had his health permitted, th Church might have heard much more of Rev. Dr. J. K. Strain, and been the richer for a wider service from him.
The years from 1907 to 1917 were in many ways both unsettled and changeable. One can sense that the congregation was approaching a moment of decision forced upon them by circumstances.
In great contrast to the long ministry of Dr. Strain, these years were to witness a succession of three Ministers, two of whom stayed for only a few years. From 1907 to August 1909, the congregation lay vacant. Several candidates were heard, but agreement could not be reached on a settlement. Indeed, opinions were strongly held, and at one stage the interim Moderator called a special congregational meeting to resolve the deadlock. Happily he succeeded, and a short time later, the Rev. J. C. Greer was installed as the Minister. Arrangements were made for the ordination on the 9th September, 1909, and repairs were carried out to the Manse. It was quite an occasion. There was to be a dinner served after the Service, with tickets priced at 5/- per head. 200 tickets were printed. In the evening a social gathering was held in the Church, tickets 1/- each. At this, the ladies of the W.W.A. presented the Minister with a new gown.
At the new Minister's first committee meeting there was a disagreement over the music in the Church. Apparently a piano had been used at the ordination to accompany the singing of the Choir Anthem. Up until this time, the singing was unaccompanied, following the practice of the Covenanters.
REV. J. C. GREER. MINISTER 1909-1912.
The Rev. Greer accepted a call to the congregation of Strand, Londonderry, in October 1912, and another vacancy began. However it did not run for very long. This time the people found their new Minister in Bessbrook, and made out a call to the Rev. Thomas Doey, a call which he accepted. He was installed on the 13th February 1913. Mr. Doey was the son of Mr. Thomas Doey, Cookstown. He was born on 25th May 1876, and educated at Magee College, New College, and Assembly's. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Tyrone in June 1905, and ordained as Minister in Bessbrook on September 4th 1906.
Almost immediately after Mr. Doey's installation, an idea which had been mooted before Mr. Greer left, was raised again. It was proposed that the congregation proceed to the erection of a new Church building. There was good reason for this. The roof of the old Church was found to be in such a poor state that it was considered to be not worth repairing. At a congregational meeting, the people committed themselves to the project, under the leadership of Mr. Doey who worked untiringly in the interests of this project during his short ministry. We can appreciate the extent of the congregation's faith and determination when we remember that war loomed on the horizon, and that the global storm broke in 1914. Nevertheless the people decided to press on. The architect's estimate for the new building was £4,500, and work began with promises amounting to £2.500.
A design for the new Church had to be decided upon. Certainly, the Committee did not lack advice from old friends. Dr. Prenter wrote in 1913 against the trend for modern design. He wished for `an auld house . . . There is brain enough and taste enough in First Dromore to construct, on the sacred site of the old building, a house of God which will at once be useful and ornamental, and which the present builders will not be ashamed to hand down as a precious legacy to their children and their children's children. How right he was !
It was decided to visit other buildings before any decision was reached. A delegation from the Committee visited Ballysillan, Argyle Place, Whitehead and Larne. The Ballysillan model was approved. (Ulsterville Church on the Lisburn Road, Belfast, is built to the same specifications). The congregation said farewell to the old building at a Communion Service to which former members were invited, on Sunday 10th May 1914. The contractors, John Graham and Sons, of Dromore then moved in to demolish the old Church, and erect the new, and present, one.
The Foundation Stone ceremony, performed by the Right Rev. Dr. Bingham, Moderator of the General Assembly, was an interesting occasion. Two leaden boxes, hermetically sealed, were placed under the foundation stones. These contain coins of the realm, a copy of the Dromore Weekly Times with a report of the final services in the old Church, a Newsletter, Northern Whig, and a sketch of the Congregation's history.
The building was completed in 1915, and today stands proudly as the legacy of wise and faithful forefathers. It is an impressive structure, listed now as an historic building, built of dark blue whinstone rock, relieved by white limestone dressings. The pews are of pitch pine, and it is capable of seating 800 worshippers comfortably.
Special services were held in the new building in November 1915. On the 7th there was a dedicatory service conducted by the Rev. McDermott (standing in for the Moderator of that year, Professor Hamill, who was ill), and he spoke from John chapter 3 : 3,5. On November 14th the guest preacher was Dr. Park of Belfast, and on the 21st, Rev. J. Gailey, the Minister of Ballysillan, preached. Various gifts were presented. The new entrance gates were donated by the ladies of the W.W.A., as also were the furnishings for the Minister's room. Children of the congregation gave £30 towards the cost of the pulpit. Miss Todd of Parkrow House, an amateur wood carver, gave pulpit chairs. The communion table, a hall table, and clock, were the gifts of Mrs. Doey.
In 1917, the W.W.A. held a bazaar to clear the remaining debt.
Here we pause for a moment with Dr. Prenter again, as he looks back over sixty years of the Church's life, and offers the following comment . . . "First Dromore has had a succession of Ministers, all of whom were evangelical, who, through good report and ill, kept the light of the Gospel shining clearly in the premier county of Ulster. I have known and personally hcnoured five of these men and the Rev. James Collins, first cousin cf the late Dr. Morgan, lives in my memory as the very ideal of a godly and devoted Minister of Christ."
FIRST DROMORE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
(TAKEN AROUND 1915-1917).
In September 1918 the Session and Committee were requested to release Mr. Doey for chaplaincy work with the soldiers in France. This was unanimously agreed. He and his wife were presented with an illuminated address, which today hangs in the Choir Room at the back of the Church.
(I have already referred to the effort which Mr. Doey put in to the rebuilding of the Church. Just how much his work was appreciated can be gauged from the following quotation from that address . . . `The most striking example of your labours has been the erection of our new and beautiful Church which by the blessing of God will stand for many generations as a memorial to your work of faith and labour of love in our midst. Although sorry to part with the old building so dear to our hearts with all its hallowed memories and sacred associations yet we felt that a more suitable place of worship was necessary. We were deterred however by the greatness of -the financial responsibility involved, but your wise and comprehensive plan which you demonstrated so clearly to us enabled us to see how the work could be accomplished and also won our confidence in your ability to carry it to a successful termination . . . It is impossible in a short address to do more than to refer to the great amount of work which you accomplished in connection with the building, but you carried it out in a zealous and very whole hearted manner not sparing yourself in any way where the interests of the Church were concerned. This great undertaking required a large amount of your time and yet you did not neglect the higher interests of the congregation as you ministered to them in spiritual things from Sabbath to Sabbath).
A short time later, Mr. Doey was called to the charge of New Row Coleraine, where he exercised a much appreciated ministry until his retirement in 1948.
ILLUSTRATED ADDRESS TO REV. T. DOEY
Mr. Thompson brought many happy gifts to his ministry in Dromore. He showed an inborn sense of tact in his handling of Session and Committee meetings, and his eminent good sense was commented upon by parishioners and pastors alike. These gifts he exercised in wider ministries, being Moderator of Presbytery, and elected Moderator of the Synod of Belfast. To his people he showed a generous heart, and the Manse door was ever open to the needs of many, rich and poor alike. In the pulpit he displayed a thoroughness of preparation, and an enviable command of the English language and knowledge of Literature. He was interested in the young people, and he and his wife developed close ties with the Girls' Auxiliary and the Boys' Auxiliary. With Mr. Thompson's encouragement, one of these young people, Alfred Martin, went on to become a Minister of the Presbyterian Church. In later years Dr. Martin lost no opportunity of speaking of the debt he owed to the Rev. A. Thompson, who was a spiritual father to him. Speaking in 1969 at the dedication of a memorial tablet and furnishings in remembrance of Mr. Thompson he said "that without his inspiration, encouragement and practical help so freely and gladly given, my life must have been altogether different."
By means of this work they helped train a generation of people with a
strong sense of loyalty to the Church. On his retirement, it is
evident that the congregation deeply appreciated the humanity which
had been shown them in many ways over the years.
At this time attitudes to
the musical ministry of the Church were beginning to change.
Previously, only Psalms had been sung, unaccompanied. A Precentor,
(for many years Schoolmaster McAlister) led the singing. I have
referred above to the use of a piano at an earlier date, and the
objections raised. However, with the passage of time, these feelings
were overcome, and changes were made. In October 1921 it was agreed to
use instrumental music at the Monday evening Harvest Service. Then, at
a congregational meeting in September 1924, it was agreed to use such
accompaniment at all the services in future. Later on in 1935-1936, a
pipe organ was installed. The new organ was built by Messrs. Evans and
Barr, Belfast. It is a two manual and pedal instrument of 27 stops and
17 accessories. The casing is American Oak, and the whole cost just
over £l100 to install. This organ is still in use, and has been
favourably remarked upon by many organists. It was under the special
care of Mr. Samuel Wethers from 1949, in which year he was appointed
as organist and choirmaster. Known over a wide area of countryside as
W. P. NICHOLSON COMES TO DROMORE
During the 1920's the Rev. W. P. Nicholson was becoming well-known in Ulster, and further afield, and interest was expressed in Dromore for bringing him to preach here. A United Committee was set up in the town, and the use of First Dromore building for the Services was requested. This was granted, and the Services were held from 4th June to 2nd July 1922. The stipulation was made that there would be no instrumental music. Leading up to, and during the Mission, united prayer meetings were held weekly in the two Presbyterian, the Episcopal, and the Methodist Churches, where `the Lord's people poured out their hearts for a revival of the work of God in Dromore and vicinity.'
The Alexander hymn book was used in the Services, and people crowded into the meetings from miles around. Often Mr. Nicholson would preach for an hour and a quarter, on such subjects as . . . `The Life that burns and Shines' . . . `Hell' . . . `The Unpardonable Sin' . . . `How do I know that I am saved.' Says the Leader . . . `Mr. Nicholson preached with all the intensity and moral indignation of the Old Testament prophets. He denounced all sins and shams, and yet he is so tender and human, and the wooing note is so manifest that he captures the mind and heart and conscience of his hearers.'
Such a ministry could not but bring blessing to many lives, and so it was. Many people professed conversion, and a great work was done. A Christian Endeavour Society in connection with First Dromore and Banbridge Road congregations was established to help the new converts grow and mature in their faith. This continued for some years.
It is always a healthy thing for a congregation to look beyond its own interests, and this is probably most effectively done when one of its members becomes involved in a wider work. In November 1924, Mr. T. J. Martin, son of Mr. Augustus Martin, was ordained to the Ministry in First Dromore. He had plans to go to the Mission Field, and after his ordination he travelled to China, and worked in Manchuria until 1929, when he returned to minister in England.
Toward the close of his ministry, Mr. Thompson was dogged by ill-health, and he sought assistance in the parish work. He found this in Mr. D. H. S. Armstrong, who was later ordained for special work with Scripture Union in Northern Ireland. Mr. Thompson's days of active ministry were obviously drawing to a close, and he retired in November 1951. He moved to Larne where he and his wife lived until their deaths in 1968 and 1974 respectively.
UP TO DATE
The congregation did not have long to wait for their new minister. The Rev. F. L. McConnell was installed in April 1952. Born in 1905 Mr. McConnell was a voluntary worker in the Church at an early age. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who were elders before him, he was ordained as a ruling elder in Cliftonville Church.
THE CHURCH HALLS AND CAR PARK, 1981
He went into business, but was also led to take up the course at Assembly's College for the training of lay agents. He was licensed as such by the Presbytery of Belfast and became lay assistant in Fisherwick, with charge of Laganvale Hall, and he later acted in this capacity in Joymount, Carrickfergus. He found time at first to study part-time at Assembly's College, and later after full-time study also, became assistant to the Rev. S. R. Jamison of Ulsterville. He was licensed as a probationer there, and on 26th April 1949 was ordained in Albert Street Church, Belfast.
Following a successful Ministry there, he and his wife and their two daughters, Freda and Yvonne, moved to Dromore. Mr. McConnell began an energetic Ministry which saw the formation of G.B. and B.B. Companies, a Children's Church, and the continuing work of the P.W.A. in which Mrs. McConnell took an active interest.
Now, all of this weekday activity took place in the old
schoolroom, and, as time passed, it became obvious that it was no
longer adequate to accommodate the work of the congregation. Some
therefore proposed that a new hall be erected. There was opposition to
this, but the advice . . . `Old houses mended, cost little less than
new before they're ended,' . . . prevailed, and work commenced on the
new hall which was opened by the Lord Chief
Justice McDermott in 1960, and dedicated by the Moderator of the General Assembly Dr. T. A. B. Smyth. A few years later the debt was cleared, the whole scheme costing £14.000. By the mid1960's the Church was in need of repair, and in 1965 extensive redecoration work was carried out, and the Rt. Rev. Dr. Alfred Martin, Moderator of the General Assembly, re-opened the building for worship in September 1966.
In 1966 also, the Session gave permission for a Youth Fellowship to be held on Sunday nights. This organisation is still going strong, and over the years has exercised a healthy evangelical ministry on the lives of the young people. A varied weekly programme, with outings, and an annual Easter Weekend away, have helped to foster interest and fellowship.
During this ministry, the Session Minutes tell us that the Church was involved in two evangelistic campaigns. The first was a united campaign with the other main denominations in the town, and it was held in 1955. Then, in 1972, it was decided to hold a congregational Mission which ran from 18th February to 4th March, and there was much preparation for it. Sub-committees, drawn from the eldership, were set up . . . for, prayer, praise, visitation, transport, etc., the whole plan being guided by the Missioner, the Rev. John Girvan of Immanuel, Belfast (now Minister of Hill Street, Lurgan and Moderator of the General Assembly, 1981-1982). The Gospel was faithfully proclaimed and some harvest was reaped. In 1974 the congregation also took part in the Flame '74 project, a plan for the renewal of the Church. Meetings were held, led by various speakers, and discussion groups formed to help people to a better understanding of the Christian Faith, and the disciples responsibilities to his Lord.
REV. W. D. PATTON
In March 1976, Mr. McConnell and his wife retired to Newcastle and the congregation set about the task of selecting a new Minister. A Hearing Committee was appointed, and in October they recommended the congregation to call the Rev. W. D. Patton, B.S.Sc., B.D. This was agreed, and Mr. Patton was installed on February 16th 1977. Born in Warrenpoint 30th May 1950, Mr. Patton received his education at Portadown College, Queen's University, Belfast, and The Assembly's College, Belfast. He was a student assistant in Cregagh Congregation 1973-1974. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Armagh in June 1974 in his home congregation of Armagh Road, Portadown, and became Assistant to the Very Rev. Dr. J. T. Carson in Trinity Bangor in August of that year. There, he was ordained in January 1975 and remained assistant until his call to Dromore.
Since 1977 the congregation has further developed its work and witness. In October 1979 a large extension to the Hall was opened and dedicated by the Moderator of Assembly, the Rt. Rev. Dr. W. M. Craig, Minister of First Portadown congregation, at a cost of £62,000. This extra accommodation has allowed many more meetings to take place through the week, and has facilitated the organisations in their activities. Much of the emphasis is on Youth Work. A Saturday night Youth Club was begun in 1979, and has about 60 names on the rolls. Then a Junior Christian Endeavour Society was formed in October 1980. Opening with an attendance of 11, this has built up to 30 over the first winter's work, and already, some members have signed active members cards. In May 1981 some of the members entered the all Ireland Junior C. E. Talent competitions, and some of these gained 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, places.
The Boys' Brigade celebrated its Silver Anniversary in 1979 under the Captaincy of Mr. Trevor Patterson, and the Girl's Brigade (with their Captain Mrs. I. Wilson) held their Silver Anniversary celebrations in 1978. In the past few years both these organisations have gained distinction in the Scripture examinations set annually.
The congregation has also been involved in a wider sphere of service through the work of three of its young men. Mr. Victor Patterson was called to the Ministry, and, having completed his course of study at Assembly's College, he was licensed by the Dromore Presbytery in June 1977. He served as assistant Minister to the Rev. Brian Moore in West Kirk, Belfast, and was installed as Minister of Kingsmills and Jeretzpass in 1979. One of his brothers, Jim, and his wife are at present working on an engineering and language project with T.E.A.R. Fund in Benin, Africa. Also, Lawrence Wallace, has worked with T.E.A.R. Fund in Bangladesh, and is now engaged on building work for refugees in different parts of Africa.
So, the congregation continues its life and work. Over more than three centuries all kinds of challenges have been met, and many storms weathered, in faith. In this Church, so beloved by our people, much Divine work has been achieved, the worth of which will be known only in eternity. Here, the Gospel has sounded forth, and countless numbers have responded to the call of Jesus Christ to deny themselves, take up His Cross, and follow Him.
What does the future hold? Humanly speaking no-one knows, but the purposes of God for First Dromore will be fulfilled, and we may be confident the hand of God will continue to guide His flock, and that the young people will take their place in that future work.
The words of Edward Plumptre's hymn express our faith, in saying . . .
Thy hand O God has guided Thy flock from age
to age; The wondrous tale is written, Full clear on every page ;
ON DROMORE AND DISTRICT GENERALLY
PRESBYTERIANISM IN IRELAND - GENERAL AND LOCAL
HISTORY OF CONGREGATIONS ................................. W. D.