First Lisburn Presbyterian Church

Despair to resurrection
Compiled by Wm Richer




In the beginning

First Lisburn has its origins in the turmoil of the seventeenth century. In the aftermath of the Flight of the Earls in 1607 vacant estates were planted with settlers from England and Scotland, an attempt to calm the disorder prevailing in the north of Ireland. Scottish ministers came to preach to these Protestant settlers; this eventually led to the foundation of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

After the Irish rebellion of 1641, a Scottish army was sent to protect the settlers, these soldiers were Presbyterian and as there was then no other form of church government obtaining in the north, they introduced the pattern of their own reformed faith. On I 10th June 1642, five army chaplains and four elders constituted at Carrickfergus the first regular Presbytery held in Ireland.

Presbyterian ministers at that time were inducted into existing Anglican congregations, but after the Restoration they were forced either to resign or be reordained by a bishop. Thus, Presbyterianism became an underground movement, meeting in the countryside for services mainly at night. Eventually the regime became more tolerant, and by 16 70 some "simple meeting houses had been built. In 1672 the King granted the Regium Donum, a small grant to Presbyterian ministers signifying Royal approval.
Thus, by the 1640's, Presbyterianism existed in Ireland, but until 1660 there was no separate and distinct Presbyterian Church. It is generally assumed that the Lisburn Presbyterian Church came into being some time before 1668. For its first two decades it would have been supplied with ministers, possibly at first from the Scottish garrison at Carrickfergus.

By 1687, however, the numbers of Presbyterians in the town had grown, to the point where they felt able to call a minister of their own. The following year they asked for "supply of ordained ministers in order to their being planted with a Gospel minister". Alexander McCracken was appointed, and subsequently ordained on 3 July 1688. Born in Co. Antrim, the first minister had studied Divinity at Edinburgh, graduating in 1673. He was promised �40 per annum stipend.

His appointment came during an exciting era. The Siege of Londonderry, and the arrival in Lisburn of King William on his way to the Boyne, took place within the first two years of Mr. McCracken's ministry.

He had been in the delegation sent to London to present a loyal address from the Presbyterians of Ulster to the new King. When the King came to Lisburn, Rev. Alexander McCracken again called on him and was well received. He, with other Presbyterian ministers, then waited for William at Hillsborough, and were rewarded by His Majesty's doubling of the Regium Donum of �1,200 per annum.

The 1703 Abjuration oath required Presbyterian ministers to recognise the supremacy of the Established (Anglican) Church. This many Presbyterians, McCracken included, refused to do.

Life became difficult for these "non-jurors", and by 1710 McCracken was compelled to flee to Scotland to escape persecution. Later, in London, seeking protection, he pleaded his cause. He returned to Lisburn in 1713, but without sufficient influence to restrain the local magistrate's zeal for prosecution, and was soon imprisoned at Carrickfergus. Three years later he was released, when enforcement of the Abjuration Oath was dropped. He had stuck steadfastly to his Presbyterian principles through great privation and hardship.

Lisburn had been destroyed in the fire of 1707, and the Presbyterian meeting house had not escaped the blaze. Presumably this was an opportunity for the congregation to acquire a more central location, for they then bought the present site, erecting another building at a cost of �400. So our forefathers were faced with the loss of their church, the purchase of a fresh site and the erecting of a new meeting house, as well as the lengthy absences of their minister.

In contrast with McCracken's forty-two year ministry in Lisburn, the second minister, Gilbert Kennedy, remained only a matter of months. This was the period of the controversy over the Westminster Confession of Faith to which ministers were obliged to subscribe, and Mr. Kennedy, although he had signed, was felt by many to be "unsound in the faith". He departed for Killyleagh in 1733.

The schism between subscribers and non-subscribers continued, and after six years of strife the Rev. William Patton was appointed (1736-1745). He is remembered as having made a valuable contribution to more "normal" congregational life. The Rev. Patrick Buchanan, another moderate, followed him, remaining until 1763.

During the ministry of the next incumbent, Rev. James Bryson (1764-74), the long-projected rebuilding of the meeting house was finally undertaken. The congregation resolved to open subscription lists, and it is worth noting that "Priest Morgan on behalf of his flock" contributed �10.

When the present sanctuary had been dedicated in 1768, the next consideration was the selling of seats. This was done according to comprehensive rules, including the stricture, "Hence there can be but one family in a seat ... ".

A brief ministry followed Mr. Bryson's - that of George Kennedy, nephew of Gilbert who had ministered for an even briefer period nearly forty years previously. This time it was death at the age of twenty-eight which cut off this young man in 1779. The next minister, the Rev. William Bruce, took an active interest in the politics of the day. He joined as a private the "Lisburn True Blues" and even preached in the church on one occasion in his red, white and blue uniform. He resigned in 1782 on accepting a call to Dublin.

That year, twenty-eight year old Rev. Andrew Craig, regarded as a nonevangelical, was called to Lisburn from Moira. Spanning, as his ministry did, the years 1782-1824, it encompassed many stirring events such as the'98 Rebellion. Domestically, money had to be spent repairing the church roof. There was no manse, Mr. Craig residing "over the County Down" at Strawberry Hill.

By 1824 Andrew Craig's health was declining and an assistant/successor, Rev. James Morgan, was appointed. ". . . whenever it was necessary he preached for me ... he always carried a sermon in his pocket lest it might be required. We have never the shadow of a misunderstanding ... I revere his memory," wrote Morgan about Andrew Craig.

The Rev. James Morgan had a short but distinguished ministry here. He commenced an evening service and re-activated the Sunday School, departing in 1829 to become the first minister of Fisherwick Place, Belfast.
He was succeeded by Rev. Alexander Henderson who remained twenty-six years. During this time the town was twice struck by cholera; the minutes of the December 1854 Session meeting record devout thanks to God, for although many members of the congregation had been removed "suddenly by death", He "did graciously spare the Members of this Session ... from this Visitation".

One effect of the distant Crimean War was felt in Lisburn when Mr. Henderson, appointed Chaplain to the Troops at the Curragh, resigned in 1855.

The Rev. William Breakey followed, and two years later a "School House for the accommodation of Sabbath Scholars" was built behind the church. By 1860 the building was also in use as a Daily School for all denominations including four Roman Catholics. Mr. Breakey died in office in 1872, "a man of wide vision and in no way tied to sectarian limitations".

His successor, Rev. Lawrence Rentoul, was the first to live in the present North Circular Road Manse, newly built in 1875.

The long ministry of Rev. John J. C. Breakey 1866-1927 was to be a period of innovation, for during it the time of morning service was changed from noon to 11.30 a.m.; Session agreed to allow hymns at the evening service; an organ was installed and largely because of Mr. Breakey's increasing efforts the church was embellished with the magnificent stained glass windows which remain such an inspiration today.

The Sunday School celebrated its Centenary with a Social and commemorative psalters were presented to each child. Extensive renovations and improvements were made to the church property.

Mr. Breakey's ministry of forty-one years which included the Great War and the "Troubles" of the 1920's ended with his retirement in 1927 after which Rev. David Hay was called.
During Mr. Hay's ministry the church at last attained a hall, and activities in the present-day sense began. This occurred when Central School opened and the old Presbyterian School building reverted to congregational use. In the church gallery tip-up seats were installed.

Mrs. Hay's death in 1944 was a sad blow from which Dr. Hay never recovered. Nominated Moderator in 1949 but too unwell to accept the honour he retired after a ministry which encompassed the Hungry Thirties and the Second World War. He is still spoken of as an excellent preacher and a steadfast friend.

In 1950 the congregation called Rev. William Boyd, a war-time Forces Chaplain, who had served at home and overseas. Great changes took place in the church precincts when, under Dr. Boyd's wise guidance, the shops facing Market Square were bought and demolished, and a new church front built. The Market Street property was also substantially improved, with consequent benefit to church finances.

In 1967 Dr. Boyd became the first minister of First Lisburn to be installed as Moderator of the General Assembly. After a ministry of twenty-three years, a time of unparallelled development, both spiritual and material, he retired in 1972. He was succeeded in 1973 by the present minister, Rev. Dr. R. J. Gordon Gray.

Margaret E Gray

The Ministry I

The Very Rev. William Boyd, M. A., D. D. Part Two 1961 - 1972

In our Presbyterian way of life, a minister must be `called by God and duly elected by man'. This right of the people to choose their minister can be exercised in a variety of ways. When William Boyd came to First Lisburn in 1950, it was on the recommendation of a 'Hearing Committee' appointed by the congregation. As he arrived to conduct his first service a member said to him, "I'm sure you're feeling rather nervous." "No," was the reply, "but I'm sure the hearing committee are." That there was no need for `nerves' on anyone's part is amply borne out in W. I. Craig's history of the congregation. Mr. Craig concluded his survey of the first decade of Dr. Boyd's ministry in First Lisburn with these words: "It is with confidence that the congregation looks forward to the future under the wise guidance of their minister, believing that through the grace of Almighty God `the best is yet to be'." These were indeed prophetic words, as the story of the second part of Dr. Boyd's ministry reveals. There are in this story some outstanding moments and significant achievements, but the foundation on which all else was built was the steadfast devotion of a gifted and beloved pastor for his people. Out of his long experience of working with Dr. Boyd at close hand as Clerk of Session the late G. B. Leonard penned this portrait of Dr. Boyd in First Lisburn:

"From the beginning we were struck by the quiet confidence with which he spoke and the friendly warmth of his greeting when he came around our homes to meet us. His sparkling good humour, his lively sense of fun, his quickness and wit, his great human sympathy; all these things quickly endeared hire to us and won him a place in our hearts which will be there for hire always. In his conduct of the Sunday Services we have learnt to know him as a man who walks with God and whose central aim in life is to do the will of his Saviour.

Those of us who have known hire in Committee have seen another side of his nature. Here is the man of affairs, the man of practical vision, initiating major changes in the management of our temporal affairs and displaying gifts of zeal, enthusiasm and tenacity of purpose in bringing these plans to fuition and completion. His is the attitude that gets things done and that inspires others to work with him for the church he loves so well.

In the work of the Session we find still another side. Here his deeply spiritual nature is to be seen not in any facile form of words, but in simple honesty, in human understanding, particularly when he is bringing young people to Communion for the first time and in the courage which enables him to face every issue no matter how difficult it maybe. "

How delighted the congregation was when in 1967 the Presbyterian Church in Ireland conferred its highest honour on their minister, by calling him to be Moderator of the General Assembly and conferring on him the degree of Doctor of divinity. A former member on hearing of the news to Dr. Boyd wrote saying, "When I received a letter from home telling me of your appointment, I just couldn't remember when I had last received a letter making me so happy - happy for you, for Lisburn, the church and selfishly, just happy for myself." The congregation were able to express their joy in a memorable evening in May 196 7, held in the Assembly Hall of Forthill Girls' School, when in the presence of church dignitaries, civic leaders, members of his former congregations as well as the members of First Lisburn, they presented him with his Moderatorial robes and court dress.

The honour and responsibility of the Moderatorship was conferred on Dr. Boyd, not only for his reputation as a parish minister of outstanding gifts, but because of the great contribution which he also made to the wider life of the church both at Presbytery and General Assembly levels. He has been called an 'ecclesiastical extrovert', with major inputs in his record to the work of the Union Commission, the Home Mission and the Board of Ministry and Pensions. Retired ministers today and the widows of ministers in the church are deeply indebted to his imaginative and compassionate proposals., Dr. T. ]. Simpson, the present General Secretary of the church at large, affirms that Dr. Boyd "has been and still is one of our best Chairmen of Committees, Commissions or Assembly." He identifies the secret of his success in these areas as the ability "to discover the 'nub' of a problem under discussion and to keep all debate relevant to that 'nub'." All who have worked in Committee with him will testify to the uncanny knack he has of invariably coming up with what seemed the obvious solution - once he had said it.

If the wider church was enriched by Dr. Boyd's involvement in its affairs so too was the whole Lisburn community. He gave his support to a vast variety of organisations and community projects. His work as a chaplain at Lagan Valley Hospital again extended his ministry, his visits being eagerly looked forward to by staff and patients of all denominations. Here he was able to grasp the opportunity of talking with people at the depths of their lives and beyond the outer facade of social relationships. A deep concern for the education of young people has been a consistent theme of his ministry. Few men could emulate his service to the Board of Governors of Wallace High School on which he served for some 32 years and as Chairman for 20 of those years, retiring in 1985. It was under his Chairmanship that the new Wallace High School was built. This was but a fraction of his commitment to education, being associated also with the Lisburn Technical College, Forthill Girls' School, the South Eastern Education and Library Board, innumerable Primary school management commttees, etc.

In First Lisburn congregation itself the years of this second part of Dr. Boyd's ministry were to see important developments in all aspects of its work and witness. A Christian Stewardship programme was introduced in 1961, leading to increased attendances at public worship and participation in Communion, and increased giving to the funds of the church allowing the congregation to extend their contributions to missions and the wider work of the church. A church magazine ws launched in 1964 with Mr. W. Ross as editor. In November of 1964 the Sunday School celebrated its 150th anniversary. Ongoing work was undertaken to upgrade and modernise the church property. First taken into service in November 1918 the organ was reconstructed in 1968. That year was indeed a year of festival celebration marking both the bicentenary of the present building and the tercentenary of the life of the congregation. With justifiable pride, the congregation welcomed the Governor, Lord Erskine, together with the Mayor and Mayoress, Alderman and Mrs. Howard, representing the Borough of Lisburn to a special anniversary service on Sunday, 5th May 1968. Dr. Boyd took the opportunity to remind his people that though they loved dearly their historic church building, "we must ever remember that the building which we love, the institution, is here for one purpose - that through its worship and its fellowship we may be renewed and recreated to go forth to be the church in the world."

Symbolic of this was the new chapter that now opened in the history of the church building. First Lisburn's meeting place had been hidden away behind business premises, a reminder of the period when non-conformists were not allowed to erect meeting-houses in a prominent place in urban areas and of the difficulties which confronted our forbearers in maintaining their Presbyterian form of worship. The Session and Committee now inaugurated a scheme to remove the business premises which screened the church from view in the Market Square and for the erection of a new front. The principal reasons for the implementation of this scheme which had been contemplated since the beginning of the century but deferred until now were that "the church is people and to maintain our members a visible church would be an advantage" and that "in this age of widespread indifference a visible church could influence people". At a cost of some �35,000 the project was completed and in 1970 First Lisburn ceased to be the church `down the alley' and emerged to take its place at the very centre of Lisburn life. The architect, Mr. Gordon McKnight, had been confronted with the task of putting a new face on an old building. From his wealth of experience of church architecture he was able to repeat the classical style of the old, yet to use new materials contrasting well with the old stone and giving a spacious and open aspect to the church entrance, a spaciousness which encourages members to pause for a friendly word as they come and go. In addition the new building provided the church with a minor hall giving additional room for the work of the Sunday School and other organisations, new cloakrooms and a church office. The motif of the large window, a cross surrounded by a burning bush, blended the symbol of all Christianity with that of Presbyterianism. Congratulations from other churches in Lisburn were received. Dean Adams in conveying the good wishes of Lisburn Cathedral Church commented that "we are thankful that we have been able to find our common heritage in Jesus Christ". The extension was dedicated at a special service on the 14th June 1970 conducted by the then Moderator, the Right Rev. Principal J. L. M. Haire. Speaking of all the people to whom thanks were due for the completion of this work, Mr. N. G. White, Clerk of Session, noted that "our principal thanks are to Dr. Boyd who inspired us to make the decision to go ahead and whose tireless attention to countless details ensured the success of the project". He added that "under his leadership we achieved many things but we are sure that on looking back people will remember this as his outstanding achievement".

Meanwhile the continuing expansion of Lisburn permitted the congregation to promote their traditional concern for the work of Church Extension. 1969 saw the opening and dedication of St. Columba's Church at the Moira Road. Members of the congregation had helped to get the new cause under way and First Lisburn presented the new church with two oak vestibule tables. At Dr. Boyd's instigation a link was also made with a congregation much farther afield, at Ballyshannon, with exchange visits of choirs and people and support for the little Sunday School there.

Dr. Boyd had the ability of `spotting' and attracting leaders and a readiness to give them opportunity to develop and exercise their talents. During his ministry there were two Clerks of Session, Mr. G. B. Leonard and Mr. N. G. White; three secretaries of Committee, Mr. R. F. McNeight, Mr. W. I. Cowan and Mr. W. A. McNeill. The listing of these names conceals the wealth of experience and service which these and countless others brought to the work of First Lisburn in these years. Premises were fully occupied, what with the Cubs and Scouts, the Girls' Brigade, Tennis and Badminton Clubs, Men's Fellowship, Ladies' and Mixed Indoor Bowling Clubs, the P.W.A., Youth Clubs, etc. No record of the congregation in this period would be adequate without reference to the outstanding contribution to the work of the Girls' Brigade made by Mary Kennedy, Captain throughout. She led the 21 st anniversary of the company in 1963 and it was due to her inspiration that the First Lisburn Company truly emulated the Girls' Brigade motto `onward and upward'. None of these varied activities could have been sustained at the level they were if the church had not had the good forture to have as Church Officer in this period, Mr. E. McClenahan. In his retirement speech Dr. Boyd would say, "My friends -to many I owe so much but to none do I owe more than our Church Officer and his wife, Eddie and Phoebe."

During this period Dr. Boyd had the help of assistant ministers, Robert Brown 1962-64, Derek Drysdale 1964-68, John Patton 1969-71. Each of these young men had distinctive gifts and personalities and made their varied contributions to the work and worship of the congregation. All three acknowledge that what they received in this experience was much greater than what they gave and especially what they received from Dr. Boyd in friendship and in training. But not from Dr. Boyd alone, also from Mrs. Boyd and the Boyd family. They were each adopted into the Boyd household, where they experienced love, compassion, sharing of goods, the bearing of one another's burdens, laughter and joy. The Boyd family have a special place in the story of First Lisburn, not just because of the individual contributions that members of the family made, but because their experience of `family' was the source of Dr. Boyd's vision that First Lisburn as a congregation might truly have the characteristics of a family of God.

Naturally when the congregation heard of Dr. Boyd's decision to retire at the end of 19 72 it was with a sense of irreparable loss. But he had by then completed 40 years of ordained service in the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, 23 years of which were devoted to First Lisburn. A special retirement evening was held in the church on 23rd January 1973 when members of the congregation and a considerable number of friends and colleagues joined to pay tribute to Dr. and Mrs. Boyd. When William Booth was handing over responsibility of the world-wide Salvation Army to his son he said, "I am leaving you a bonnie handful." Dr. Boyd quoted these words adding the comment that "the bonnie handful is there in a big job to be done, but also in the sense that whoever follows us will have wonderful people to work with".

Part 2 of the ministry of William Boyd has been but sketched. And this is not the end. Retirement but not farewell. Another part is currently being enacted as he continues his ministry but now in the role of `senior minister' of First Lisburn. The account of that ongoing ministry will be entwined with that of his successor, to whom his vast experience, wisdom and wit will be of immeasurable benefit.

Robert N. Brown


The Ministry II

The Rev. R. J. Gordon Gray, B.A., B.D., D. Min. (Prin.) 1973 -

The Rev. Robert John Gordon Gray was installed as Minister of First Lisburn on Wednesday, 27 June 19 73 by the Moderator of the Presbytery of Dromore, Rev. D. McConaghy.

Born in Belfast, he spent his formative years in Larne and worshipped in Gardenmore Presbyterian Church. He was educated at Larne Grammar School and Methodist College before matriculating to Queen's University where he obtained a B.A. (lions.) degree in Latin, Greek and Ancient History in 1957. Whilst at Queen's Mr. Gray was awarded a rowing `blue' and captained the University Senior Eight which also represented Northern Ireland at the British Empire Games in 1958.

Mr. Gray's student assistantship began in Fisherwick Presbyterian Church where he was ordained on 7 December 1960. His first call was to a Church Extension Charge at Belvoir Park in 1963 where he remained until 1966 when he was appointed as the first full-time Youth Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He instigated the concept of `Presbyterian Youth', building up good working relationships with his colleagues in the Methodist, Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Churches, encouraging them to see their common problems and share in resolving them. As Youth Secretary Mr. Gray was involved in organising many overseas visits for young people to America, Northern Europe and East Germany. During this time he was also Chairman of the Boys' Residential Club at Black's Road, Belfast.

On his appointment to First Lisburn, Mr. Gray brought new ideas and structures to our church organisations. In the Spring of 1974 many thoughts which had been discussed and debated by working parties and committees began to evolve into definite plans. The concept of `Family Church' was instigated, the morning service starting at the earlier time of 11.00 a.m. with ALL children leaving church for Sunday School. Most parents welcomed the change in timing which allowed the whole family to come to church at the same time. 1974 also saw six ladies elected to the Session for the first time when a total of twenty new Elders were ordained on 13 April. This increase in Session numbers allowed for a much wider spread of duties. This year also was marked by continued terrorist activity in Lisburn, bomb blast damage being caused to the two large memorial windows on either side of the pulpit. Permission was obtained from the congregation for the removal and storage of these and their subsequent replacement in more peaceful times but the Committee did not proceed with the idea due to cost.

Mr. Gray's interest in the Church worldwide has always been a feature of his ministry. His involvement with the World Council of Churches was strong. He attended meetings in Ghana, Berlin and Geneva. In 1975 he was honoured by being invited to attend and address a the Fifth Assembly of the W.C.C. in Nairobi. Although the Presbyterian Church in Ireland withdrew from the W.C.C. in 1981, Mr. Gray continued in a personal capacity until 1983 as a member of the working group of 'Renewal and Congregational Life'. it was appropriate therefore that in 1975 we had the assistance of the Rev. Lineau Favia from the Presbyterian Church in Brazil. Though handicapped somewhat by his limited English language he benefited greatly from his stay with us.

In 1975 we said farewell to Mr. W. A. McNeill, for many years an Elder and Sunday School Superintendent. Bill McNeill left Lisburn to live at Spa, near Ballynahinch and the Sunday School Superintendent's role was taken by Mr. W. Hodkinson. Renovations and alterations were started on the basement and youth rooms and these were completed in 1975 at a cost of �10,000. During the Summer of 1976 the Department of Education announced a scheme whereby 90% grants were available for the purpose of renovating Youth Group premises. The newly formed Y.P.A. under the chairmanship of Mr. Ross Mulholland took advantage of this `facelift' and a grant of L4,000 was obtained to enable further work to be carried out in the basement. The new suite of rooms was dedicated by the Very Rev. Dr. R. V. A. Lynas, B.A., B.D. at a special service held on 20 February 1977. Being a town centre church the policy of making our premises available wherever possible to outside charitable bodies was strengthened when some of our rooms were used by the E.H. & S.S.B. for home-making classes to help young mothers. A nursery playgroup was also established.
Planning permission was sought to allow the church to have an exit gate constructed at the bottom of the car park. This was eventually completed in 1978. A new car park wall was built to make our property more secure with financial help from the D.O. E. as part of the re-alignment of Linenhall Street scheme. Thanks were expressed to Mr. E. Bell who donated his time and skills as architect on the scheme, thus saving the church considerable fees.

1977 was a special `Year of Mission', the highlight being our week of Autumn Celebration. Each evening service saw the church well filled under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Godfrey Brown from Ballycastle. There were senior citizen lunches and special services, business men's lunch meetings, `after service' youth meetings, young women's coffee mornings and early morning prayer sessions from 7.30 to 8.30 a.m. when quite a number attended for a period before going to work. The spiritual life of the congregation was greatly strengthened and renewed through these various services and meetings. Before the week of mission each home in the congregation was visited by Elders. Throughout the whole year special attention was given to five areas of our life as a congregation, namely, Family Worship, Personal Prayer and Biible Study, Meetings in small informal groups, outreach to non-attenders and Care for senior citizens.

Another change was that the choir under the leadership of the organist, Mr. David Thompson, requested that the wearing of robes should be considered. Session was pleased to agree to this request and robes were first worn in November. In the Autumn the first edition of a new church magazine 'Wavelength' appeared, to help with the circulation of information within the church. Mrs. Margaret Gray agreed to act as editor of this valuable communications magazine.

In May 1978 our church took part with others in the Lisburn area in the 'Way to Life Crusade' when many of us experienced, some for the first time, the spiritual uplift of a 'Big Tent Mission'. Mr. Gray and other members of the church took part in the organisation of this mission which was held in Wallace Park.
In 1978 also we welcomed Mr. Barry Keating as a student-assistant. He completed his examinations the following year, became a fully fledged Assistant Minister following his licensing in June 1979, went off to the U.S.A. to be married and on his return with his American wife Nancy, was warmly welcomed by the congregation. During the Summer Mr. and Mrs. Keating active in arranging a successful youth visit to Germany when 25 young people from First Lisburn and Abbey Church, Dublin, spent two enjoyable weeks on the Continent. Dr. John and Mrs. Elaine Davis also helped as leaders on this visit and on other occasions. First Lisburn has always encouraged youth exchanges with churches in other countries and over the years many of our young people have been abroad or have welcomed young people of other nationalities into their homes in Lisburn. Tribute must be paid to all those leaders who have participated in these schemes especially Mr. Donald Starritt, Mr. Stephen Graham, Miss Paula Moran, Mr. Norman Crossley and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Millen.

In the Spring of 1980 a programme was launched by Session and Committee to review 'membership in the church'. A review of attendances showed that we had a number of nominal members who seldom attended worship, contributed little and were not involved in the life of the church. The whole congregation was visited in May and June with the first emphasis being on 'giving'. In the Autumn we concentrated on other aspects of membership: participating, worshipping, learning, caring and praying and these themes were used by Mr. Gray in sermons and church literature. One tangible result of these efforts was the setting up of a group named 'Church Friends', their aim being to visit, on a regular basis, all those members who found it impossible because of illness or infirmity to come to church regularly. The organiser of 'Church Friends' in 1980 was Mrs. Pat Crossley and when she left the Lisburn area to live near Ballymoney her role as organiser was taken over by Mrs. Helen Lynn.

First Lisburn, in common with other congregations, celebrated Communion twice a year in April and October. In 1980, in response to requests for more frequent Communion services, additional celebrations at evening services were established. We would thus have morning Communion on the last Sundays in February, April, June and October with evening Communion on the last Sundays in March, May, September and November; some evening services being held in the Upper Room. On 18 January 1981 we said farewell and thank you to Rev. Barry Keating and Nancy who left to take up an appointment in Seattle, U.S.A. His ministry had been an active one showing great concern to those in need and giving positive youth leadership. On the same evening in January we honoured Mr. Douglas Anderson, a young man who had grown up in the congregation and who was now entering the mission field. Douglas was leaving to begin work as a Wycliffe Bible translator in West Africa.

Following the damage caused to the church by the bomb, we returned 'home' on Sunday 6 September. The morning service that day was a memorable one. Two sections under the gallery were roped off because of danger from fractured plaster and every available seat was occupied. Mr. Gray led the congregation in giving thanks for our rich heritage of the past and for the story of First Lisburn, 'a story told in bricks and buildings but even more in persons'. His sermon was based on Psalm 2 : 3,4: "If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do? ... the Lord is in His Holy Temple." Mr. Gray said that we should heed and live by the words of St. Paul in Romans 12 : 21: "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil by good." He also said that the church was a place of memories, memories of those moments when a man and a woman pledged their lives in marriage, or when a young couple held their baby for baptism; moments when a loved one was laid aside to God in death; moments of new resolve and commitment; moments of surrender to Christ in faith.

The Very Rev. Dr. Wm. Boyd also took part in the service and recalling past bombings said, "We must not allow ourselves to become martyrs and lose ourselves in self pity. It is my unshakable belief that the God who through Christ gave us the strength in the past wilt give what is needed for tomorrow."

The fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Boyd's ordination was marked in a tangible manner by the congregation on Sunday, 30 May 1982 when presentations were made to both Dr. and Mrs. Boyd.

A new student-assistant Mrs. Jean Mackarel, was appointed in September 1981. This was a unique occasion for the congregation as Mrs. Mackarel was the first married woman to hold such an appointment in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Mrs. Mackarel, a native of Co. Cavan, was licensed by the Presbytery of Monaghan on 14 October 1982. On Sunday, 13 September 1983 Dr. Gray, the choir, organist, church officer and members of the Congregation paid a fraternal visit to the congregations of Stranorlar and Donoughmore in Co. Donegal. The choir took part in special Anniversary Services and Mr. Gray was the guest speaker. This was a further step in First Lisbun 's policy of encouraging small congregations across the border.
For some time Mr. Gray had been studying part-time to gain a Doctorate of Ministry degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in America and it was a great joy to him and to the congregation when he learned, in June 1982, that he had successfully completed the course. He has the distinction of being the first minister in the British isles to gain what many believe to be the best American Doctorate in Ministry. To mark the significant occasion, the now Rev. Dr. Gray was presented, on Thursday 24 February 1983, with new robes and the colourful Princeton D. Min. hood in red velvet and red and blue silk. The scarf is embroidered on one side with the Burning Bush and on the other side with the symbol of the W.C.C. The robing ceremony was carried out by four ladies who had a long tradition of support for the congregation, Mrs. J. S. Anderson, Miss R. Evelyn Boyd, Mrs. Lily Coulter and Mrs. Irene White. The congregation had given so generously for the robes that there was a surplus and Mr. James Cowan, Senior elder, presented a heated food trolley to Mrs. Margaret Gray in appreciation of all her work for First Lisburn. Clerk of Session since 1969, Mr. Norman G. White on behalf of the congregation presented a cheque to Dr. Gray whilst Rev. John McCaughan brought greetings from the Presbytery of Dromore.

After the ceremony the lights in the church hall were dimmed and Mr. Cecil Kirkwood announced "Rev. Dr. Gordon Gray - This is your Life". A totally astounded Dr. Gray took the stage while his life story was traced using slides, tapes and many persons who had played an important role in his past. His father, mother and sister Marlene, Very Rev. Dr. Victor Lynas (Gardenmore, Larne), Mr. J. W. Sandford (1 st Larne Boys' Brigade Company), Very Rev. Dr. J. Withers (Senior Minister, Fisher-wick), Mr. C. Best (Belvoir Park), Miss Carrie Barnett (Sunday School Organiser), Mr. Eddie Witherspoon (Youth Secretary), Professor J. Barkley, Dr. Philip Potter (W.C.C.), Mr. D. Baker (Corrymeela), Dr. R. Nichols (Princeton), Very Rev. Dr. W. Boyd (Senior Minister), Professor J. L. M. Haire, Rev. J. Skelly (B.B.C.), all took part in the programme as well as members of the 1958 Q.U.B. Senior Rowing Eight and other sailing colleagues. Dr. and Mrs. Gray's two younger sons Timothy and Jeremy were present. Their eldest son Philip was absent due to examinations at Durham University. This was one occasion when both Dr. and Mrs. Gray were lost for words.

Rev. G. Jean Mackarel, B.A., B.D. was Ordained in the church on 17 April 1983 in an inspiring and well attended service. Many of Mrs. Mackarel's friends and relatives from Monaghan were present. However the strain of travelling from her home in Monaghan eventually proved too exhausting and time consuming and although Session offered Mrs. Mackarel the possibility of remaining with us for a further period, she resigned on 17 April 1984, the anniversary of her Ordination. Thanks were expressed to Mrs. Mackarel for her preaching and for the friendship of her home visitations. We were pleased when we heard that Mrs. Mackarel had found pastoral work within the Presbytery of Monaghan close to her home. First Lisburn had a visitation from Dromore Presbytery in April 1983 when we had to review all aspects of our church life. The leaders of the various church groups and youth organisations were praised for their dedication and it is worth recording that the following organisations were flourishing under the banner of the Young Peoples' Association:-Youth Council, Junior Badminton, Badminton, Housewives' Badminton, Girls' Brigade, Venture Scouts, Scouts, Cub Scouts, Beavers, Sunday night group, table tennis and Y.P.A. club night (Saturdays). In addition to all his pastoral duties Presbytery also highlighted the interest and involvement which Dr. Gray has in the community life of Lisburn.

Our Church Officer, Mr. Robert Holmes, was forced to retire through ill health in 1983. Both he and Mrs. Holmes had served the congregation well during a period when cleaning was made much more difficult due to bomb damage.

After seven years good work as Sunday School Superintendent Mr. Bill Hodkinson resigned in 1984 and now leads the senior Bible Class. Dr. John Davis assumed responsibility for the Sunday School, ably helped by Mrs. Joyce Moran, Miss Betty McGrath, Mr. Stephen Graham (junior Leaders), Mrs. Patricia Crossley and Mrs. Helen Lynn (Primary and Beginners Leaders). In all, some 45 members of the congregation teach in the Sunday School which reflects the strength of commitment to Christian Education within the church. A feature of church life is the help given to teachers by Dr. Gray through monthly teaching services based on lessons to be taught subsequently in Sunday School. A new Sunday School teaching programme was introduced in 1985. First Lisburn's Sunday School was the first to adopt this `Faith quest' programme which is now widely used in the Presbyterian church. At the beginning of 1986, Dr. Gray was forced to absent himself from duties for a few weeks due to illness. He was `much strengthened by the many expressions of good wishes and concern conveyed to him and felt a real sense of being ministered to'. Many visiting clergy acted on Dr. Gray's behalf during his six weeks' absence, Dr. Boyd attending to pastoral needs in his usual warm, friendly manner.

During Dr. Gray's illness we were fortunate to have the services of Mr. John Hanson as student-assistant. From the beginning John gave generously of his time and endeared himself to the congregation through his preaching and visitation. Many visited Dungannon to attend his licensing by the Presbytery of Tyrone on 8 June 1986. Session had no hesitation in calling Mr. Hanson and his memorable Ordination Service was held on 8 February 1987. This was a unique occasion, having the unusual feature that Dr. Gray presided as Moderator of Presbytery of Dromore with Dr. Boyd also taking part in the service. Many travelled from Dungannon to the service which must have been a great encouragement to our young assistant. In June he married, and the congregation were delighted to welcome his wife Rosemary.

A disappointment occurred when, at the end of that year, David Thompson after 13 years of dedicated service resigned as organist and choirmaster. David's services were greatly missed, as his musical talent and passionate playing of the organ had enhanced our services since Dr. Gray's appointment. David had distinguished himself not only during Sunday services but also during radio and television broadcasts when the delights of his music were appreciated by a nationwide audience. After a succession of temporary organists including Mrs. Hanson and Mr. R. A. Megraw we are now fortunate to have secured the services of a young, enthusiastic organist and choirmaster, Mr. R. Morrow, who we hope will enthrall us with his music for many years to come.

Our church has always been conscious of the needs of others especially those who live in 'THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES'. Over the years the Presbyterian Women's Association under its President, Mrs. Margaret Gray, has contributed much to overseas missions. The annual PWA sale is a feature of our congregational life. Since 1981 Mrs. Hazel McCall and many helpers have organised `Bread and Cheese' lunches in the Upper Room to raise money for Christian Aid. To date �8,400 has been collected for this worthy cause.

During his ministry here at First Lisburn, Dr. Gray has broadcast on many occasions on radio and television. It could truly be said that `the world is his parish'. During the recent turbulent times through which our Province has passed Dr. Gray has courageously spoken out from the pulpit and through the media of radio and television to spread the Christian spirit of love and forgiveness. When he feels that the church is not being true to Gospel principles or is failing to play a reconciling role in the Northern Ireland situation he reminds us all of our calling. He does not always say what we as a congregation might wish to hear but continually challenges us to rethink our Christianity in the light of how we should treat our neighbours, especially those who may have different views from ours. The Workers' Strike (1974) , the W.C.C. debate (1978-1980) , the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985), Roman Catholic/Protestant relations were all issues which we considered and debated from a Christian point of view. His sermon `Are we grasshoppers or men?' (Numbers 14 : 33) preached during the Ulster Workers' Strike received considerable publicity and was published in the Irish Times (7 June 1974) . In his sermon he asked the question, "What does it mean, in practical terms to live in our situation, with an awareness of the presence of the crucified risen Lord?" It means "That we trust the Lord and venture forward rather than backward, risking our security in an attempt to find a happier and more Christian future for our children in our island home."

Dr. Gray's question, asked in 1974, still challenges the Church as a whole. Perhaps our answer as a congregation is best illustrated symbolically by the shattered pieces of stained glass salvaged after the bombing but restored to the beauty of what is now the Resurrection Window, bearing witness to the new birth in Christ.

R. W. Cecil Kirkwood, O.B.E

Our Minister

Central to all that has happened in First Lisburn since 1973 is one figure; Dr. Gordon Gray. No matter who has put forward an idea, no matter who ' has `chaired' a committee, no matter who has organised an event, his hand has constantly been on the tiller. Knowing of his love for sailing a nautical analogy is not inappropriate and it is true that he has steered us through calm and stormy seas.

I would not be so brash as to attempt to paint a pen picture of this man without first obtaining a consensus of opinion from others of Session, Committee and Congregation and it is that consensus which follows.

To return to the nautical analogy; there have been times when some of us may have thought he had `read' the wind wrong, when the boat has been rocked and when some of the crew and passengers have been uneasy: throughout those times his was the certain knowledge that he would make a safe land-fall. A knowledge based not on instinct but on a deep classical study of the Gospels and the Word of God from which he draws such strength and conviction. This enables him to accept the very lonely role of sometimes having a different view from some of the rest of us and making a stand to defend it, requiring a moral courage which few of us would lay claim to. It should be said that most of us come round to his view in the end. A courageous man then? Yes, but not only courageous, for linked with his courage is a compassion for others, an understanding of their problems and a deep sense of caring.

There are those who would say that Dr. Gray spreads himself too widely, that his broadcasting, his work on committees not directly connected with First Lisburn and his work for the wider Church beyond our bounds, starves us of his pastoral time. Not so his tireless energy and insatiable appetite for hard work allow him to fit in more than we have a right to expect to ourselves.

Ask those who have been ill, those who have been bereaved or anyone who has had a deep personal problem; the answer will be the same. No hour is too early, no hour is too late and no amount of time is too long if it means bringing comfort to those who are in need of it. These are the things he does not broadcast!! All his other attributes are over-ridden by his capacity for love. A deep love for his God, for his Church, for his Congregation, for his Family and for people in general. His love of children is never disguised; observe his face as he baptises another baby into membership of the Church or as he gathers the younger children round him for a talk; watch as he congratulates those progressing through Sunday School to Bible Class or when he speaks to the elderly or infirm and you will see expressions of a very genuine love of people of all ages.

How fortunate we are as a congregation to have this man to serve us, as serve us he does.

May God grant him the health and strength to continue so to do for many years to come and grant us the sense of humility to listen more intently, understand more readily and thereby cultivate a sincerity of purpose equal to his own.

Wm. Richer