Maze Presbyterian Church

A Short History
Rev. Thomas Dunn B.A. 1949



Part 1



The Maze is a rural region, a flat country and part of the fertile Lagan Valley, that some authorities tell us was in the dim past all under the sea. Though it lies a little to the side of the main road from Lisburn to Lurgan, perhaps the busiest highway in Ireland, carrying as it does the heavy traffic between the Northern capital and places like Portadown, Omagh, Armagh, the Maze is a sequestered spot. To the north-west the Antrim hills stand sentinel. From that direction, too, come by day and night the rumble and whistle of main line trains. The Lagan Canal intersects the fields and pas�tures not far from the Church, but patient horses plodding along the tow path and pulling the lumbering barges, up with coal or down with turf, are not so familiar sights as once upon a time, for motor transport has stolen business from the slower lighter.

In other ways the scene has changed and modern males have invaded this quiet countryside. Tractors are in the fields, buses have come even to the by-ways, facilitating journeys to work or market. Most startling of the changes was the erection of aerodromes: Familiar landmarks were removed, trees, hedges, farms gave place to concrete runways and great hangars and nissen buts. Planes droned above toilers in the fields, gyrating in practice flights or coming and going on urgent mysterious errands. Strange accents were heard on the road, new liveries and uniforms seen, as smart service men and women went to and fro on the King's business. Links were formed with distant parts. So global and total war caught up even the Maze into its vortex, but happily its red rage did not come too near. It was near enough though, when one or two nights the glowing sky mirrored the-inferno the enemy raiders had made in Belfast. The tumult and the shouting have died away. In Maze home life goes on much as it ever did, the people pursue the even tenor of their ways. The radio keeps them posted in the latest events in either hemisphere, and up to date gadgets and devices make labour more lightsome outside and inside, but much the same hopes and fears alternate in their hearts as ever did.

  To many people the word Maze conjures up one image - the race course. And at certain seasons Maze is the venue for those interested in "the sport of Kings", the rendezvous of "the smart set" At the course are to be seen panting steeds, straining jockeys, touting bookies, fashionable ladies and elegant male escorts, arid mixed up in the melee all sorts of humanity from vendors of lemonade to "gentlemen of the press ". A gay and bustling throng, a place where material for�tunes are made and marred.

  Even when the course is silent and deserted it draws the wondering eyes of strangers. And it is said that after the ordination of one of my worthy predecessors the fathom and brethren strayed to see the course and there was danger of the luncheon being late and lost! So the sexton gave the bell some vigorous tugs to recall the wanderers!

  But for the readers of this book, Maze stands for one thing above others in experience and memory, - the meeting house with the school adjoining, the Manse near by, and "God's acre" behind the Church, where those their erstwhile comrades along life's pilgrim way now rest from their labours. They think of that little Church as their spiritual home.

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What the ancient religious history, of the people of Maze was, and where they worshipped, we have little means of knowing.  

Before the Reformation the people of the district seem to have been under the pastoral oversight of a parish priest, who resided at Blaris and had under his charge not only the Church of Blaris, which is of very ancient origin and than included Lisburn, but also Churches at Trummery and Hillsborough, the latter of which was called Crumlyn or The Crooked Glen. Later we find the parish priest of the district residing at Reilly's Trench, and local tradition says he dwelt on the high ground above the Puddledock road and from that circumstance the townland received the name Priesthill. The chapel at Reilly's Trench is said to have been of great antiquity and was probably the place where in olden time the inhabitants of Maze foregathered to worship. Between 1742 and 1745 this chapel was burnt down by the Royalists and his reverence the priest driven out. Henceforth he seems to have resided at Blaris and for a while he and his flock assembled for their devotions under a tree somewhere between Blaris and Maze.

In 1611 Sir Moyses Hill got a grant from the Magennis family of a number of townlands, including Maze, and began to bring colonists from England to plant the land.

I love thy Church, O God
Her wave before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye
And graven on Thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall,
For her my Prayers  ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given
Till toil and cares shall end.

  Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise."

These newcomers were Episcopalians. They appear to have worshipped at Hillsborough where the Hill family had borne the entire expense of an edifice, and the latter was the only Protestant Church in the district at that time. The Churches of St. James' and' St. Matthew's Broomhedge are of a much later date and precede our own only by a few years; the Chapel of St. James' being consecrated on the 30th December 1842 and Broomhedge on 26th September 1848.

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  Since the middle of the XVIII century the Methodists had been in the area. In July 1751 John Wesley, journey�ing from Belfast to Lurgan came to Maze and preached, There were the usual signs following. The preacher's earnest and eloquent proclamation stirred hearts to new life and faith. The nucleus of a cause was formed. Lay preachers carried on the work. There was a revival and district meetings flourished, notably at Broomhedge and Kilwarlin where John Wesley preached again in 1771. The Rev. Edward Thomas, in the life of James Carlisle, gives the origin of the Priesthill Methodist Church. A Roman Catholic, named Patrick Cunningham, a horse�racer and a very dissolute young man, came under a deep sense of sin and guilt, and in many ways sought to drown the voice of conscience, plunging into orgies and revels. He tried priest and penance but was nothing better and rather worse. In his anxiety he went to Lisburn and heard a minister who had forsaken the Episcopal fold and adopted the Methodist persuasion, and under him he was converted and found inward peace. In 1784 he started a prayer meeting in a friend's house at Priesthill and when this was shortly denied him he transferred to the house of Thomas Bradshaw. Here the circle went on widening and some regular meeting house was called for. In 1786, two years after Cunningham's conversion, the first Priesthill Methodist Chapel was built. It was one of mud and roofed with straw, and seems to have stood somewhere on the Puddledock read. It was used till 1838 when a better sight was chosen and a new edifice erected where the present Zion stands. And so rapidly did the cause gain fresh adherents, the Church had to be enlarged in 1851. At times there were over two hundred children attending the Sunday School.

  While the Methodists thus flourished, a new Episcopal Church had been built at Haliday's Bridge and one at Broomhedge. Could there be room for still another place of worship? It needs to be remembered that the population of the district was much larger then than nowadays. And, moreover, those were earnest times. There was a growing seriousness preparing the way for the revival of 1859. Our own congregation was the child of those years of yearning and aspiration.

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Anahilt, the mother Church of the district dates from 1641. Indeed it may have an even longer history but the records take us no farther than that year. Besides the colonists brought from Gloucestershire and Lancashire, some Scottish families came and settled on the Hill estate, especially on the west and south of Hillsborough. These were Presbyterians and loved to "worship God in simple form ". Naturally they formed themselves into a congregation, erected a sanctuary and called a minister. That was the Anahilt Church, often at that time called Hillsborough. Its boundaries extended to the Maze Course, and to it on the Sabbath any Presby�terians in the Maze probably repaired. Distance was no deterrent in those hardy days. But in 1832 some families in the area - including the Maze ones asked the Synod to be made a congregation. Leave was granted, and hence the present Church of Hillsborough opened on 29th December, 1833. To it Maze members resorted until about two decades later Mr. Stevenson rallied round him his little band of worshippers on the Cockhill Road. The story of the beginnings of Maze Church is largely the story of this man Edward Stevenson.

Mr. Stevenson's people came from the region of Dromara and settled in Maze in 1839 or 1840. He himself seems to have been educated at the Academical Institution Belfast, after which he went to Glasgow and Edinburgh for his theological classes. He entered college in 1836 and attended the three years, being now a student undue the care of the Down Presbytery. In 1840 he came to Maze and was transferred to the Dromore Presbytery as a student of three years standing and later presented tickets after his fourth year at College. In August 1842 he entered on first trials and was licensed by the Dromore Presbytery at Loughaghery on 1st November, 1842.

  The young man's thoughts persistently turned to the needs of his own district, but it is not until twelve years after the date of his licensure that we first find mention of the Maze Congregation. Fitting his barn with seats, and with a little desk for a pulpit, he began to conduct services and the people gathered round him. And such was the start of Maze Presbyterian Church.

  Naturally the Minister and people of Hillsborough didn't relish the loss of a part of their congregation. Indeed the Minister strongly opposed the new movement in Maze. The matter was hotly debated at several Presbytery Meetings with the result that the Dromore Presbytery refused to receive or recognise it. But Mr. Stevenson was not the man to he easily turned from his purpose. He appealed to the Belfast Presbytery, secured the sympathy and help of those eminent, divines - Drs. Cooke and Hanna, and got the projected congregation brought under the care of the Belfast Presbytery, and under this Presbytery it remained till 1877, when with several other congregations it was transferred to the Dromore Presbytery. And to the new congregation Mr. Stevenson got a call, which was accepted by him at Lurgan on 4th December 1854. Six months later, on Wednesday 20th June 1855, he was ordained here by the Presbytery of Belfast in the presence of a large and respectable concourse of interested spectators and well�-wishers. The Rev. John Meneely preached from Philip�pians IV. 18; a passage which he expounded with a pathos and power that by the blessing of the spirit could not fail to have carried conviction to many a heart. The Rev. A. Montgomery spoke in defence of Presbyterian order and policy. Rev. A. Henderson made an impressive prayer. Rev. John Downes gave the charge. After the service some fifty persons were entertained in Mr. Phenix's hotel to a substantial dinner which was served in creditable style.

The next eight months must have been spent by Mr. Stevenson in organising his congregation and in raising funds for building the Church, for on 24th March 1857 - a red letter day in the history of Maze Presby�terianism, the foundation stone was laid amid pomp and pageantry, and the proceedings then and at the opening of the Church for worship two years later cannot be described better than in the "Belfast News�letter" reports at the time.'    

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Item taken from 'the Newsletter' dated 25th March 1857.



(from our own Reporter).

  � Yesterday after twelve o clock, the interesting ceremony of laying the foundation of the new Presby�terian Meeting House at the Maze, was performed by the most noble, the Marquis of Downshire, assisted by the Rev. Dr. Cooks, and was witnessed by a large and respectable assemblage of the gentry and farmers of the neighbourhood, belonging to all religious denominations. The weather, always an important consideration on occasions requiring open-air services, was most propi�tious. The air was very cold, but was tempered, at intervals, by the genial warmth of the meridian sun, which made the proceedings much more agreeable and interesting.

  The Meeting House is considerably advanced in erection ; and the reason the foundation stone was not laid sooner was, we understand, the absence, in, England of the noble Marquis.

  The building is situated within a stone throw of the bridge across the Ulster Canal, and convenient to the Maze Course.

  The style which has been adopted is the early English Gothic ; and, when completed, it will undoubtedly  be an ornament to the neighbourhood, and the Estate of the Lord Downshire, who has kindly granted the site for its erection.

  The outside dimensions are 60 feet in length, and 35 feet in breadth. It contains a vestibule with a staircase to the end gallery in front, and a session-room and other requisite apartments in the rear.

  The front, which is set back about sixty feet from the public road, consists of a bell-gable in the under part of which is a deeply-recessed entrance doorway of cutstone, having pillars with carved capitals and bosses, moulded arch and other ornamental work. Over the doorway is a triple window, and the gable is surmounted by a handsome belfry, the total height of which is about 55 feet. The roof, which is of a steep pitch will have the timber exposed to View inside, and the timber will be well plained, stained, and varnished. There are diagonal buttresses at the corners, and three others on each flank. The whole fabric is intended to be built of brick, with cutstone dressings, for the windows, door�way, buttresses, etc.

  The plan of the Church was prepared by John Boyd, Esq. of Belfast; and it is under his supervision that the work is now being carried on; and we have been informed that the total cost will be about �700.

  About twelve o'clock, the Marquis of. Downshire, accompanied by the Rev. Dr. Cooks, and a number of clergymen, arrived on the spot. The crowd had swelled by this time to a very large number, all well-dressed, comfortable, and industrious looking - as the tenantry on the Dovmehire Estate are well known to be!

  Amongst those present, besides the two distinguished parsonages we have already named, we noticed: - Rev. Mr. Breakey, of Lisburn ; Rev. T. B. Wilson, of Belfast; Rev. Edward Stevenson , The Maze; Rev. John Davis, Ballynahinch; Rev. Robert Templeton, Hillsborough; Rev. Maurice McKay, curate of Broomhedge; Rev. ,Mr. Carlisle; Messrs. John Boyd, architect, of Belfast; Thomas Prenter, Antrim; Edward Procter, Hugh Robertson, James Phenix, Joseph Shaw, Mills Phenix, Kennaghan, Gardner, Murdock, Davis, Chadwick, Harpur, etc.

  When all arrangements for the performance of the ceremony were completed, the Rev. Edward Stevenson, the pastor of the new congregation read the 6th and succeeding verses of the 122nd Psalm, which were sung by the persons assembled, led by the Choir of Hills�borough Church; who kindly offered their services for the occasion.

  Rev. Dr. Cooke then offered up an impressive and appropriate prayer, after which he read the last chapter of the Book of Revelations.

  The Marquis of Downshire then ascended on the wall in front of the building where the stone was to be laid, when a bottle containing amongst other things, a number of coins, and a copy of the Belfast Newsletter was handed to his Lordship by Rev. Mr. Stevenson, who said-  

" My Lord, I must say that I have very great pleasure in presenting, to your lordship this bottle, which contains your lordship's name, the name of the Rev. Dr. Cooke, and the names of the committee of the Maze Presbyterian Church. It also contains some Belfast Papers, and a number of the current coins of the reign of her present Majesty, Queen Victoria. I cannot conclude without saying that I feel highly honoured in being surrounded by so many kind friends who have come to assist me in this great work� in building up a temple to the glory of God, amt for the conversion of sinners."

  The Marquis of Downshire then proceeded with the ceremony of laying the stone, which was lowered into its place by means of a pulley, and fastened down by his Lordship, after the bottle had been safely deposited in a cavity made for the purpose.

  The trowel used by the Marquis was silver; and bore the following inscription:- " Presented to the most noble, the Marquis of Downshire, on the occasion of laying the foundation stone of. Maze Presbyterian Church."

  After the ceremony, the noble Marquis declared the foundation stone to be well and properly laid, and expressed the great pleasure he felt in having the oppor�tunity of being present on that interesting occasion, and assisting in the work, and in seeing his friend, the Rev. Mr. Stevenson. What they had done that day he hoped had been well done, and he trusted God would grant His blessing upon their work. (Cheers).

  The Rev. Dr. Cooke was called upon to address the meeting. He expressed the pleasure he felt in addressing a few words to them on that most important occasion: He knew they all felt deeply grateful to his lordship for the part he had taken in assisting to raise a place of worship for them and their friends in that locality, and he should never have cause to be sorry for any of his patronage to his Presbyterian tenantry. He thought he might call them not only his tenantry, but his warm friends (hear, hear; cheers) and they all know he had been a friend to them. Now he (Dr. Cooke) wanted to turn their attention for a moment to the raising of a temple for the worship of God. The world around them was a great temple; and when David looked up to the heavens which God's own hands had framed, and to the moon and stars, which were His handiwork, he worshipped God by these works of power, and explained " Great and manifold are Thy works, in wisdom Thou hast made them all," and "Who is man that Thou should'st be mindful of him ".

  In Paradise, itself, it was evident, from the revelation of God, there must have been some temple of worship, for they could take no other meaning out of the Tree of Life. The Rev. Dr. Cooke then mentioned the cases of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, and others when they were removed from their homes, they never settled till they had set up a Temple wherein they could worship their God; and when God brought His people into the wilderness He established a place in which they would assemble together to engage in His public worship, and they must remember reading in their - for he knew they read their Bibles - that when the public religion of the Jews was fully established, God named each article, and by weight, if it was an article of weight -'that was to be employed in His Service. He particularised every article with the most scrupulous minuteness ; and in this scrupulosity God wanted to place before them the fact that when they came into His presence to worship, they should only come with reverence and worship Him in spirit, and in Truth - that they should not merely worship in form, and pray to Him with the mouth - but that they should worship Him with their hearts and in the scrupulosity of truth. When Ezekiel foretold about the happy state of the Jews, he made mention of the temple that was to be built. There was some controversy caused as to whether that temple was to be understood in a temporal or spiritual sense; but whatever might be the meaning of it, wherever the temple was spoken of was meant to convey that God was to be worshipped in the scrupulosity of Truth; and when Jesus Christ Himself gave to His disciples that prayer that was commonly known as the Lord's Prayer, He did so to show to Christians as members of His Church, the name of God was to be scrupulously hallowed. The Rev. Dr. next referred to the revelations of St. John.

  Why did John not see a temple in Heaven? Because the Lord God was the temple there. Dr. Cooke then referred to the institution of Public worship on the Sabbath and concluded his admirable and appropriate address by urging upon the Maze Congregation to avail themselves of the great privilege that would then be extended to them by having their own place of worship, in which they could worship God in spirit and sincerity; and by impressing on them the important. advantages they enjoyed of being permitted to meet together for the purpose of public worship.

  He concluded his address by offering up a most appropriate and impressive prayer.

  The Rev. Mr. Templeton then proposed that a vote of thanks should be given to the Marquis of Downshire, and the Rev. Dr. Cooke for their kindness in attending and assisting so ably at the ceremony of that day. He spoke in high complimentary terms of his Lordship with regard to his care over the tenantry on his estate, and his kindness to the Presbyterian portion of his tenantry.

  The Rev. Mr. Templeton next spoke of Dr. Cook, who, he said, it was only necessary to mention there as they all knew him.

  Rev. John Davis of Ballynahinch seconded the vote of thanks which was carried with great cheering.

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The Marquis of Downshire, and Dr. Cooke responded.



Friday, July 1st, 1859 (Extract from Newsletter).

  Yesterday a very interesting ceremony was perform�ed in the district of Maze, and one very different in character to those of which, the good people in that neighbourhood are usually spectators.

  The occasion was the inauguration of a Presbyterian House of Worship, which had just been completed, and which is realty very creditable to the Minister, congre�gation, and all concerned in its erection. Hitherto the Presbyterian families of that district have been to a great, extent deprived of the ordinances of religion, and the inconvenience arising from the want of a suitable place for Divine worship gave rise to the project, which has now been so successfully carried out.

  Somewhat over three years ago, after many previous unsuccessful attempts, a congregation was at last organ�ised, and the Presbytery was memoralized to recognize them and send young ministers to preach to them that they might be able to select a pastor. The Presbytery after some delay complied and the people in hearing candidates gave a hearty call to Mr. Edward Stevenson who lived amongst them, and who at once undertook the arduous task of perfecting the organisation of the congregation, and building a church.

He has been most indefatigable and untiring in his exertions to this end, and the measure of success which has crowned his labours has astonished all who are acquainted with the difficulties he had to encounter.

  The Foundation. Stone of the structure was laid a considerable time ago by the noble and generous lord of the soil, the Marquis of Downshire, who granted the site and accompanied the gift with a handsome donation. The church is a peculiarly beautiful building and reflects the highest credit on the architect, Mr. Boyd of Belfast.

  Yesterday having been appointed for the opening, of the New Church - an announcement having been made that the Rev. Dr. Cooks would preach - a large concourse of the respectable tenantry on the Downshire Estate and others for miles around, of all classes and creeds assembled together. The following were amongst those present:‑ Rev. J. S. Brown, Magheragall; Rev. M. Black, Kilmore; Rev. Mr. Dunlop, Hillhall; Rev. J. Wilson, Belfast; Rev. T. M. Morrow, Muckamore; Rev. Mr. Hazlett, Castlereagh; Rev. Adam Montgomery, Rev. Mr. Whiteside, J. S. Crawford, Esq., Rademon; - McRobert, Esq., Rademon Mills; etc., etc.

  At 12 o'clock the Rev. Dr. Cooks ascended the pulpit. The preliminary devotional exercises having been engaged in, he chose as text Eccles.. IX: 1O . "Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might, . And then he proceeded in a lucid and powerful manner to enforce, and illustrate the great injunction of the passage, being listened to throughout by a large congregation with the deepest attention.

  A collection was taken up, a number of gentlemen present acting as collectors, and a large sum was realised.

  Mr. Stevenson then expressed his gratification at the support he had received in the great undertaking, and his hearty thanks to his many kind friends present and others who had written letters to him apologising to him for absence - one of which was from the Mayor of Belfast, another breathing a fine spirit of  Christian liberality, and enclosing a donation of �2 from the Rev. Alexander Henderson, Curragh Camp.

  The Ministers and a number of other gentlemen were at the close of the proceedings invited to adjourn to Mr. Stevenson's house where a sumptuous lunch was prepared. The whole proceedings passed off in a highly satisfactory manner, and all who engaged in the solemn service evidently heartily wished prosperity to the new congregation, and its energetic and zealous pastor.

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