|Former pulpit; and windows which were installed in 1949.|
We have already observed that Zion chapel was at first a rectangular building without the elevated wing. As pews had not then been installed the congregation sat on forms, and it seems probable that the preacher would occupy a position opposite the entrance door. A stove was used for heating and it was situated near to where the organ is now. There were four windows on the rear wall, and on dark evenings the chapel was illuminated by candles.
When perusing the records one cannot fail to be conscious of the great devotion and diligence with which these servants of God went about their Master's business. Our source of information for this period is a circuit minute book. The meetings were held in rotation in the chapels at Lisburn, Priesthill and Broomhedge, and some of their resolutions are noted below:
14th January 1839
"That everyone in this meeting engage to use his exertions to bring one or more into the visible church at the next Quarter day and that the leaders impress this on their members."
14th October 1839
"That as every rational measure for the promotion of religion is necessary we think as one means that preachers and leaders in the neighbourhood on the day of preaching should visit careless members as well as the neighbours at large, as many as convenient, and that this friendly system be followed by visiting the sick and everyone else where needful by leaders and members."
"It is resolved that leaders (sic) be particular in recommending the great work of salvation to the minds of his people, that both he and they may know each other's particular state, whether subject to temptation or walking in the way of holiness."
Great sadness came to the congregation just six months after the opening of Zion. George Carlisle, the young circuit minister who lived amongst them, was stricken by disease and died. Around 1836 he had been afflicted with what was then termed pulmonary consumption. Prayer was made by the Church on his behalf and he recovered. In his first ministerial year (1838-39) he laboured extensively and with great success. At the Conference in the spring of 1839 he was reappointed to Lisburn circuit, but on 27th June he passed Home to be with his Saviour, aged 28 years.
At Priesthill in 1839 there were 93 members and 2 on trial. The Sunday services were held at 11.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. and there was a morning Sunday School. A circuit meeting on 14th April 1841 resolved:
"That the Sabbath Schools at all the chapels be dismissed fifteen minutes before eleven o'clock each Sabbath morning."
On 15th July 1839 it was decided:
"That the Wednesday prior to each quarterly sacrament day be appointed as a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer and that the above be announced from the pulpit the previous Sabbath."
Love-feasts were also held quarterly. These were a feature of early Methodism, derived from the Moravians. Each person would receive a cup of water and a biscuit or portion of plain cake, thus signifying their fellowship together, and those who felt led would relate their recent experience of God's blessing on their lives. It was resolved on 13th April 1840:
"That hereafter the quarterly love-feast be held at each of the three chapels successively, beginning at Zion on July next, and so on to Salem (Broomhedge) and thence to Lisburn."
This decision was renewed on 7th July 1845:
"That the love-feast be held turn about in the chapels and that preaching be not given in the morning to those two in which the love-feast is not, in order that the preachers may be present."
The 1840 class meetings were being held in homes at the following places: Kesh Bridge, Moss Vale, Gravel Hill, Moss, Corcreeny, Kilwarlin, Mount-pleasant, Clogher, Maze, Hillsborough, Halftown, and in Zion. The names of the members of these classes are recorded in the minute book.
A room was being rented in Hillsborough for preaching during this period, and collections were taken up in the three chapels to defray the cost. Also, there is evidence of a Sunday School connected with Priesthill being held at Kilwarlin.
It is difficult to state with certainty exactly when Priesthill first had a preacher to themselves. It appears to have been in 1840-41 when there were three preachers on the circuit, and we note from the records that Rev. John Stewart was primarily concerned with Priesthill's business. For the ensuing two years (1841-43) Priesthill became a separate circuit. For several years afterwards the pattern changed to meet the different needs, and it was 1854 before Priesthill eventually had its own preacher in continuity.
The decision to constitute a separate circuit was taken at the Irish Conference in 1841, following Priesthill's undertaking to be independent of any aid from the Connexional general fund. A young man, Samuel Barton, was appointed, but he resigned from the New Connexion ministry a short time after his arrival. This was due to a decision taken by the English Conference that year to expel Rev. Joseph Barker for heresy. Mr. Barker had been a very popular preacher and Samuel Barton, the young probationer, was one of his admirers. (The story had a happy ending. Samuel Barton was soon undeceived and a few years after his resignation he entered the ministry of the Wesleyan Methodist Association (Warrenites), in which he served for fifty years until his death. Joseph Barker declared himself to be a Unitarian after his expulsion. Many years later he repented and confessed his faith in Christ).
The New Connexion mission station at Dromore also had a problem that year. Their preacher had resigned for some reason, and Rev. Samuel Nicholson, who was then unordained, was requested to occupy the vacancy. However, on 15th September, 1841, Rev. George Goodall, superintendent of the Irish Mission, wrote to the Priesthill leaders:
". . . It was deemed the most prudent course to place Priesthill and Dromore under the experienced superintendence of Mr. T. Seymour (Lisburn circuit) until Conference, and that Mr. Nicholson should remove from Dromore and take up his residence at Priesthill. Mr. Nicholson is a pious, serious young man and I hope will be a great blessing among you — receive him kindly and encourage him."
On arrival at Priesthill the preacher lodged with one of the leaders, John Watson of Dunygarton Road. Referring to Mr. Nicholson's appointment his biographer, Rev. Edward Thomas, writes:
"Now he enters upon his labours in that rich and beautiful district, the Maze, to which in after years, he was appointed again and again."
During that year in his turn he occupied the pulpits of the four chapels — Lisburn, Priesthill, Broomhedge, and Dromore. At the Conference of 1842 he was again given the pastoral oversight of Priesthill circuit.
The duration of the new circuit at this stage was brief. On 3rd April 1843 the leaders of Lisburn circuit instructed their superintendent, Rev. William McClure, to confer with Priesthill quarterly meeting for a reunion of the two circuits at the ensuing Conference. This suggestion must have been well received by the Priesthill leaders, for we find them present at the next Lisburn circuit meeting.
A young men's Christian fellowship was begun in 1840 at
Priesthill, and the president was Rev. John Stewart. Rules of the fellowship
meetings were drawn up, and had appended to them the signatures, amongst
others, of Arthur Stanfield, James Carlisle, and John McKeown.
|(a)||Each applicant for membership shall relate his religious experience before he be enrolled as a member.|
|(b)||A portion of Scripture shall be read at each meeting.|
|(c)||Each member in turn shall speak upon a given subject, and the class will afterwards criticise his address.|
|(d)||All shall be done to the glory of God.|
In his biography of James Carlisle, Rev. Edward Thomas states that services at Zion in the mid-1840s "were blessed by frequent conversions, no merely occasional events. It was usual to seek the conversion of souls at every meeting in which the unsaved were found." Around this period a group of young men were meeting weekly for prayer in Zion. One night there was a most remarkable occurrence. The meeting had ended and the men were about to go home when one (James Carlisle) felt it had been a cold meeting. On sudden impulse he pulled out one of the forms and said, "Brethren, we must have a blessing! Let all who are on the Lord's side kneel down at this form, and pray earnestly for a baptism of the Spirit." Many responded, and very soon the power of God fell upon the group. Some unconverted ones began to call aloud for mercy and made a great noise, so much so that one member who was not in accord with the proceedings ran to a neighbour's house, imploring somebody to come and stop them, and said, "James Carlisle and some others are mad. We will be disgraced all over the country!" Several were converted that night, including John Dalton who became a prayer leader. He was mighty in prayer. Joseph Thompson was another young man who found salvation at one of these meetings; he became a Sunday School teacher, class leader, and local preacher. John Watson and Philip Thornton were amongst the members of this prayer group.
The Sunday School was held in Zion for about thirty years until the schoolhouse was built. During the period under review (the 1840s) there were two superintendents. This arrangement existed until the end of the century. One of the superintendents was Samuel Jones, whose home was approached by a lane off the Kesh Road. In 1845 or 1846 he was joined by James Carlisle, who had been a teacher at the Sunday School for some years. These two men made a tremendous impression on the minds and lives of the hundreds of children who passed through the Sunday School. In their personalities they contrasted greatly, and perhaps it was best for the children that this was so. Samuel Jones maintained strict discipline. Rev. Edward Thomas, who knew both men well, states that "he walked through the school as erect and with as steady a tread as if he had known something of military drill." He liked everything in Church and school to be conducted with precision, order and punctuality. James Carlisle's approach was of a more intimate character. He had the ability to stoop to the level of a child's mind, and for the time to become as one of them. Sir Robert Hart, Inspector-General of Chinese Customs, was a pupil at the Sunday School during the 1840s. In the days of his prosperity in China he did not forget the rigid disciplinarian of the school, and sent Mr. Jones several handsome monetary presents in grateful remembrance of those early years. Writing from Peking forty years later (in 1889) to the then minister of the church, Rev. James J. Thornton, he mentions these two men in familiar terms, and refers to James Carlisle with great affection and respect. During the winter months the general Sunday School closed, but Mr. Carlisle continued holding the Bible Class for the older scholars. In 1849 there were 130 scholars attending the Sunday School.
On 6th January 1847 the circuit leaders resolved:
"That a meeting be in each of our chapels for catechetical instruction of children by the preachers at three o'clock on each alternate Saturday."
The minute book contains resolutions which suggest that a day school existed for a time:
9th October 1844
"That this meeting highly approves of the proposal of the Priesthill Society to open a day school in their chapel immediately, and earnestly requests the Annual Committee to grant £10 per annum to the teacher, and that Brother John Carlisle be deputed to urge the above claim on the Committee on Friday next."
6th January 1847
"That the Annual Committee be requested to increase the grant to Priesthill School so as to reduce the payment of children to one penny a week, as it would be the means of greater prosperity."
Open-air meetings were being conducted during this period. On 22nd August 1843 the leaders decided:
"That a camp meeting be held at Priesthill on Sunday fortnight at two o'clock."
Frequent open-air meetings were held in Carlisles' meadow on the Kesh Road. On 22nd July 1849 Rev. Samuel Nicholson recorded in his diary:
"Held a camp meeting at Mrs. Carlisle's, Maze. . . . It was the Sabbath before the Maze races."
Robert Boyd was converted at one such meeting in
Carlisles' field in 1851. He was a drunkard, suffering from delirium
tremens, and had acquired the idea that salvation was not for him. The words
of St. John 3, verse 16 were applied to his distressed mind and he believed
on Christ. He became a total abstainer, and was a Sunday School teacher and
leader at Zion.
The Irish Missionary Notices yield valuable information. On 16th September 1850 Rev. Thomas Seymour, superintendent of the circuit, wrote to the superintendent of the Irish Mission:
"During the past summer some matured persons, even heads of families, sought admission into the school (Priesthill) and were found with their children, learning to read the Bible. A Roman Catholic, who, with his family, was on his way from the province of Connaught to the English harvest, being in great distress for the want of bread, called at the house of one of our friends and obtained not only food, but also employment. He was induced to attend preaching. . . . He began to read his Bible . . . joined the church at Priesthill, and is now an active teacher in the Sabbath School."
There were two preachers on the circuit from 1845-51. In addition to the Sunday services, numerous cottage meetings were being held during the week. This created a need for preachers. On 8th July 1846 the circuit leaders decided:
"That a letter of remonstrance be sent to the Annual Committee, stating that the present mode of supplying this circuit by the second preacher only half time is injurious to preachers and people. They request two preachers full time."
On 7th June 1847 they resolved:
"That the preachers' labours be equally distributed over the three places on the Sabbath morning, and the remaining morning services to be conducted by the leaders."
The minute book provides a list of "brethren appointed to supply the chapels on those Sabbath mornings which cannot be supplied by our ministers." Seven of these men were from Priesthill. Their names are: George Bradshaw, Samuel Jones, James Larmour, John Carlisle, James Carlisle, Joseph Thompson and Philip Thornton. At the same meeting (7th June 1847) it was decided:
"That our two ministers be appointed to wait on Mr. Hart to request him to render us all the assistance he can in supplying on Sabbath mornings."
The person referred to is Henry Hart, father of Robert. Henry Hart's name is also amongst a list of persons in the minute book (15th January 1844) who were to receive appointments in the respective chapels. The Hart family attended Zion for a number of years, and Henry Hart was chairman of the annual missionary meeting for over twenty years in succession.
The preaching plan was normally drawn up by a plan-making committee comprising the circuit ministers and a layman from each of the three chapels. The plans were printed for distribution.
In the mid to late 1840s Ireland was suffering from the ravages of the potato famine. The minutes do not allude to the hardship suffered by the inhabitants of the numerous whitewashed cottages and farmhouses of the area, but Rev. Edward Thomas states in his biography of James Carlisle that "1846 etc. were the years of famine and disease following the potato blight when so many perished throughout the land. Our brother (James Carlisle) was a most active worker in the relief force, and to the full extent of his ability he ministered to the needy and dying. He ever after remembered this period as one of great trial. But to him it was blessed.. ..
"Graduating in such a school of affliction, he ever after
wore a high degree of unworldliness and Christly benevolence, and of faith
in the God of Providence." The English Conference of 1849 was addressed by
their representative to the Irish Conference thus: "Our people
still continue to suffer from the calamity that visited our land three years
ago. During no year of the past three have their sufferings been greater
than during the one just terminated. Some of our most worthy members have
been called away by death." In 1850 the Irish Conference recorded its thanks
to Almighty God for the return of temporal prosperity throughout the land,
and also for the large measure of spiritual prosperity and increase upon the
The Lisburn circuit leaders had petitioned the 1850 Conference to send a preacher to reside at Priesthill, but their request was not granted. In December of that year they again made application, stating that the Priesthill leaders' meeting had guaranteed to raise £50 annually towards the minister's support. In the Missionary Notices for 1850 we find a letter from Rev. Thomas Seymour, superintendent of the circuit, to the superintendent of the Irish Mission, dated 16th December 1850:
"The Sabbath schools, especially at Priesthill and Broomhedge, have been much increased of late, and now promise, under the Divine blessing, to become of great importance to the church. During the past summer the school at Priesthill was so large that the chapel was altogether insufficient to afford accommodation; and for a time it was seriously contemplated whether it could be held in a field behind the chapel, in the open air. The weather proving unsteady, and the ground being damp, it was deemed expedient to remain in the house, though at great inconvenience. It was a source of no small grief to the zealous superintendents and teachers to see the children coming in crowds, and earnestly seeking admission, while they could hardly find access inside the walls. The place, of course, became so uncomfortable as, to some extent, to interfere with the efficiency of the teaching. Still the friends have hitherto persevered with a hope of being able shortly to enlarge the building.
"The members are, however, perhaps the best source of encouragement. By the blessing of God upon the labours of the superintendents and teachers, a number of the elder children have become well instructed in scriptural knowledge, so that their answers at the last annual sermons for the school were exceedingly gratifying; and, what is still more important and cheering, a number of them are giving evidence of a serious concern about salvation.
"These encouraging indications, taken in connection with the fact that our chapel is the only place of religious worship for miles around, and also that there is a rapidly increasing population, and a flourishing trade, have induced the friends at Priesthill to offer to double their contributions towards the support of the gospel, provided Conference will grant them a preacher to reside amongst them."
In 1849-51 Priesthill and Broomhedge had the ministry of Rev. Samuel Nicholson. His biographer states that "Mr. Nicholson had witnessed many revivals, but none of them had been big enough to meet the full desires of his heart. He was ever striving after and praying for a revival of pentecostal power and extent." In August 1850 Mr. Nicholson wrote from Bangor to a leader at Priesthill, John Carlisle, as follows: " I am anxious to see the work of God prosper more fully upon the stations. I have been speaking to the leaders at Priesthill and Broomhedge to begin to pray more for a revival of His work. . . . It is my daily practice at present, to devote to prayer for a great revival the hours of nine and twelve forenoon, and six evening. Dear Brother, meet me at the Throne of Grace, and God will hear and grant us abundant blessing. . . ."
The expectation of a mighty revival grew and extended all over the circuit, ministers and leaders sharing in it. Perhaps we could find space to insert illustrations of a few of Zion's leaders at that time:
George Bradshaw is described by Rev. Edward Thomas as being "a diamond in the rough. Though poor, he was a man of marked intelligence, great mental strength, and force of character, and one who had a full and accurate knowledge of the plan of salvation. He had a marvellous gift in prayer. We often heard him offer prayers as eloquent, scriptural, comprehensive, and fervent as any to which we had ever listened."
James Larmour was a cotton weaver and lived in one of James Carlisle's cottier houses beside the Carlisle dwelling. He was involved in Christian work for many years. Mr. Thomas states: "His voice was strong, his tones earnest and solemn, and in prayer he had power with God and with men."
John Brady was another man of prayer. James Carlisle
relates: "I can well remember a time when I could get no rest about Brother
John Brady's soul. Again and again 1 went, intending to speak to him about
"eternal interests; but when I got to his house I failed. I knew him to be a man far beyond me in mental ability, and I feared that he would soon involve me in a discussion, and make me appear ridiculous. . . . When I asked him to accompany me to my class, his reply was, 'I have lived in a Methodist country all my days, and you are the first class leader who ever gave me an invitation to his meeting.' The following Sabbath morning he was found at the class meeting; and if ever I met a straightforward, sincere, anxious man, John Brady was that man. . . . It was not long before his feet were found firmly fixed on the rock, Christ Jesus. . . I have known him and a few others to meet at stated hours, week after week — sometimes in the morning before dawn — to plead with God for an outpouring of the Holy Ghost on our class, the School, the Church, and the whole country."
James Carlisle is described by Rev. Edward Thomas as being "mightiest upon his knees. . . . It was hard for the undecided to get away from the influence of his prayers. He seemed to lay hold of the Lord and of those for whom he interceded and to draw both together." James had a small farm; around 1846 he opened a grocer's shop beside his home, and this became his chief secular employment. Rev. Thomas continues: "When his shop was being built he instructed the builder to include a little closet off the shop into which he could statedly retire for prayer." His class meeting was held at Zion at seven o'clock on Sunday mornings, and it was his custom to call upon the members of that class at six to ensure they were up in time to attend. His cousin, Mrs. Kyle said: "Cousin James Carlisle used long ago to visit all the sick people in the neighbourhood. He visited an old, dying woman amongst very wicked people. The neighbours wondered to see him enter such a house as hers was. . . . He visited her daily till she died. It was a pitiful sight to see the dying sinner stretch her withered hand to God's servant, while with faltering voice she said, 'Ask your God to save me from hell.' ... Dear James used to go to a large stone on 'the hill' for prayer at certain times; it was the place, he said, to which his brother George used to retire for a like purpose. He told me that at that hallowed spot, he and two others (John Brady and, it is thought, James Larmour) made a covenant with God, and with one another to pray for a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit."
In 1850 or 1851 a Total Abstinence Society was formed, and five hundred members were enrolled. On 9th July 1851 the circuit leaders resolved:
"That Broomhedge temperance meeting be put on the plan to be held once in two months, and in the Maze once in two months."
Conference in 1851 decided to send Rev. John Shuttleworth to Priesthill; Rev. Samuel Nicholson remained at Broomhedge. The Missionary Notices for 1851 contain a letter from Rev. Thomas Seymour, superintendent of Lisburn circuit, to the Superintendent of the Irish Mission:
"Ever since my present appointment to this circuit, three years ago last Conference, I have observed a growing anxiety on the part of the leaders and principal friends for a revival of pure religion. . . . At the last Conference, Lurgan29 being found in a very depressed state, was united to Lisburn circuit, and the preacher was removed from Lurgan to Priesthill. This gave the Priesthill society, which is the largest on the circuit, the advantage of a preacher residing among them, and of more pastoral labours than they could otherwise have had.
"No particular improvement appeared in any part of the circuit, till the July quarterly meeting, when it was again asked, 'What can be done instrumentally to promote the cause of God?' After deliberation, it was agreed to devote one Sabbath in connection with each of the principal societies, to open air preaching, and the following week evenings to meetings for special prayer.
"Broomhedge was the first place where these services were held; and respecting the work there, my devoted colleague, Mr. Nicholson, writes as follows:
`. . . On Sabbath, July 20th, we had a revival prayer meeting at seven o'clock in the morning, when about forty attended. . . . At two o'clock, we held a camp meeting about half a mile from the chapel. About three hundred persons were present . . . On Sabbath, July 27th, we commenced a week of special revival services . . . On Friday, the chapel was crowded. We continued in prayer with the penitents till eleven o'clock . .. Here, the week night services ceased at Broomhedge; but the next week the work broke out still more gloriously at Priesthill . . . I cannot state the precise number that have been hopefully converted to God during these services; but I trust that at least fifty souls will be added to the Broomhedge society."
The Broomhedge camp meeting on 20th July was held in a
field at the Halfpenny Gate. William John Anderson was amongst the crowd,
and he felt challenged to commit his life to Christ. That evening he didn't
attend Broomhedge chapel but came instead to Priesthill to hear
Rev. Shuttleworth speak. At the prayer meeting which followed he experienced
pardon for all his sins, and was filled with joy.
On 3rd August the series of services commenced at Priesthill. Rev. Shuttleworth preached, and at the Lord's Supper which followed the morning service another person was converted. In the Missionary Notices for 1851, Mr. Shuttleworth reports:
"In the evening . . . after preaching, we invited those that were seeking mercy, to come forward as penitents for special prayer; a few came, and soon the cry for salvation became loud. Before we concluded, some obtained peace with God, and many more were brought into great distress.
"On my way home (he most probably was residing at John Watson's of Dunygarton Road) I called at Mrs. Carlisle's, and there I found a number of persons, who had been at the meeting, in deep anxiety about their spiritual state; we went to prayer, and before we parted, God spoke peace to their souls. At the same time brother Larmour, one of the leaders, was engaged in prayer with a number who had called at his house .. .
"The next night was the regular monthly meeting of the temperance society. The attendance was large, and after a few addresses on the evils of intemperance, the meeting resolved itself into special prayer for penitents; the form allotted to them was soon crowded; and deep and loud were the groans of the afflicted in heart. Before we broke up several heard Jesus saying, 'Go in peace and sin no more.' From that night the revival continued to increase both in extent and power. God seemed to have touched the hearts of the people in almost every house. They flocked in hundreds every night, not excepting Saturday, to the house of prayer. And such was the intense anxiety to gain admission, that often about the hour for commencing the service, the people would be seen running from all directions that they might get inside, or if that was impossible, that they might get near the door or some of the windows . . . it is calculated that often, during these meetings, there were from six to seven hundred inside and around the building.
"But how shall we describe the effects of the power of God which fell upon the people? Every soul seemed to be bowed under His mighty hand. There were no mockers, no scoffers. The proud unbelievers trembled in the presence of the Lord of Hosts.
"Some appeared to realize what David meant when he said, `The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me.' Their groans and agonising cries no pen or tongue can describe. .. . Some struggled in this agony for hours, until their physical nature became so much exhausted that they had to be supported in the arms of the brethren. Yet they would not give up. When God lifted the light of His countenance on these souls the effects were overwhelming. They danced, clapped their hands, and uttered the most vehement exclamations of glory and praise to their Great Deliverer. Their brothers and sisters and friends would rush to the happy individual, and, with abundance of tears, clasp him or her in their arms, and shout victory. At the same time the mourners around would know nothing of all this, so deep and awful was their distress. . .. This glorious work has not been confined to any age or any class of the community. The educated and the illiterate, the moralist and the notorious sinner, the strong man and the delicate maiden, were all bowed down before the God of Heaven. And night after night for three weeks was the mighty power of the Holy Ghost shed down upon the people. We could seldom close the meetings until eleven or twelve o'clock; and even then the penitents who remained without comfort were unwilling to leave. God has wrought a blessed moral and spiritual change in Priesthill and the neighbourhood. There is found in almost every house one or more who have been brought to God in this revival.
...This is the fourth week, and though most of the poor brethren are broken down in body, through hard and long-continued exertion, yet God is still with us. Last night, August 27th, we had a glorious meeting; the chapel was crowded and we have announced to continue the meetings every alternate night.... I need only add that my own soul is happy in God, and that, though I sometimes return home with a wearied and fainting body, yet my spirit is cheered and made glad by the sound of the Redeemer's praise, as it is borne along on the midnight air, over the hills and valleys, by those who have but newly learned to sing the songs of Zion."
Relating these events some years afterwards to Rev. Thomas, James Carlisle said:
"Mr. Shuttleworth was full of fire and his word was attended with mighty power. He would get upon a form in the middle of the people and there stand, and warn the impenitent to flee from the wrath to come, and exhort the penitent to fly to Christ for refuge and salvation."
Concerning his friend John Brady, James Carlisle stated:
"Brother Brady was one of the most useful workers in the revival of 1851. While he was engaged in audible prayer I often saw sinners falling prostrate on the floor, and heard their cries for mercy. He told me, more than once, before the meeting began on certain occasions, that certain persons would be converted, and so it was. One night the excitement exceeded anything I had ever witnessed. Afterwards Brother Brady told me he had not noticed it. He was so absorbed in communion with the skies as to be insensible to what was going on around him. The whole mass of living beings seemed moved by an invisible power, but the man of prayer stood erect, with hands and eyes uplifted to Heaven, and his whole being in rapt communion with the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Ghost."
A report on the above events was sent by Rev. Thomas Mills, superintendent of the Irish Mission, to the Mission Secretary, dated 15th August, 1851:
"I preached anniversary sermons at Priesthill last Sunday fortnight (ie 27th July). At seven o'clock on the following morning I met the leaders and stewards respecting the state of the school, the enlargement of the chapel, and the erection of a preacher's house. We then agreed upon a course which I had intended to lay before you ... but subsequent events have prevented anything being done in the way of enlarging the chapel, or building a house for the preacher: events of even higher interest than that of chapel building. For God has graciously favoured us with an uncommon measure of His Holy Spirit. After many years of heavy toil and unceasing prayer, such a revival has taken place as was never known in this Mission. Night after night the chapel has been crowded, and large numbers of people have stood round the door and open windows, to hear the word, and join in worship; and night after night there have been ten, twenty, and upwards, converted to God. In the day time, too, groups of people have assembled in the different fields around, to seek the Lord. The business of the district has been half suspended during the last fortnight; for the people can do little more than seek God and His righteousness. A camp meeting was arranged to be held on Sunday last (10th August) in the open ground around the chapel, but nearly half the congregation appeared to consist of penitents, so that no one could preach, but all the people joined in prayer; and in praying, singing and exhorting one another, they spent the whole afternoon. . . .
"Sometimes when it has been attempted to dismiss a congregation at eleven o'clock at night, it has been found impossible to induce the contrite to go home. . . . One person declared that he could die sooner than he could return without the mercy of God; and unto God he cried until, from exhaustion of body, he had to be carried home; but he is now rejoicing in God his Saviour. The exclamations of joy uttered by the ransomed of the Lord have been heard at a distance of three-quarters of an English mile from the chapel . . . And the work appears to be all of God, in answer to prayer. For several months three brethren made a covenant together to meet on each Thursday evening at the chapel, to pray for a revival, and they met and prayed accordingly, one evening only during those months being omitted . . ."
Rev. Thomas Seymour (circuit superintendent) adds a postscript:
"As I attended a number of the special meetings at Priesthill, I can corroborate Mr. Shuttleworth's statement as to the main facts of that glorious work of God. I have been a Missionary more than twenty years, and, blessed be God, have seen many gracious seasons of refreshing from His presence; but it has never been my privilege to witness such a descent of Divine power as at these meetings. In most other cases, there was more or less of 'getting up' the revival; but in this instance it came down from heaven. In other places there was human instrumentality required to keep it up, but here the reviving spirit rolled on, and the great difficulty was to keep pace with it. Never did I see a religious movement that has such unmistakable marks of the Divinity of its origin.
"It may be asked, were there any circumstances instrumentally which led to this revival? We answer that perhaps it is better to let the preceding unvarnished narrative speak for itself. There has been plain, practical preaching, it is true; but then there had been similar preaching for many years before. There has been earnest prayer offered; but the Lord's people on this circuit have been pleading for a revival for half a century. The only new thing was a decided stand which was lately made against intemperance, by the formation of three "Total Abstinence" Societies. These societies, as harbingers, prepared the way for the revival; and many who have been brought to God during the revival were formerly under the influence of intemperate habits, but had been reclaimed by the temperance movement, to morality, and were thereby brought into a position to come to the house of God. Also, I learn that a few leaders at Priesthill had covenanted together to meet weekly in the chapel, and pray for the prosperity of the church."
As we have seen from the Missionary Notices of 1850 the Sunday School was expanding before the advent of the revival. In 1849 there were 130 scholars; in April 1851 there were 250 scholars and 32 teachers. Membership figures for January 1852 are not available but the Sunday School too was greatly increased, as the teaching staff of 32 had to be augmented. In the Missionary Notices for 1852, Rev. John Taylor, the new superintendent of Irish Mission writes (on 2nd September 1852) to the Mission Secretary:
"Our friends in England will be glad to learn that the revival which recently took place on this circuit, especially at Priesthill and Broomhedge, is, with very few exceptions, permanent in its effects. A few Sabbaths ago I preached at Priesthill. In the afternoon I addressed the Sabbath scholars, and after I had closed my remarks the superintendent pointed to one here and another there, who have, during the revival, been reclaimed from almost every species of vice, and who are now engaged as useful Sabbath School teachers. . . . Truly it was good to be there."
The circuit minutes of 8th October, 1851 record the following:
"That this meeting earnestly requests the Annual Committee to relieve this circuit of Lurgan as we find it altogether impracticable to work it consistent with the prosperity of the other parts of the circuit, especially considering the increased demand for the preacher's labour in consequence of the revival."
This request was not acceded to. For the following three years Lurgan station was attached to Lisburn circuit.
No time was lost in carrying out the plan of extending Zion chapel. The minutes of 7th April 1852 disclose that the work had already been completed. The Missionary Notices of 1852 state:
"Our chapel at Priesthill has been enlarged by the erection of an additional wing, which is more than half the size of the original building; and it is so crowded, that it will likely have to be enlarged again soon."
Rev. J. Livingston, who had served on the circuit in the early part of the century, was a native of Lisburn. For some years he had been living in England, and at the meeting on 7th April 1852 "the great liberality he has shown to the cause at Priesthill" was gratefully acknowledged.
One young boy from the Maze who committed his life to Christ during the revival was Thomas Carlisle, whose father's name was William, brother of James. Thomas's conversion took place on the eve of his thirteenth birthday. He desired to do something useful for God, and a neighbour suggested that he might gather together some children like himself for prayer. Mrs. Samuel McLatchy offered the use of her home for this purpose, and each Sunday afternoon the large room was crowded as the children sang and prayed together. Adults joined them, and other young converts helped in conducting the services. Several of these boys became ministers and Scripture readers, and served in various religious denominations in Ireland, England, and America.
The work of the Holy Spirit did not cease but now and again for a long time there were fresh outbreaks of revival throughout the circuit. At their meetings in October 1851 and January 1852 the leaders formed resolutions, acknowledging the blessings received, and a decision was taken:
"that this meeting resolves that a day of thanksgiving be offered to Almighty God by the whole circuit for His gracious revival visit amongst us."
This took place on Thursday, 28th October, 1852.
The circuit leaders decided at the same meeting to establish a Local Preachers' Meeting, and arranged that one be held that quarter.
A circuit meeting was held at Priesthill on 4th January, 1854, attended by the three ministers — Revs. John Baird, John Shuttleworth and Samuel Nicholson together with leaders representing the three societies. On the way home to Broomhedge after the meeting Rev. Nicholson and Mr. Edward McClune almost perished in a snowstorm near the River Lagan. It was midnight when they reached their destination, utterly exhausted.
The manse was erected at Priesthill in 1854. Minutes of a meeting on 5th April of that year record:
"We rejoice to know that by the blessing of Almighty God, and the aid of kind friends both in this country and in England, a very comfortable and respectable preacher's house has been erected at Priesthill . . ."
On the same date an important decision was reached:
"That this meeting having considered the recommendation of the Annual Committee respecting the division of the Lisburn circuit recommends the Conference to divide it; at the same time this meeting deems it desirable that an interchange between the preachers and societies, to some extent, should take place."
Priesthill once more became a separate circuit. The preacher was required to give part of his labours to Lurgan and Saintfield.
Each year the Lisburn circuit leaders had selected two and sometimes three lay delegates to attend the Conference in Belfast. In 1857 the English Conference decided "that the Irish Conference be discontinued, and that an Annual Meeting of the representatives of the stations comprising the Irish Mission be held . . . to be constituted after the model of the English District Meetings."30
Minutes and membership figures for the late 1850s are not available, but from other sources we know that the district shared in the blessings of the 1859 revival.
Last century hand-loom cotton weaving was extensively
carried out in the Maze and Broomhedge areas. During part of the 1860s there
was widespread unemployment as the raw material was scarce, due to the
American Civil War which commenced in the spring of 1861. At the end of 1862
there were alarming reports of semi-starvation and lack of the common
necessities of life amongst the weavers at Maze, Broomhedge, and Lisburn.
David Carlisle, who had been brought up in the Priesthill congregation, was
Lisburn agent for a firm of Glasgow muslin manufacturers which had employed
some of these weavers. (The firm had a depot on the Kesh Road beside
Carlisle's shop, and each year they contributed generously to Priesthill's
funds.) He undertook to inspect the cottages of weavers in the Maze area,
and meanwhile similar investigations were being conducted at Lisburn. The
reports were found to be true, and a petition was forwarded to the Chairman
of Lisburn Town Commissioners, requesting a meeting of ratepayers to be
called, to see what could be done to relieve the distress. In three days'
time a public meeting was held at the Court House. Rev. Enoch Franks,
minister at Priesthill, Rev. Samuel Nicholson, minister at Broomhedge, and
other local clergy were present. A committee was appointed to organise
relief. Rev. Franks informed the gathering that he had witnessed cases of
extreme poverty, and spoke of the cotton weavers of the district as being a
class of highly moral men, and second to none with whom he had ever come in
contact. Another speaker said that these poor weavers would live on turnips
rather than proclaim their poverty. A subscription list was opened and
practical help began that afternoon, when the homes and workshops of the
most needy were visited and each family was given a ration of food and fuel.
A Ladies Committee was formed and they sewed clothing and sheets, and
arranged for the purchase of other clothing. Appeal letters were sent to
various gentry, and businessmen in Belfast, Liverpool, Scotland, America and
Canada. There was a tremendous response in gifts of food, clothing and
money. Rev. J. Livingston (previously mentioned) purchased blankets and sent
these from Yorkshire as his contribution; Robert Hart sent £100 from China;
and a millionaire, Alexander Turney Stewart, who had emigrated in 1820 from
the Pear Tree Hill area of the Maze to New York, chartered the 'Mary Edson'
which arrived in Belfast in the summer of 1863, carrying a cargo of
foodstuffs worth more than £5,000. This was a tremendous boost for the
Relief Fund. By the summer of 1864 the work of the Relief Committee was
finished: the demand for cotton weaving had greatly improved.
The minutes for the 1860s are mostly concerned with work amongst the young. Rev. W. Currie, minister from 1861-62, described the Sunday School as "a thing of power". Sunday Schools were probably conducted in mornings and afternoons. Rev. Edward Thomas relates an amusing incident:
One Sunday morning an umbrella was stolen from Zion porch. That afternoon when addressing the scholars, Mr. Carlisle said he knew a person who had seen the umbrella stolen and could tell all about the theft; and that in fact he had been conversing with that person since the forenoon. "Did you", said an offended parent afterwards, "blame my child with stealing the umbrella?" "Oh", exclaimed Mr. Carlisle, "I don't know who stole it; but I said I knew a person who had seen it stolen —God." The umbrella was restored.
It would seem that the congregational singing left something to be desired, as the leaders requested the young people to take this into consideration. It was eventually decided that Rev. Thomas and Mr. William Phenix would try and obtain a singing master to teach the young people of the school.
A small piece of land adjacent to the church premises was acquired in 1866. The following year it was decided to erect a schoolhouse, and Rev. Thomas was requested to find a builder. Robert Hart was home on furlough around this time, and he donated £50 towards the project. In April 1868 it was resolved "that a Bazaar on the behalf of the new schoolhouse be held, if possible, sometime during next autumn."
In 1864 Zion chapel was registered for the solemnization of marriages. The membership figures in 1865 were 146 full members. We find that the leaders in April 1868 were planning to whitewash the interior of the chapel during the coming quarter.
A decision was made in November 1869 to substitute the tea meeting which was customarily held for the Sunday School children, with a "school treat", to take place in the summer. Thus 1870 saw the commencement of the annual excursions.
In August 1872 James Carlisle was on holiday in Bangor, and he wrote to a young friend:
". . Don't forget that Monday first is the day of our S.S. excursion. Let us rally together and ask Jesus to give us a fine day. . . . Some of our Zion people have died and gone home to heaven. Others are growing old and gray-headed; their eyes are growing dim, their shoulders bent, their ears dull of hearing, and their limbs stiff. Before long they will be returning to the dust. Who are there to fill the vacant places? Come, guess at it. Surely all would say `the young'. What do you say? Why, just say this: 'Lord, here am I, send me.' But you ask 'What can 1 do?' Ask Jesus that question; He is the One to find us our work. He will not put a big burden on a wee fellow like you. . . . He knows your strength, and He has many a nice little job that will just suit you. Run to Jesus, with open arms, and say, 'Take my hand; take my heart; I am Thine.' . . ."
In October 1884 Mrs. David Irwin of Lisadian presented beautiful lamps to Zion. This lady was daughter of George Bradbury, and had been brought up in the Maze. Rev. Edward Thomas makes an interesting comment: "She worshipped within the mud walls of the first Zion." This would imply that the first preaching-house was also known as Zion. Rev. Thomas adds: "She and Mr. James Carlisle were very dear friends in Christ. Their pews in Zion adjoined, and their very presence was an inspiration to any preacher."
On 19th September, 1887 James Carlisle wrote to Mr. A. Stanfield:
"Our staff of leaders will soon all have passed away; James Larmour, Arthur Stanfield, and James Carlisle are now old, worn-out men. When Mr. Child was our minister the first time there appeared together on the plan the names of William Shields, John Watson, Samuel Jones, Joseph Donaldson, John Brady, and Philip Thornton, who since have gone the way of all flesh. If there be not some young hands gathered in, where will be our beautiful Zion? Set your brain to work and let me know what you think the best way to keep up a good working staff at Zion . . . God can gather in and make a people out of those that were no people. We can't get on much longer without a revival. God alone can send one. Let us give Him no rest until He revives us again. If we old men cannot do much work, can't we pray? 'Prayer moves the hand that moves the universe.' `Let us work while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work!' "