"A TALE OF TWO CHURCHES" has been prepared to mark two centuries of Methodist witness in the Priesthill area. It is a story of devotion and dedication; of courage and commitment on the part of our forebears whose efforts were blessed richly by God and resulted in remarkable changes in individual lives as well as the community as a whole.
In reading through this record I could not help but feel encouraged by what was accomplished for God's Kingdom through faithfulness. This was expressed in a variety of ways, but in whatever form it was marked by a deep and developing spirituality. I also had a sharp awareness of the price paid by those who had covenanted together to pray for, and plead with God for an outpouring of His blessing. History shows that revival came after fifty years of persistent praying. I caught the excitement of those years when there were over two hundred and fifty children in the Sunday School and the teaching staff numbered between thirty and forty. It was also interesting to note, from the record of the minutes, that the church at one stage had a Day School. Most of all I was conscious of the debt we owe to those spiritual giants of the past who have left us a great inheritance and whose wish it must be that we continue the work which they began. This is a history of opportunities which were not only seized, but were created and used.
Behind every book of this nature there lies an unbelievable amount of painstaking work. The heaviest burden has been carried by Mrs. Isobel Law who has given her time, talents, and expertise with willing and lavish generosity. As a Church we express our very deep appreciation for her thorough research; for the diligent care in the selection of material; and for her calm and persistent endurance to complete in time what could only be described as a very big undertaking. We also take the opportunity of offering our thanks to the many others who have helped in any way in the production of this book. It will give all who read it a great deal of pleasure
A Methodist society has been in existence at Priesthill for two centuries, a period which spans the reigns of nine monarchs, beginning with George III. This narrative sets out to portray the sequence of events which led to the opening of the first preaching-house on Puddledock (now Aghnatrisk) Road in April 1786, and of Zion chapel (our present church) about six hundred yards away at Kesh Road, on Christmas Eve 1838. The history of the congregation is well documented as, in addition to local minutes dating from 1838, we are most fortunate in having the following first-hand accounts of people who were closely associated with the work of God at Priesthill in the early days:
The Life of Patrick Cunningham (an autobiography) (1806)
Memoir of Rev. John McClure, by Rev. William McClure (1847)
Life and Labours of Rev. William McClure, by Rev. D. Savage (1872)
Irish Methodist Reminiscences, being mainly memorials of the life and labours of Rev. S. Nicholson, by Rev. Edward Thomas (1889)
All for Jesus: Memorials of James Carlisle, by Rev. Edward Thomas (1891)
The Earnest Minister, A memoir of Rev. Thomas Carlisle, by Rev. Dr. William Cooke (1871)
These books are invaluable. Writing in appreciation of them Rev. Robert Nelson, who was brought up in the neighbouring Broomhedge congregation, beautifully expressed it: "They bring ever closer to many of us the spiritual quality of that 'springtime'. For springtime it indeed was, and we have entered into the harvest of that sowing."
It is due to the vision and influence of two very gracious and much-loved ladies that the present history has been written. I refer to the late Miss Edith Stewart, and the late Mrs. Deirdre Fee. It was Miss Stewart's wish that Rev. John Fee would undertake the task and he had begun work on it whilst at Broomhedge Manse, but his heavy work commitment impeded progress. At the time of Miss Stewart's death Mrs. Fee planted the idea in my mind and encouraged me to record what history was known. Thus, when it was realized that an important anniversary in the life of the congregation was approaching, research commenced with the welcome and willing assistance of Mrs. Hazel McCready and Mrs. Norma Stafford. It has indeed been good to obey the injunction of Deuteronomy 32, verse 7: "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee." We trust that these findings will be an inspiration and blessing.