Sunday, 27 April 2014

Ballysillan Presbyterian Church

The original church building with the old manse beside it.
Alexander Kerr was born in Markethill around 1812 and from an early age he thought of being a missionary.  He attended classes at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and having completed the collegiate course of study he was admitted to the theological classes to prepare for the ministry.
While he was studying he taught in a little school above Ligoniel, which was known as the 'Shed School', and he also conducted prayer meetings at Ligoniel, Ballysillan and Ballygomartin.
Such was the interest in these prayer meetings that he organised a group of local people with the aim of forming a Presbyterian congregation at Ballysillan.  The first meeting was held on 20 September 1836 and twenty-eight men attended, with Rev James Morgan of Fisherwick Presbyterian Church presiding.
The following year they presented a memorial to the Belfast Presbytery of the Synod of Ulster, asking to be organised into a congregation.  The request was granted and the congregation was supplied with preachers.  This was the thirteenth congregation in Belfast.
At that time Ballysillan was a rural area and indeed it remained so until the early part of the 20th century.
Money was raised for a church building and a site was provided by James Blair, who lived nearby  at Clearstream.  The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 27 September 1837 and the opening service was held on 28 October 1839.
The first minister was Rev Marcus Dill Reid, a licentiate of the Limavady Presbytery.  He was ordained on 3 December 1839 but resigned on 5 October 1841 and moved to Londonderry.  The second minister was Rev Hugh McKay who was ordained on 18 May 1842 but his ministry was cut short when he died on 1 September 1843 in the session room which was used by him while the manse was being built.
During the 1880s it was recognised that the church building was not large enough and a new building
was erected on the same site.  A fundraising sale of work was held in the Ulster Hall over four days and the building was opened in 1891.  A major sale of work was a common way of raising money for large church building projects such as this and the Ulster Hall was a popular venue.  A list of the prominent people attending the sale of work along with details of the stalls and the entertainment was published each day in the Belfast NewsLetter.
At the same time the Ballysillan National School was built and the Gailey Memorial Hall was erected on the site of the old manse.  The hall was named after Rev John Gailey, who was minister of Ballysillan from 1898 to 1921 and then resigned to become a lecturer for the Irish Temperance League.
The story of the church started with Alexander Kerr and his influence extended far beyond Ballysillan.  He was ordained on 7 January 1838 as minister of First Portadown Presbyterian Church but resigned on 10 July 1840 to become one of the first missionaries of the Presbyterian Church to go out to India.  However he contracted fever and he died there on 16 August 1841, aged 29.

A number of former members of the congregation have become ministers, including, Douglas Armstrong, Roy Magee, Sam McClintock, Will Morrison (Canada), William McKeown (Canada), David Groves (England), Clifford Morrison (Baptist), Jackson Buick, Robin Salters, Colin Morrison (now minister in Eglinton), Roy Stirling, Graham Connor and Jim Campbell.


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