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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.