Short History of the Presbyterian Church
in Ireland

Prof. John M. Barkley
M.A., Ph.D, D.D.,F. R. Hist.S.


THE CHURCH (1800-1950)

One of the most important events in the first quarter of the nineteenth century was the Synod of Ulster's assertion of her independence of the State in "things spiritual". The circumstances also were most dramatic. Many deplored the want of a College for higher education in Ulster, and determined to establish one in Belfast. The attempt was successful, and the Belfast Academical Institution was opened in 1815, and a parliamentary grant of �1,500 per annum obtained. The managers of the Institution offered accommodation for theological classes to the Synod of Ulster and the Seceders. In 1815, the Burghers appointed Rev. Samuel Edgar (Ballynahinch) to teach theology, but the Synod, although determined to take advantage of the opportunity offered, did not make an appointment.

At a public dinner in the Institution, in March, 1816, many toasts were drunk, including one "To the memory of Marshal Ney". This led the government to withdraw the endowment. Dr. Black (Derry), a Tory, as a result, used all his power to persuade the Synod that it would be unwise to permit their students to attend the Institution ; and a letter was presented from the Board of the Institution to the Synod at its meeting in Cookstown, in 1816, informing them that, at a conference with Lord Castlereagh, his lordship had stated that if the Synod appointed a Professor of Divinity to lecture in the Institution it would be regarded by the government as an act of hostility on the part of the Church. The Synod, in the light of this, postponed making an appointment, and appointed a deputation to wait on his lordship. The result was unsatisfactory, as Lord Castlereagh declared that permission given to students of the Synod to attend the Institution would be "a breach of the contract" with the government.

When the Synod met in Third Belfast (Rosemary Street) in 1817, there was a large attendance. Dr. Black hinted that the Regium Donum might be withdrawn if their students were permitted to attend classes in the Institution. The Synod was surprised, and there was general confusion and uncertainty, when Rev. James Carlile, Mary's Abbey, Dublin, only three years ordained, rose to speak, and made one of the most telling speeches ever delivered in an Irish Presbyterian Church Court.

"It is surely unnecessary", he said, "to take up the time of the Synod in demonstrating that the education of our students is strictly a matter of internal arrangement. Nothing is more clearly connected with the spiritual interests of our people. There are, Moderator, some proposals which may be made to individuals or to public bodies, on which it is infamous even to deliberate. Such seems to be the nature of the proposal made to us at our late meeting in Cookstown, when, by a verbal message from an individual styling himself Lord Castlereagh, we were informed that the Government may regard our electing a professor for educating our students in theology as an act of hostility, and we were required to desist from our purpose. Who or what is this Lord Castlereagh, that he should send such a message to the Synod of Ulster? Is he a minister of the body ? Is he an elder ? What right has he to obtrude himself on our deliberations ? I revere the Government of my country. I pay a willing obedience in matters civil. I am no cavilling politician. But I protest against the government dictating an opinion as to the measures we should adopt for the interests of religion . . .

"Let us tell our people that we will never permit his Majesty's bounty to operate as a bribe to induce us to desert what we believe to be their spiritual welfare.

"This day's decision will tell whether we deserve to rank as an independent, upright, conscientious body, with no other end in view than the glory of God and the welfare of His Church, or whether we deserve that Lord Castlereagh should drive his chariot into the midst of us, and tread us down as the offal of the streets".1.

This bold and courageous speech won the day, led to the appointment of the Rev. Samuel Hanna as Professor of Divinity and Church History, ended the infamous attempt of Lord Castlereagh and the Government to override the religious liberty of the Synod, and showed that independence was a treasured possession to Irish Presbyterians.

The decision of the Synod let Castlereagh and his supporters see that although they had been able to "buy" the Union of the Parliaments they could not make Presbyterians sell their independence.

Other important events in the first half of the nineteenth century were: (1) the second Non-Subscription, or Arian, controversy, and (2) the Union of the "General Synod of Ulster" and the "Presbyterian Synod of Ireland, distinguished by the name of Seceders", to form the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, with the General Assembly as its Supreme Court.

Before discussing the former, a word may be said about Dr. Henry Cooke of Killyleagh, and Dr. Henry Montgomery of Dunmurry, the leading figures during the Arian controversy. Both were great and outstanding men, and each held the other in high respect. Cooke declared that Montgomery "had the greatest command of the English language of any man living"; and Montgomery said of Cooke, "I cheerfully admit that he was, generally speaking, an open and manly opponent . His dexterity as a debater I have never seen surpassed, whether in defending his own weak points or attacking those of his adversary-his eloquence during our synodical debates was frequently commanding, and the skill with which he played on all the cords of the popular heart was perfect".

Cooke's powers of effective extempore speech and reasoned argument were phenomenal, and he was a master of invective. Montgomery was a splendid speaker of a rather different type, having a graceful manner, with persuasion rather than declamation as the chief feature of his eloquence. Indeed, as Principal J. E. Davey says, "one cannot but regret the circumstances which drove these two worthy and gifted men into different folds".2.

Montgomery was loved by his friends and respected by his enemies, a man of devout and attractive personality. Cooke, on the other hand, was extremely self-possessed, and appears to have been admired rather than loved. Yet, when this distinction has been drawn, it must be recognised that both were great men and men of strong convictions. Cooke was a militant Tory and was regarded as a bitter opponent of "Catholic emancipation", although, in fairness, it must be pointed out that he was not opposed to a "limited emancipation". Montgomery, on the other hand, was a Liberal and an ardent supporter of "Catholic emancipation".

Montgomery withdrew with the Remonstrants in 1830, whereas Cooke remained in the Synod, and became the most dramatic and dominant figure in the early years of the General Assembly. Cooke is the type of historical character who creates either great admiration or just as great aversion, but, taking an objective view, while one may not approve of his every action there is no denying that he was the outstanding figure in nineteenth century Irish Presbyterianism, and a distinguished leader.

(1) Let us now turn to the second Non-subscription controversy. The Belfast Academical Institution, which was to provide a Collegiate education, was, as we have seen, founded in 1815, and a grant of �1,500 was obtained from the government, so an approach was made to the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod to recognise the General Certificate of the Institution. The scheme worked well until 1821, when there was a vacancy in the classical department. Rev. William Bruce was elected in preference to Mr. Brice, who had been supported by Rev. Henry Cooke. Cooke maintained that Bruce had been elected by Arian influence. There were no grounds for this statement for Bruce owed his election to the influence of Rev. Edward Reid, Moderator of the Synod of Ulster, and Rev. Samuel Hanna, both of whose orthodoxy was beyond suspicion. This was the beginning of the second Non-Subscription controversy in the Synod of Ulster. It differed from that of a century earlier in that in the eighteenth century all on both sides were orthodox, whereas now some, but not all, of the Non-Subscribers had been affected by "New-Light" views and had become Arians. Arianism derives its name from Arius, who was a presbyter in Alexandria in the fourth century. While holding that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, he taught that Christ was "a created being", and not of "the same substance" as the Father. Arianism is to be carefully distinguished from Unitarianism which regards Christ "as a man adopted to the office of Son of God".

In 1824, Cooke was defeated in his attempt to have the law of subscription re-enacted; but the storm did not really break until the meeting of the Synod at Strabane in 1827. After a long debate, it was finally agreed, on the proposal of Rev. James Morell, Ballybay, that the words to be subscribed should be those of the "Shorter Catechism" - "There are three persons in the Godhead - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost ; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory". After a debate, in which both Cooke and Montgomery participated, it was finally agreed that the question should be put in the form : "Believe the doctrine or not". The minute of the vote is : "Before the sense of the house was taken, four ministers obtained leave to withdraw ; the roll was then called-117 ministers and eighteen elders voted `Believe', two ministers voted `Not', and eight ministers declined voting".3. Ten ministers and five elders handed in a protestation. So the Synod of 1827 closed with the tide running strongly in favour of the subscribing party.

When the Synod met at Cookstown in 1828 there was a novel proceeding in that all present, who had not been present at Strabane, were called upon to record their votes for or against the Strabane Test. Although the legality of this was contested it was forced through. The result was : thirty-eight ministers and fifty-nine elders voted `Believe', four ministers and fourteen elders voted `Disbelieve', one minister withdrew, twelve ministers and four elders declined to vote, and two elders protested against the measure. On the Friday, Cooke introduced Overtures, which provided that every student, before being recognised as a candidate for the ministry, should "previously to entering a theological class . . be examined by a committee of this Synod, respecting his personal religion, his knowledge of the Scriptures, especially his views of the doctrine of the Trinity, Original Sin, Justification by Faith, and Regeneration by the holy Spirit". This was carried - ninety-nine ministers and forty elders voted `pass', while forty ministers and seventeen elders voted `not pass'. The Non-subscribers placed a protest on record, which was signed by twenty-one ministers and seventeen elders.4. They, then, began to prepare for withdrawing from the Synod. In October, 1828, at a meeting in Belfast, they prepared a "Remonstrance", setting forth their position, and stating that, unless the Overtures were repealed, they must separate.

The meeting of the Synod in Lurgan in 1829 adjourned further consideration of the question to a special meeting which met on 18th August, at Cookstown. The attendance was small. The Remonstrants were absent, except Rev. William Porter, who attended in his capacity as clerk, and in order to intimate the secession of his friends. Memorials were read from twenty Sessions, praying for the retention of the Overtures�ten of them asking for the expulsion of the Non-subscribers. Porter then read the "Remonstrance", which had been drawn up in 1828 and left aside in the hope of a settlement. The Synod reaffirmed the Overtures, with the result that the seventeen Non-subscribing ministers withdrew ;5. and, on 25th May, 1830, they formed the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster.

Once again, as a century earlier, it must be a matter of regret that patience was not exercised, and schism prevented by tolerance towards those already in the ministry, and the making of subscription absolute for the future. The tragedy of both divisions is that they need not have happened, as may be seen from the events of 1854, when the Presbytery of Munster, consisting of seven congregations, joined the General Assembly, on condition of still remaining a Non-subscribing body, and such they remain to the present day.6.

In 1835, the General Synod of Ulster adopted an Overture making subscription to the Westminster "Confession of Faith" compulsory for all ministers, licentiates, and elders. This opened the way for Union with the Secession Synod, which took place in 1840.

The door was now open for Union, but two other events contributed in no small measure to its success. The first has already been noticed, in chapter ii, namely, the removal by the government of the system of classification of congregations in paying the Regium Donum. The second was the defence of Presbyterianism by members of the Synod of Ulster in reply to the attack of Rev. Archibald Boyd, an Anglican curate in Derry, in the spring of 1838. Four ministers of the Synod replied in 1839 in a work entitled "Presbyterianism Defended" 7.

William McClure (First Derry) was distinguished for his culture, piety, and fidelity. James Denham (Great James' Street) was a learned and scholarly minister. A. P. Goudy (Strabane) was the son of Rev. Andrew Goudy (Ballywalter), and Matilda, daughter of Rev. James Porter (Greyabbey). He was a Liberal in politics and a Conservative in theology, who was animated by the same hatred of landlordism which had sent his grandfather to the scaffold in 1798, but a strong supporter of "Subscription". "Distinguished by his eloquence in the pulpit, and by his wit, humour, and invective on the platform, he was the first minister of the Assembly to meet Dr. Cooke on equal terms, and curb his dictatorial power".8. W. D. Killen (Raphoe), who was in 1841 appointed Professor of Church History in the Presbyterian College, Belfast, was a man of wide reading and width of learning. Generally accurate in his facts, however, he is not always reliable in his interpretation. "He", says Latimer, "succeeds better in recording events than in discussing their causes or their consequences".9. Each dealt with a separate aspect of the attack, an Boyd replied in his "Episcopacy, Ordination, Lay Eldership, and Liturgies". This they refuted in the "Plea of Presbytery", pointing out Boyd's errors, misquotations, and blunders. Boyd replied in his "Misrepresentation Refuted", in which among other things he accused the four ministers of "meanness" because they noticed his mistakes. The authors replied in a pamphlet entitled "Mene Tekel", and Boyd answered in his "Episcopacy and Presbytery", which Goudy described as "a literary abortion, which no man ever read, and no periodical ever reviewed".10. Soon afterwards Boyd was removed from Derry, and the controversy came to an end.

While no one wishes to stir up the animosities of the past, this controversy was of great importance in the cause of the Union of the Synods in that it firmly convinced the Seceders of the loyalty of the Synod of Ulster to Presbyterianism. It only remains to say that the "Plea of Presbytery" went through three editions, and the last act of the Synod of Ulster before its union with the Secession Synod was to vote its thanks to the authors of the "Plea" for their services.11.

(2) We now come to the second main event in the first half of the nineteenth century, namely the Union of Synods. The students of both Synods were in attendance at the same Divinity classes in the Belfast Academical Institution, and the movement for union began with them. This spread to ministers and congregations. Memorials, expressing a desire for union, from the students and from a number of congregations of both Churches, were presented to the Synods at their meetings in 1839. These were favourably received, and committees of both churches were appointed to meet and draw up terms of union. These were submitted to each Synod. at special meetings, held in Belfast on 8th April, 1840, and there was agreement on all essential points.

The following is a brief summary of the main conditions on which the two Synods agreed to unite12.:-

  1. Mutual recognition of each other as equal and co-ordinate Church Courts.
  2. Subscription of the Westminster "Confession of Faith", as founded on and agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, in the same manner as it was received by the Church of Scotland in the year 1647, by all ministers and elders.
  3. Adoption of the practice of public baptism.
  4. A rearrangement of Presbyteries according to local convenience.
  5. The preparation of a Code of Discipline for the United Church.
  6. The acceptance of an agreed Formula of Questions to be used at the Ordination of Ministers.
  7. That all Seat-holders in full Communion with he Church, whose names have been registered for twelve months previous to a vacancy occurring in any congregation, shall be entitled to vote in the election of office-bearers.
  8. As a matter of Christian prudence, that no Call be sustained which shall not be supported by at least two-thirds of the voters.
  9. That at the first meeting of the Supreme Court of the United Church all ruling elders must produce credentials that they have been duly commissioned.
  10. That the Rev. Dr. Hanna be Moderator of the United Church for the year.

On 21st May, at a joint-meeting in the Session room of Fisherwick Church, complete agreement was reached, and it was decided that the Union should take place in July. "On Tuesday, the 7th of that month, the two Synods commenced their sittings in Belfast ; the Synod of Ulster, meeting in the church of May Street, and the Secession Synod in the church of Linen-Hall Street. After having transacted some other business, and sanctioned the resolutions which the joint-committee had adopted in the May preceding, they proceeded, on Friday, the 10th July, 1840, to the final act of corporation. At eleven o'clock on the morning of that day they set out from their respective places of meeting, and then, mingling in one body on the way, walked together in procession, through a dense crowd of spectators, to the church of Rosemary Street. The moderators of the two Synods, the Rev. James Elder, of Finvoy, and the Rev. John Rodgers, of Glascar, headed the procession. Having reached the place of destination, accompanied by an immense multitude, these two venerable ministers then proceeded to the pulpit, and conducted devotional exercises. Immediately afterwards, the Rev. Dr. James Seaton Reid read, in a very deliberate manner, the act of union ; and, as soon as he had concluded, all the ministers and elders present rose from their seats, and held up their right hand in token of approval. The Rev. Dr. Hanna was now unanimously chosen moderator, and the court was regularly constituted, under the title of `The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland'."13.

The Act of Union describes the General Synod of Ulster as "holding the standards and adopting the discipline of the parent Church of Scotland", and the Seceders as "likewise holding the standards and adopting the discipline of the Church of Scotland" ; and continues, "It is hereby accordingly resolved and agreed upon, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Great Head of the Church, by the said General Synod of Ulster and the said Presbyterian Synod of Ireland, distinguished by the name of Seceders, on this the 10th day of July, in the year of our Lord 1840, duly assembled together, that they do now, and in all times hereafter shall constitute one united Church, professing the same common faith, as set forth in the standards as aforesaid; and, in all matters ecclesiastical, exercising, and subject to, the same government and discipline . .

"And it is hereby further resolved and agreed upon, as aforesaid, that the said united Church so constituted, shall henceforth bear the name and designation of `The Presbyterian Church in Ireland . . .', and that its supreme court shall be styled `The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland' .".14.

This Act of Union is of vital importance as it defines the Standards of Doctrine, Worship, and Government, of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. At the time of the Union, there were 292 congregations connected with the Synod of Ulster, and 141 with the Secession Synod ; and the United Church contained approximately 650,000 Presbyterian people. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church was laid down in the Act of Union. The General Assembly was its Supreme Court, and in the 1841 Code its powers within the Constitution, were defined as follows :-

"The highest ecclesiastical power upon earth, acknowledged by the Presbyterian Church, is the Presbytery. The General Assembly is therefore not higher than a Presbytery in power, claimed or exercised; but merely, as being a larger Presbytery, is entitled to exercise an equivalently larger jurisdiction; and as being the common council of the Churches. is, therefore, entitled to have the final cognisance of all common concerns. When some cases are not to be decided by a Presbytery, but reserved for the sentence of the Assembly, it does not follow, that it is because the Assembly has any inherent superiority; but it is merely an agreement by mutual consent, that some points that are of more general concern, should wait till the representatives of the whole Church be present at their discussion and determination.

"The Assembly shall hold a meeting each year . . . and shall meet oftener, if business require.

"The following powers are allotted to the General Assembly :- To the Assembly is reserved the power of regulating the number and extent of the several Presbyteries under its care; and of removing congregations and ministers from one Presbytery to another ; but the Assembly does not claim the power of removing a congregation or minister from one Presbytery to another, except at the request of the congregation, if vacant ; or of both minister and congregation, where the congregation is planted.

"To the Assembly is reserved the right of permitting congregations to choose assistants and successors to their ministers.

"To the Assembly is reserved the right of restoring ministers suspended `sine die', or degraded : likewise of restoring probationers, from whom license has been withdrawn.

"To the Assembly belongs the power of determining upon the conduct and sentences of Presbyteries, either by reference, appeal, or review of their records, on motion of inquiry into any of their proceedings . . .

"The Assembly exercises the right of reconsidering its own acts . . .

"The Assembly exercises the right of appointing a Commission of its members either to investigate and report, or finally to issue particular cases . . .

"As the General Assembly exercises a superintendence over all the churches under its care, it possesses the power of appointing a Commission of Visitation to any church, or churches, where there is presumptive proof that a Presbytery has been negligent in the exercise of discipline".15.

Although the work of missions had been discussed by both Synods for a number of years, prior to the Union, no mission field had been established, but the first public act of the General Assembly was to send two missionaries to India-Rev. James Glasgow and Rev. Alexander Kerr. Down through the years the Church's missionary work has been extended. In 1841, the Jewish Mission was formed, and, in 1843, Rev. William Graham was sent to Palestine. The Colonial Mission to "minister to the spiritual needs of emigrants in the colonies of the Empire" was founded in 1846, a Mission to China and the Continental Mission (chiefly centred in Spain)

in 1870, and the Zenana Mission for "work among women in India" in 1875. Space prohibits a detailed account of this work, but tribute must be paid to the work of the Women's Missionary Association, and the Girls' and Boys' Auxiliaries in support of missions.

Presbyterianism, as we shall see in chapter VI, has always sought to minister to the needs of the widow, the orphan, and the poor. This, at first, was the responsibility of the local Sessions, but later was reorganised on a Church basis. So, having outlined the Church's missionary activities, this is a convenient point at which to summarise the contribution of the General Assembly in this field. The potato famine in 1846-47 resulted in people crowding into the cities and dying in the streets from starvation. Fever followed. There were no hospitals or workhouses, so many Presbyterian Meeting-houses were used as hospitals. Thousands died, and about one million emigrated. The province of Connaught was stricken with peculiar severity, and the Presbyterian Church raised over �16,000 for the relief of destitution there. Dr. Edgar, as convener of the Home Mission, had his agents distribute food to the hungry, and start industrial schools where women were taught needlework and helped to earn a living. As a result of this work, fourteen Presbyterian churches were erected within a decade.

An Orphan Society was founded in 1866, and since its beginning it has helped to support over 35,000 orphans ; and in connection with it the Johnston Memorial Training Home for the training of orphan girls has been opened. The Kinghan Mission to the Deaf and Dumb was established in 1857. The Old Age Fund, which has done so much to provide for poor people of advanced years, who are unable to support themselves, was founded in 1906, and later an Indigent Ladies' Fund. More recently Adelaide House and Towell House have been opened as residences for the aged. Another most successful service to the community was the Presbyterian Health Insurance Society.

During the closing years of the nineteenth century the Shankill Road Mission was organised, and later Ballymaconnell Village, Bangor, was built and opened to provide holiday facilities for children and others in connection with the Mission. A Boys' Residential Club was founded to help boys received from Welfare Authorities, the Courts, and broken homes, to adjust themselves to society. The Temperance interests of the Church go back to Dr. John Edgar who, in 1829, began his public work on behalf of temperance, and who later founded the Ulster Female Penitentiary or Edgar Home for rescue work. After the 1914-1918 War, it was decided to build as a War Memorial a Hostel making provision for Presbyterian youth in Belfast, which should provide them with board and lodging under ideal conditions at a reasonable figure. Today plans for its extension are in hand.

Current social problems are dealt with by special committees of the General Assembly, such as, Church Extension, Social Service, Education, Gambling, Temperance, and so on.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were very few Sunday Schools in Ireland. When the Sunday School Society for Ireland, a non-sectarian body, was founded in 1809, there were but eighty Sunday Schools in the whole of Ireland. In 1862, the Sabbath School Society was founded in connection with the Presbyterian Church, and its work for the Church cannot be over-estimated. In 1959, there were 828 schools with 7,770 teachers and 67,490 scholars, apart from a further 14,785 in Bible Classes.

In connection with the Church there are many youth organisations, such as, the Boys' Brigade, the Girls' Brigade, Scouts and Guides, Young People's Guild, Boys' and Girls' Auxiliaries, and others. As some of these were only loosely connected with the Church, it was felt that a scheme of co-ordination and co-operation ought to be prepared. This was done, and adopted by the General Assembly. By this scheme every, society has representation on the Youth Committee of the Assembly, and it has worked with great success.

This brief summary gives no adequate picture of the social work of the Church, but in conclusion it is interesting to note that Presbyterians are still pioneering in the field of social service, for example, we have only to think of the work of Rev. T. G. Eakins, O.B.E., on behalf of spastic children, and to realise that the Presbyterian Church is the only Church in Ireland who sends workers to the Matrimonial Courts in an effort to rebuild broken homes.

A further pioneering effort was the taking of a Display Stand, with facilities for consultation, by the Presbyterian Church at the "Belfast Telegraph Ideal Homes' Exhibition" in 1959 so that people might know that the "Ideal Home" is the Christian Home.

At the Union of the Synods the vital question of union of congregations was not faced, and in some towns and districts the former congregations of both Synods were allowed to continue side by side. The failure to face this problem has created one of the most acute problems in the Church today, namely, the financing of two churches where one would be adequate. This involves an unnecessary drain on the financial resources of the Church, and results in waste of ministerial man-power. This problem can only be solved in a spirit of goodwill and harmony, and of sympathy and understanding; and wherever the question arises in particular cases all must seek not the satisfying of personal prejudices and local wishes, but the good of the Church as a whole.

The year of the formation of the General Assembly saw another attack on the part of the Anglican Church on the validity of Presbyterian marriages. "In 1840", writes Latimer, "the Armagh Consistorial Court decided that a marriage between a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian, performed by a Presbyterian minister, was illegal. Next year, a man convicted of bigamy carried the matter to a higher court, on the ground that his first marriage had been celebrated by a Presbyterian minister. although between a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian. In the Queen's bench, three of the judges were for liberating the prisoner, and two for his condemnation. The question was carried to the House of Lords. But the Law Lords, being equally divided, the decision of the inferior court was upheld, and the marriage pronounced invalid. The decision caused great alarm among the Presbyterians of Ulster. Public meetings were held . . . In February, 1842, Government gave notice of introducing a bill to legalise all marriages of this kind, which had already been solemnised. But, as this bill was merely retrospective, Dr. Cooke convened a special meeting of Assembly, bye which it was condemned. Presbyterians were now thoroughly aroused to contend for their rights. Many meetings were held; intense excitement prevailed; and at last the Government gave way", and in 1844 an Act legalising such marriages by Presbyterian ministers was passed.16.

Let us now turn to the principal events of the years 1850-1950. Writing on Higher Education in Ulster, Professor T. W. Moody says, "in 1800 there was no permanent local institution that catered for higher studies. There was only one university in Ireland, the University of Dublin or Trinity College, which along with kindred institutions in the capital, generally satisfied the needs of the ruling classes, in Ulster as elsewhere. But with Ulster Presbyterians it was quite different. Excluded by law from Trinity College till 1793, they looked for higher education to Scotland, the home of their seventeenth century ancestors. Since the early years of the Ulster colony, Presbyterian students had gravitated to the Scottish universities, and above all to the University of Glasgow. The long road from Portpatrick to Glasgow was familiar to generations of foot-slogging scholars from Ulster, intent on qualifying as cheaply as possible for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church or for the medical profession . . . From 1782 the Irish Government was repeatedly urged to establish a university in Ulster, primarily though not exclusively for Presbyterians. The `opening' of Trinity College in 1793 to all religious denominations did little to weaken the Presbyterian claim, for Trinity continued to be an Anglican stronghold, Dublin to be spiritually more remote from Presbyterian Ulster than Scotland, and a course in Dublin University to be far more costly than one in Glasgow. But it was the age of the French revolution, and Ulster Presbyterians, identified with radical and republican principles, were out of favour with the government. So while the catholic Church was enabled by the Irish Parliament in 1795 to set up a national seminary at Maynooth for the education of its clergy, the Presbyterian Church was left to fend for itself".17.

The need for an Ulster College was first met by the Belfast Academical Institution, but, as a result of the Arian controversy, the General Assembly, in 1841, declared that the Institution was no longer satisfactory, and, in 1844, it was decided to apply to the government for aid to erect and endow a Church College. The Assembly felt justified in doing so because the Anglicans had Trinity College, and the government was passing a Bill through Parliament to make a gift of �30,000 to Maynooth for buildings, and to endow it with an additional grant of �26,000 per annum. Notwithstanding the Assembly were informed that the State "would not endow any denominational College".18. At the same time, they were informed that the Government was introducing a Bill for the establishment of three Queen's Colleges at Belfast, Cork, and Galway. They were to be non-sectarian, and were to be devoted to the advancement of Arts and Science. While the Assembly had good grounds for complaining of unjust treatment, it welcomed the scheme, especially as the Government promised to make provision for its divinity students by the endowment of four theological chairs.

Queen's College, Belfast, was opened in 1849. It is true that all three Presidents of Queen's College were Presbyterian ministers - Revs. P. S. Henry, J. L. Porter, and Thomas Hamilton-and that sixty-five per cent. of the students were Presbyterians, but, as Professor T. W. Moody points out, "there is no evidence of any ecclesiastical interference with the college, or of any special preference for Presbyterians in appointments to chairs".19 To the wise leadership of her Presidents and administrators Queen's owes much, and their hopes that she would attain the status of an independent university reached fulfilment when the Irish Universities Act (1908) erected Queen's into an independent university in 1909.

In harmony with acceptance of the Queen's Colleges scheme, the Presbyterian College, Belfast (affectionately known as "Assembly's College"), was built by the Church, and opened in December, 1853, the inaugural address being given by Dr. Merle D'Aubigne of Geneva. In 1868, the Gibson Chambers, providing residential accommodation for thirty-three students, were opened, and a College Chapel was added in 1881. This College has served the Church faithfully for over a century, but the Church has never made financial provision for the College in the way she ought to have done, and one of the main problems facing the General Assembly today is that of the College's general finances, owing to the fall in value of trust funds and the increase in overhead expenses. The Gamble Library was opened in the College in 1873. While severely limited in its financial expenditure, it houses a collection of valuable, historical, religious, and theological works, and rare and scarce pamphlets, numbering about 20,000 volumes.

While the majority in the General Assembly favoured the Queen's College and Assembly's College scheme, there were some who held that nothing short of a complete Presbyterian College in Arts and Theology would meet the Church's need. The situation was now complicated by the fact that Mrs. Magee, a wealthy Dublin Presbyterian, had left the sum of �20,000 for the erection and endowment of a Presbyterian College. Some hoped to use this for the Belfast College, but such was not to be, for after much litigation the Chancery Court ruled that it must be devoted to the establishment of a complete college. So Magee College, providing classes in Arts, Science, and Theology, was opened in Derry in 1865. The Arts and Science classes, from the beginning, were open to every member of the community. The Theological classes, on the other hand, were for the preparation of students for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. Since 1953, the College has received generous financial help from the Government of Northern Ireland for the advancement of literary and scientific scholarship, and the maintenance of property. To obtain this financial assistance from the Government the Arts and Theological departments had to be separated into different buildings. They are now known as Magee University College and Magee Theological College.

In 1881, Mr. Gladstone's government granted a Charter to the theological professors in Belfast and Derry to grant degrees in Divinity, as the Presbyterian Theological Faculty of Ireland. The degree of Bachelor of Divinity is awarded by examination, and the Doctorate is given honoris causa.

Professor William Gibson and Rev. Isaac Nelson, who lived through the stirring days of the Ulster Revival of 1859, have left us the best-known accounts of the events that took place. The former entitled his work "The Year of Grace", and the latter "The Year of Delusion". While many have written accounts of this Revival, of which the best is "God's River in Spate", by Rev. J. T. Carson, a completely objective history has never been written, but Principal J. E. Davey has given a fair-minded summary: "It began in the congregation of Connor, near Ballymena, and spread quickly through the countries of Antrim, Down, Tyrone, and Derry, and the great majority of the ministers of the Irish Presbyterian Church entered whole-heartedly into the movement. Churches were crowded, services often very prolonged and multitudes brought under intense conviction of sin and into assurance of salvation. Thousands professed conversion in every part of the region touched by the Revival; and one can, I think, without exaggeration, state that the great bulk of the Christian workers of the Irish Presbyterian Church for the next generation came from those who had been touched by the movement. The work of 1859 and the years which followed gave a new life to the religion of Ulster, a new enthusiasm and a new power-its influence was not evanescent as the influence of such movements unfortunately sometimes is .. . But along with the good of the movement there were elements which shocked and puzzled . . . many strange and objectionable features presented themselves . . . One cannot deny either the existence of such morbid manifestations or the actual and positive, indeed amazingly valuable work done for God in that memorable period . . . But the positive achievement of the Revival, judged not merely by emotion and experience, but by its fruits, was there for all to see and to give thanks to God . . . And the results of the work have remained through the years in many of our congregations, in the presence of a band of devoted men and women, interested in the things of the Kingdom, and prepared to give their strength to the cause of God and His Church, as ministers, teachers, office-bearers or workers in less obvious fields, a band of Christians holding up their pastor's hands and loving the worship and service of God. The work and the enthusiasm it begot were renewed some fifteen years later when Moody and Sankey visited Ulster, and a second wave of revival swept through the land, to be renewed yet later by a second visit".20.

The disastrous and terrible famine of 1846-1847 during which hundreds of thousands of hungry and fever-stricken people died, and almost a million fled from the country, as Mr. J. C. Beckett says, "had left Ireland politically as well as economically exhausted. The movement for repeal was dead ; the young Irelanders were scattered and discredited ; no leader came forward to take O'Connell's place ; Ireland had no national party and the British government had no Irish policy".21. However, the rise of the Fenians, and their attempt to seize Chester Castle and the Holyhead Railway in 1867, together with the beginnings of the Home Rule movement which became the Home Rule League in 1870 under the leadership of Isaac Butt, and the rise to power of Charles Stewart Parnell, made England see that the Irish problem could be no longer shelved.

From 1867, the English political parties were sharply divided over the question of religious endowments in Ireland, the Tories, under Disraeli, favoured general endowment of all, while the Liberals, under Gladstone, pledged themselves to abolish all religious endowments, and to disestablish the Anglican Church of Ireland. Gladstone, it must be pointed out, was not yet a Home Ruler, but, in 1868, believed that Ireland's salvation lay in religious, land, and educational reforms. His first step in that direction was to disestablish the Anglican Church in 1870. On the disestablishment, Curtis writes, "The highly-endowed State Church commanded the allegiance of only an eighth of the population, she had against her both the Romanist and Presbyterian elements, and though she claimed to be the ancient Church of Ireland with uninterrupted succession it had to be admitted that she had never been nor could be the Church of anything but a minority, even though the minority was powerful in the upper classes. In spite of her fine record in scholarship and learning and for the noble men she had produced it was clear that her claim to remain the national Church could not be supported, though it was secured by the Act of Union. Further, the age was making for justice to all classes of Irishmen, and the disestablishment of the State Church was part of the undoing of the grossly unjust subjection of Ireland from Elizabeth onwards. Disestablishment had the support of England's greatest coming statesman, Mr. Gladstone, himself a sincere Anglican, and when he came into power, in 1869, he carried through the Act by which the Church of Ireland was disestablished and put on a footing with other Churches. Henceforth she was to be ruled by a representative Church Body and made self-governing".22.

To the Anglican Church was reserved the Church buildings on which �1,103,699. 19s. 3d. had been spent during 1834-65, the school-houses, and �500,000 compensation for recent private endowments. In addition provision was made for the bishops and clergy then living, and all recipients could either continue to draw this for life, or commute in the interests of the Church. All but forty-five commuted, and the amount paid to the Representative Church Body was �8,048,446. 16s. 7d. The total expenditure of the commissioners to the Representative Church Body and to the bishops, clergy, and others connected with the Anglican Church after disestablishment amounted to �10,208,988. 15s. 3d.23.

The General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the policy of disestablishment, for while many Presbyterians were in no way opposed to the disestablishment of the Anglican Church all were greatly concerned about the question of endowments, as the government's policy meant that ministers would lose the Regium Donum. The Act in their case also made provision for commutation in the interests of the Church, and all but four did so. This amounted to �556,974. 6s. 5d., with a bonus of �65,766.24. This, together with the Fund raised by a generous and loyal laity to assist in overcoming the financial crisis caused by the stopping of the Regium Donum, forms the basis of the present Central Ministry Fund.

The Divinity School in Trinity College, University of Dublin, was reserved to the Anglicans for the education of candidates for the ministry, and the Presbyterian College, Belfast, received �39,500, and St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, �385,035. Ss. 3d. (including the remission of a debt of �12,704. 4s. 9d.) .25.

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterians received about �46,000 and �4,200 towards the endowment of a professor's salary.

Gladstone, as stated above, hoped to solve another side of the Irish problem by land reform legislation, with the result that several important Acts were passed while he held office. To this movement Irish Presbyterians contributed many leaders. The most distinguished was Dr. James McKnight, sometime editor of the "Belfast News-Letter", of the "Banner of Ulster", and of the "Derry Standard". "In 1847", writes Dr. Brian Kennedy, "he organised the Ulster farmers into a body calling itself `The Ulster Tenant Right Association'. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, despite the opposition of Dr. Henry Cooke, supported the policy of this association, and it started an agitation for no less purpose than the legalising of the Ulster Custom".26 Indeed, "the father of the three F's was the Rev. N. M. Brown, Presbyterian minister of Limavady".27. Other Presbyterian leaders were Professor Richard Smith (Magee College), Rev. John Rogers (Comber), Rev. John Kinnear (Letterkenny), Rev. William Dobbin (Anaghlone), and S. M. Greer, a barrister, son of Rev. Thomas Greer (Dunboe). The tenants, prior to 1870, were at the mercy of the landlords, who could evict them when they chose. In that year Gladstone passed a Tenant Right Act, legalising the "Ulster Custom" by which the tenants had an acknowledged right to buy or sell their land. It, however, left the power of raising the rents in the hands of landlords, a weapon they continued to use ruthlessly. A Ballot Act was passed in 1874, which enabled the people to vote secretly. This enabled Presbyterians to vote, in security, against landlord nominees, and to secure the return of several members of their Church to Parliament. In 1881, Gladstone passed the celebrated. Land Act, which secured for tenant farmers fair rents, free sale, and fixity of tenure. "Indirectly this measure", writes Dr. D. Stewart, "was of great advantage to the Presbyterian Church. The reduced rents enabled the people to live in greater comfort, and to give a more liberal support to religious ordinances. Moreover, it freed them entirely from the power of landlordism, which was too often used in the interest of the Episcopal Church".28. The legislation, making provision for tenant purchase, initiated by the Liberals was extended by the Conservatives in the Land Purchase Acts of 1898 and 1903. The removal of the old grievances connected with land by this body of legislation produced a social revolution in that the country which had formerly consisted of large landed estates let to tenants now became one of a vast number of small peasant farms owned by their occupiers.

Gladstone eventually adopted the view that to grant Home Rule was the solution to the Irish problem, and controversy on this question agitated the Assembly from 1886 to 1921. Ulster, as we have seen, was strongly liberal and radical at the close of the eighteenth century, and this tradition had remained strong, although there had been a development in the direction of Conservative sympathies during the middle years of the nineteenth century. However, when Gladstone declared in favour of Home Rule in 1885, Ulster swung strongly into alliance with the Conservatives. The reasons governing the stand taken by Ulster were religious and social, cultural and economic. Presbyterians regarded these issues as vital. So, in the General Assembly, the vast majority were against Home Rule, although a small minority favoured it. At the same time, the words of Principal J. E. Davey are very true: "Whatever quarrels with British policy members of the Assembly may have had from time to time, and whatever their views of the best solution of the Trish problem, the sentiment of loyalty towards, and pride in, the British inheritance and commonwealth of peoples has been common to us all".29.

Other controversies arising at the close of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth, dealt with Instrumental Music, Hymnody, and Communion wine. Today most churches have organs to assist in the praise of the sanctuary, use the "Revised Church Hymnary", and the majority of congregations, but not all, use unfermented wine at the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. A few, also, retain the Table in the aisle at Communion, for example, Glascar and Garmany's Grove.

From time to time, the idea of a Church House and Assembly Hall was discussed, and, in 1892, a proposal was made that a central building with an assembly hall, and the necessary committee rooms, should be erected for meetings of the General Assembly, and its committees. The site of the old Fisherwick Place Church was obtained, and building began. It was opened in June, 1905, by the Duke of Argyll. Church House contains several smaller halls and offices, in addition to a main hall seating about 2,250. It houses the Clerk's Office, the office of the Financial Secretary, and the offices of the Home, Irish, and Foreign Missions, etc., as well as the Central Presbyterian Association, the Presbyterian Book Room, and the Historical Society.

The Government of Ireland Act, 1920, set up two legislatures in Ireland, one in Dublin for Southern Ireland and one in Belfast for Northern Ireland. The political division of the country has created many difficulties for the Church, for example, a declining membership in the South raising the problems of man-power and the union of congregations, and in the North the growth of industrial Belfast with the urgent need to supply the Word and Ordinances in new housing areas. Vision and prayer are very necessary if the Church is to fulfil her mission to Ireland.

Recent years have seen a closer co-operation between Presbyterians and Anglicans in matters of public welfare, and joint-action with the Methodists in theological education and in new housing areas. Through membership in the World Council of Churches and the British Council of Churches friendly contacts have been made, and the "Irish Amsterdam" and "Irish Evanston" Conferences revealed that while the road to organic unity contains many difficulties, yet the Evangelical Churches in Ireland recognise that they have a common task in the service of Jesus Christ.30.

In conclusion, a reference must be made to the part played by Irish Presbyterianism in the formation and founding of the World Presbyterian Alliance. The idea of an Alliance or Council of the Reformed Churches had a prominent place in the minds of the Reformers, especially Calvin, but it was beset by too many difficulties to be carried out at that time. This has had unfortunate consequences, and is probably one of the reasons for the gulf that has developed between Anglican and Reformed. In the second half of the nineteenth century, however, the conception of a World Presbyterian Alliance was advocated by many people. In February, 1873, Dr. Knox gave notice to the Presbytery of Belfast of the following overture to be submitted to the General Assembly : "Whereas there is substantial unity in faith, discipline and worship among the Presbyterian Churches in this and other lands ; whereas it is important to exhibit this unity to other Churches and the world ; whereas a desire has been expressed in many lands for closer union, among all branches of the great and widely scattered family of Presbyterian Churches ; it is overturned to the General Assembly favourably to consider this subject, and open up a correspondence with other Churches, holding by the Westminster Confession of Faith, with the view of bringing about an ecumenical Council of such Churches, to consider subjects of common interest to all, and especially to promote harmony of action in the mission fields at home and abroad".31. The Assembly approved the overture, and a committee to correspond with other Churches was appointed. Similar action was taken about this time in America also, but the first active step towards the foundation of the World Presbyterian Alliance by a Church Court was that of the Presbytery of Belfast. Today the World Presbyterian Alliance, which held its first General Council in Edinburgh, in 1877, serves as a great bond of unity and brotherhood to Presbyterians of many different nationalities.



The underlying principles of the government of the Presbyterian Church must be outlined before we proceed to discuss the history and working of the Courts of the Church, as this is essential to a proper understanding of the same. Let us, therefore, summarise them as they are set out in the first chapter of the "Code of Discipline", authorised by the General Assembly in 1841.

Of the Catholic or Universal Church it says, "The Catholic or Universal Church of Christ has been distinguished by two appellations : the visible and the invisible.

"The Universal Church invisible consists of all the people of God, who have been, are, or shall he, gathered into one under Christ.

"The Universal Church visible consists of all persons throughout the world, together with their children, who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, and to live obedient to the precepts of His Word.

"The Universal Church visible consists of many particular Churches. A particular visible Church consists of a number of persons who profess to believe and to obey the Lord Jesus, together with their children, voluntarily associated, and statedly assembling for the worship of God, reading and hearing the Word, Church discipline, and godly living, according to the Scriptures".1.

Of the Head of the Church it says, "The Lord Jesus Christ is the sole King and Head of His Church".2.

Of the Teachers and Rulers in the Church it says, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, at the commencement of the Gospel Dispensation, gave to His Church Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists . . .

"Our Lord also gave to His Church `pastors and teachers', 'helps and governments', `for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ'. These are the ordinary and perpetual officers in the Church, and are called Bishops, or Presbyters, and Deacons".3.

The officers of the Church are then dealt with in separate sections showing the distinctions between them. The first is entitled: "Bishops, Presbyters, Pastors, Teachers, Ministers : commonly called Clergy". It says, "The teachers of the Gospel have their commission from Christ . . . The person who fills the office, has in Scripture received different names expressive of the various duties incumbent upon him . . . and they are in Scripture indiscriminately applied to the same office-bearers, without marking any distinction, or superiority of rank . . . Bishop and Presbyter, in the Apostolic Church, were only two titles for the same office-bearer . . .

"Every regularly appointed Teacher, Pastor, or Minister, was an Apostolical Presbyter ; and every Presbyter labouring in word and doctrine, was the Apostolical Bishop, or overseer, of the particular church committed to his care".4.

The second section deals with "Ruling Elders". It says, "Ruling Elders are appointed for the purpose of exercising government and discipline, in conjunction with Bishops or Presbyters. Under the Jewish dispensation, elders of the people were joined with the priests and Levites in the government of the Church. Under the dispensation of the Gospel, there are Elders who are helpers to Ministers".5.

The third section deals with the diaconate. It says, "Deacons are recognised as distinct office-bearers in the Church . . . The business of the deacons is to take care of the poor, and to distribute among them the collections raised in the congregation for their use.

"Ruling elders in the Church are, at the time of their ordination, generally appointed to take care of the poor, and consequently exercise the office of Deacons".6.

Then follows a section on the "Power of the Teachers and Rulers of the Church in Spiritual matters", which says, "The word of God directs Christians `to know those who labour among them, and are over them in the Lord, and admonish them ; and to esteem them very highly in love for their works' sake'. Also, 'to obey them that have rule over them, and to submit themselves'. But this power in teachers, and this submission from the people, do not sanction the teachers to publish any doctrine, or prescribe any ceremony, upon their own authority ; nor require the people to submit to their teachers, except so far as their doctrines and precepts are consistent with the doctrines and laws of Christ contained in His Word.

"The power possessed by the teachers of the Church . . . amounts not to more than this : to search the mind of the Spirit speaking in the Scriptures : to produce scriptural authority for the truth of what they teach . . . and to practise those rites, and those only, which Christ has sanctioned by His example, prescribed by His authority, and recorded in His Word . . .

"But whilst the Teachers and Rulers of the Church are not permitted to teach or enjoin any thing more than is contained in the Divine Word, they are at the same time bound to teach the whole counsel of God ; and in ruling, to have respect to all the laws which Christ, as `king and head', has published for the preservation of purity and order n His Church. They are therefore empowered, and it becomes their duty, to exhort, rebuke, or finally exclude from the fellowship or communion of the Church, those members who walk disorderly, or renounce the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures".7.

Next the "Right of Private Judgment in the Members of the Church" is discussed. It says, "It is the privilege, the right, and the duty of every man to examine the Scriptures for himself . . . In the exercise of this right . . . it is his duty to hold conversation and intercourse with learned teachers and other experienced Christians . . . and constantly to attend the public preaching of the word, and other religious ordinances . . . The Christian does not refuse to admit light, or receive assistance, from his teachers ; he only refuses to acknowledge subjection of conscience to any authority but the word of God ; and before he assent to any doctrine, he claims the right of examining the Scriptures for himself, that, upon their authority, he may rest thoroughly persuaded in his own mind".8. The principle is not "the right of private judgment" but "the right of private informed judgment".

Concerning the right of the members of every Church to choose their own office-bearers it says, "When teachers and rulers are to be chosen, it is the unalienable right of the members of the Church freely to elect, and when they have elected well qualified persons, it is the right and duty of the teachers to ordain".9. The people elect, but the pastors ordain because ordination is an ordinance of the Word.

Finally it deals with the Church Courts or Judicatories. It says "The government of the Presbyterian Church is exercised by Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods, or General Assemblies.

  1. The Session, or eldership, consists of the Minister, or Ministers, and Ruling Elders of a particular congregation.
  2. A Presbytery consists of the Ministers of a convenient district, with a Ruling Elder from each congregation.
  3. A Synod or General Assembly consists of the Ministers of several Presbyteries, with a Ruling Elder from each congregation ; or in case of embracing an extensive district, where the attendance of all would be highly inconvenient, a Synod, or General Assembly, may consist of a specific number of Ministers and Ruling Elders appointed by each Presbytery".1o. Synod and Assembly consequently are representative Courts of the presbyteries.

An analysis shows that the above statement of Presbyterian principles is based on the Westminster "Form of Presbyterial Church Government". Having outlined the under-lying principles let us now turn to the history and workings of the Presbyteries in Irish Presbyterianism.

From the erection of the first Presbytery in 1642 by ministers of the Church of Scotland, to the year 1654, the ministers and elders composing it, continued to meet in one Court. While they occasionally met at Bangor, Belfast, and Ballymena, as particular emergencies required, their general place of meeting was Carrickfergus. In the year 1654, however, their numbers having considerably increased and their congregations having extended far beyond the boundaries of the Counties of Antrim and Down, they found it necessary, for the maintenance of good government and discipline, to divide themselves into separate Presbyteries. In taking this step, as Adair's "Narrative" shows, they did not delegate the whole business of the Church to the subordinate Presbyteries. He says, "The Presbytery found it necessary that there should be three different meetings in different parts of the country, for the better and more speedy carrying on the work of God in divers counties ; taking order with scandals ; and concurring in matters of discipline as particular congregations should require their help. And withal, that these district meetings should take trials of entrance within their particular hounds, upon their finding the calls clear to congregations. These meetings were not constituted into Presbyteries, strictly so called, as acting by power in themselves ; but they acted by commission of the whole Presbytery met together, their commission being drawn and subscribed by the Clerk of the Presbytery for what they did. These committee meetings had power only to visit empty congregations ; to dissuade people from hearing hirelings ; to erect and give advice to sessions anent scandalous persons and their repentance; to try what duties ministers and elders performed in their charges ; to see what care congregations took to maintain ministers; to inspect expectants' testimonials coming from Scotland, and, if approved, to licence them to preach till the Presbytery met, but not in relation to trial ; to preach and censure doctrine at their meetings; to take account of one another's diligence ; and to divide the controversies of the times among themselves. But, on the other hand, they were not to enter expectants upon trial in reference to congregations, till the Presbytery was satisfied with their testimonials. Nor were these young men to be ordained till the Presbytery should have report and satisfaction concerning their abilities after trials were passed. Thus the work of the Presbytery was facilitated by these meetings commissioned by them".11.

The original Presbytery was divided in 1654 into the Presbyteries, or Meetings, of Antrim, Down, and Route. In 1657, the Presbytery of Laggan was formed out of Route and, in 1659, the Presbytery of Tyrone out of Down. These Presbyteries met in Synod, or General Presbytery, at such intervals as the circumstances of the Church required.12. The last meeting of Synod, prior to the long interruption following the Restoration of Charles II, was held at Ballymena in 1661, when a troop of horse was sent to disperse them, but providentially they had dispersed before its arrival. The Synod did not meet again, indeed it dare not, until the Revolution in 1690.13.

During the years 1661-1690, when Prelacy was rampant and Presbyterian ministers were evicted from their congregations, and their meetings of Presbytery, and for religious worship, proscribed, these five Presbyteries, notwithstanding their difficulties, carried on the work of the Church.

Excluding the eight who conformed, the Presbytery of Antrim consisted of twelve ministers ; the Presbytery of Down (sometimes called Newtown or Newtownards) of sixteen; the Presbytery of Route of ten; the Presbytery of Laggan of thirteen; and the Presbytery of Tyrone (sometimes called Dungannon) of eight.

These five Presbyteries met secretly, generally in private houses, and at such meetings corresponding members from neighbouring Presbyteries usually attended, and no decision affecting the whole body was taken without reference being made to all the other meetings. Deputies, appointed by all five, met in secret as occasion required, at some central place in the province.14.

With the coming of King William and the Revolution Settlement, it was possible for the Presbyterians to hold their Ecclesiastical Courts with less fear of molestation, and the General Synod of Ulster met for the first time since 1661 in Belfast on 24th September, 1690. No addition was made to the number of Presbyteries until 1697, when the Presbytery of Belfast was erected. In 1702, there was a completely new distribution, and the Presbyteries were increased to nine - Antrim, Down, Belfast, Route, Derry, Convoy, Tyrone, Monaghan, and Armagh; and these were distributed into three sub - Synods, with three Presbyteries in each-Belfast, Laggan, and Monaghan. In 1717, the Presbytery of Monaghan was divided into those of Augher and Longford, but they were again united into the Presbytery of Monaghan in 1724, owing to the decrease of the number of congregations in the Presbytery of Longford, three being vacant because of lack of ministerial support and two having joined the Presbytery of Munster. Also, in 1717, the Presbyteries of Derry and Convoy were, for the sake of greater convenience, divided into Derry, Strabane, and Letterkenny.

The Non-Subscription controversy of the eighteenth century led to a further change in the division of the Presbyteries. All the Non-Subscribers were placed in the Presbytery of Antrim in 1725, and the Subscribing ministers in the Presbyteries of Down and Belfast were formed into the Presbyteries of Killyleagh, Bangor, and Templepatrick ; and, in 1726, the Subscribing ministers in the Dublin Association were erected into the Presbytery of Dublin. Some fifteen years or so later a division arose within the Presbytery of Armagh over the licensing of students, who refused to subscribe the Westminster "Confession of Faith". Efforts to heal the breach were unavailing, and the Presbytery, in 1743, was divided into those of Armagh and Dromore. In 1745, the Presbytery of Ballymena was erected out of those of Route and Templepatrick. In 1749, the Presbytery of Monaghan was divided into the Presbyteries of Monaghan and Cootehill. They were united again in 1763, and in 1777 divided into the Presbyteries of Monaghan and Clogher. The Subscribing ministers in the Presbytery of Bangor refused to take part in the ordination of Mr. M. Stevenson at Greyabbey, and were erected into the Presbytery of Belfast in 1774. In 1796, the Presbytery of Killyleagh was dissolved, and the seven congregations were distributed to the neighbouring Presbyteries of Dromore, Bangor, and Armagh. The Presbytery of Connaught was. erected in 1825.

In 1831, it was overtured "that the congregations of this Synod be divided into twenty-four Presbyteries" because of the inconvenience arising in Presbyterial business from the present disproportionate division. Effect was given to this in 1834. The Presbyteries were - Armagh, Ballymena, Bangor, Cavan, Clogher, Coleraine, Connaught, Connor, Derry, Down, Dromore, Dublin, Glendermot, Letterkenny, Magherafelt, Monaghan, Newtownlimavady, Newry, Raphoe, Route, Strabane, Templepatrick, and Tyrone.15.

The first Anti-burgher Presbytery in Ireland met on 12th April, 1750. It was a member of the Scottish Synod. It divided into the two Presbyteries of Newtownlimavady, and Moira and Lisburn, in 1761 ; and into the four of Belfast, Markethill, Derry, and Templepatrick and Ahoghill, in 1786. They were formed into a Synod in 1788. The Presbytery of Limavady was erected out of that of Derry in 1801. The Anti-burghers and Burghers united in 1818 to form the Presbyterian Synod of Ireland.16.

The original Burgher Presbytery, under the Scottish Synod, was divided into the Presbyteries of Down and Monaghan in 1764. In 1777, the Presbytery of Derry was erected out of Monaghan. In 1779, these three Presbyteries were formed into a Synod. In 1790, the Presbytery of Tyrone was erected out of those of Monaghan and Derry, and, in 1802, it had so increased numerically, that it was divided into the Presbyteries of Upper and Lower Tyrone. In 1796, the Presbytery of Armagh was erected out of Down and Monaghan. In 1815, all the congregations on the eastern side of the Bann in the Presbytery of Derry were erected into the Presbytery, of Antrim.17. The Union of 1818 with the Anti-burghers was followed in 1840 by the Union with the General Synod of Ulster to form the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. This involved the redistribution of congregations into Presbyteries, and the names of the original Presbyteries in the General Assembly may be given, as a matter of interest : Ahoghill, Armagh, Athlone, Ards, Ballibay, Ballymena, Banbridge, Belfast, Carrickfergus, Cavan, Coleraine, Derry, Down, Dromore, Dublin, Dungannon, Glendermot, Letterkenny, Magherafelt, Monaghan, Newry, Newtownlimavady, Omagh, Rathfriland, Route, Strabane, Templepatrick, and Tyrone.18. In 1854, the Presbytery of Munster, as a Non-Subscribing Presbytery, was received into the General Assembly.19. Should a revision of Presbyteries be undertaken in the future, there arc some who would like to see the original names of Antrim and Laggan restored.

For the more efficient exercise of the Church's mission and government a Commission was set up by the General Assembly in 1843 to group the Presbyteries into Synods. This was completed in 1846.20. The five Synods were :- Armagh and Monaghan, Ballymena and Coleraine, Belfast, Derry and Omagh, and Dublin. It is doubtful if the Synods have ever fulfilled the purpose of their formation, and much hard thinking with regard to their efficiency and usefulness is required today.

The powers and jurisdiction of Presbytery at the formation of the General Assembly is set forth in the "Code of Discipline" of 1841.

On the jurisdiction over members of Presbytery it says,

"1. The officer of the minister, or elder, labouring both in Word and doctrine, being more extensive in its duties, and consequently of more importance than that of the ruling elder, the trial of ministerial faults shall not be before the congregational eldership, but before the Presbytery.

"2. As a minister is appointed for the instruction and example of the people, and a steward of the manifold grace of God, it is required that he be apt to teach, blameless in his conduct, and faithful in his officer. Should he come short of this character, it is the duty of his brethren to examine respecting any alleged heresy, conduct unbecoming the ministerial character, or voluntary neglect of ministerial duties, and to deal with his offence as the case may require".21.

On the jurisdiction over congregations it says, "To the Presbytery belongs the superintendence of all matters relating to doctrine, discipline, and order, in the several congregations under their care.

  1. To the Presbytery belongs the power of cutting off from the communion of the Church, and again restoring, upon sufficient evidence of repentance.
  2. To the Presbytery belongs the duty of supplying preaching, administering ordinances, and ordaining ministers in vacant congregations.
  3. Presbyteries may erect new congregations, where they are deemed necessary, provided that no appeal is made to the General Assembly by any of the ministers ; or, in case of vacancy, by the Session of any of the adjoining congregations.
  4. No congregation shall be erected at the first meeting of Presbytery, to which application for concurrence is made ; but a committee shall be appointed to inquire into the circumstances, and report at the next stated meeting-".22.

Concerning congregational visitation it says, "To the end that discipline may be duly administered, in all the congregations within their bounds, it is the duty of Presbyteries to hold regular visitations of the several churches under their care, besides those that may be occasioned by particular circumstances ; and, if they deem it expedient, to report to the General Assembly the state of the congregations visited".23.

Concerning the jurisdiction over the eldership it says, "

  1. Presbyteries have the right of examining records of Session, and of approving, modifying, or reversing their decisions.

  2. To the Presbytery likewise belongs the right of receiving appeals against the sentence of an eldership in Session, and of sustaining, modifying, or reversing their decision.
  3. It is the duty of the Presbytery to give advice to ministers and Sessions in cases of difficulty".24.

Concerning the jurisdiction over students it says, "To the Presbytery belongs the right of receiving under their care candidates for the ministry, and of superintending and directing their education ; judging of their qualifications for the work, and of licensing them to preach as candidates for the ministerial office".25.

Such were the original powers of the Presbyteries in the General Assembly, and such changes as have taken place since then will be noted later. Let us now turn to the workings of the Presbytery as a Court.

Meetings of Presbytery were presided over by a minister as Moderator. They met four times in the year, and were opened with preaching and prayer. The clerk called the roll, and recorded the attendances in the Minute Book. Reasons had to be given for absence. This was either accepted, or if unsatisfactory a fine imposed, for example, in the Presbytery of Belfast it was 2s. 2�d. for each absence. Presbyteries exercised oversight over students, examining them in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Ethics, Natural Philosophy, Ecclesiastical History, and Divinity. After this they were placed on Trials, and if these were satisfactory they were licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery.26.

The Presbytery moderated in Calls, and were responsible for drawing the terms of settlement, for serving the Edict, and Ordination. The following extracts from the minutes of the Presbytery of Belfast illustrate this :-

24th June, 1794: "There appeared commissioner from Drumbo, Capt. Kelly, supplicating that Mr. Saml. Hannah a Probationer under the care of the Presbytery of Ballymena, and now upon Trials at Drumbo may be allowed to supply that congregation the first Lord's day in July, and that the ministers who shall assist at the Sacrament at Drumbo upon the second Sabbath in July may be empowered to take the minds of the people relative to Mr. Hannah, and if necessary to moderate a Call. Granted".

5th August, 1794: "Mr. Saml. Hannah produced his Credentials from the Presbytery of Ballymena, which were received and approven of. He delivered a Presbyterial Exercise which was also approved of . . . Mr. Hannah is appointed the following Question : is God the Author of Moral evil ? to be delivered at our next meeting of Presbytery. Capt. Kelly appeared commissioner from Drumbo requesting the next meeting of Presbytery there and that Mr. Hannah's trials may be forwarded with all convenient speed. Granted".

1st February, 1795: "Mr. Hannah delivered his popular sermon at this meeting which was considered and approved of, he was now examined on the Greek and Latin language, on Natural Philosophy, Divinity, &c. and gave such answers as were satisfactory to the Presbytery".
At this meeting, however, a difficulty arose in that Drumbo were in arrears in their payment of their former minister, Mr. Malcolm, and the matter was so serious that it had to be referred to the General Synod.

28th July, 1795: "The Presbytery have agreed to ordain Mr. Saml. Hannah on the last Tuesday of August, Mr. Simpson to preach and Mr. Harrison to ordain. Mr. Kelburn is appointed to preach in Drumbo on the third Sabbath of August, and serve the Edict. Messrs. Henry and Birch to attend on the Wednesday following and take security for Mr. Hannah's stipend".

25th August, 1795: "The Rev. the Presbytery of Belfast meet at Drumbo, according to appointment, post preces Sederunt qui Infra. Ministers : Rev. Thos. Birch, Modr. Messrs ............Elders .........  The congregation of Drumbo paid to the Rev. Malcolm �145. 11s. 6d., stifling-, being the sum agreed upon by the Synod's committee. Mr. Hannah having subscribed the W.M. confession of faith. Mr. Simpson preached from 1st corrinth 4 and 12th. And Mr. Harrison Ordained. Mr. Birch and Henry report, that they attended at Drumbo according to appointment, and got a Bond perfected with the security for seventy pounds stifling per annum to Mr. Hannah.

"Mr. Hannah being asked if he would be a contributor to the widows' fund said he would".

Ordination was conducted in accordance with the Westminster "Directory for Ordination", which directs that, when a congregation has made trial of a man's gifts in preaching, "there shall be sent from the Presbytery to the congregation a public intimation in writing, which shall be publicly read before the people, and after affixed to the church-door, to signify that such a day a competent number of the congregation of the members of that congregation, nominated by themselves, shall appear before the Presbytery, to give their consent and approbation to such a man to be their minister ; or, otherwise, to put in, with all Christian discretion and meekness, what exceptions they have against him. And, if upon the day appointed, there be no just exception against him, but the people give their consent, then the Presbytery shall proceed to ordination".27.

This was known as "serving the Edict" ; and an illustration may be given from the minutes of the Presbytery of Tyrone on 14th May, 1782. "Appeared from the congregation of Moneymore Messrs. James Smyth and Hendry George, Commissioners, requesting that the Presbytery might proceed to ordain Mr. William Moore ; according to appointment Mr. McLeland reported he served the Edict. The Presbytery being well satisfied with Mr. Moore's moral life and conduct, as also with his Trials `in cumulo', resolved to ordain him to the sacred office of the Ministry, the Janitor was ordered to give notice of the design of the Presbytery at the doors of the Meeting house, and, no objections being made, then the Presbytery did ordain and set apart 1r. Moore to the sacred office of the Ministry by prayer and imposition of hands ; when Mr. Stitt preached from Rom. 2:21 and Mr. Wilson presided and gave the Charge ; then the Presbytery received Mr. Moore as a Member by giving him the right hand of fellowship and the people received him as their Minister".

The Westminster "Directory for Ordination" continues,

"Upon the day appointed for ordination, which is to he performed in that church where he that is to be ordained is to serve, a solemn fast shall be kept by the congregation, that they may the more earnestly join in prayer for a blessing upon the ordinances of Christ, and the labours of His servant for their good".28. We find evidence of the ordering of the "fast" in every Presbytery, for example, on 1st June, 1703, the Presbytery of Route appointed for the ordination of Mr. Thomas Stirling the "22 June current, and the day to be observed as a fast day".

It is interesting to note that this "fast" is the origin of the luncheon, or tea, which follows Ordination Services today. It was to enable the Presbytery to break their fast. Indeed, in earlier days, they appear to have done themselves quite well, for example, the following is the account of Sam Gray for the Ordination of William Gibson in First Ballybay on 1st January, 183429.:-

To 53 Gentlemen's Dinners




To 23 bottles Port and 16 bottles Sherry




To Punch




To 7 gallons Ale




To Reporter, 2 breakfasts Hotel, and Car Hire







Deduct for Reporter not charged







Ordination is an Ordinance of the Word, so the rite always followed the preaching of the Word, and is by prayer with the laying on of hands by the ministers of the Presbytery, as the Laggan minute of 21st December, 1692, shows:

"This day Rot. Craghead preached upon 1st Tim. 4 and 16 according to appointment at Strabane and after sermon having proposed the ordinary questions to Mr. Will. Holmes that are useful before Ordination, he with the rest of the ministers then present did ordain the said Mr. Will. Holmes by imposition of hands and solemn and serious prayer to God, and they solemnly set him apart to the ministry in the congregation of Strabane".

The Presbytery were responsible for supplying Ordinances as the Belfast minute of 6th February, 1787, shows, "As (the minister) Mr. Kenedy is indisposed an elder from Holley-wood moved that suppliers be appointed. And accordingly we appoint the 2nd Sabb. of Feb. Mr. Harrison, the 2nd Mr. Knox the 5th (April) Mr. Tate".

Presbytery controlled the hearing of candidates during vacancies. The congregation supplicated the Presbytery who made the arrangements, for example, the minute of the Belfast Presbytery on 7 January, 1783 : "The congregation of Moira having supplicated the Revd. Presb. of Bangor to apply to us for a month's hearing of Mr. David Trotter: They (the Revd. Presb. of Bangor) have requested us to appoint Mr. Trotter to preach at Moira a month commencing the first Lord's day of Feb. next which we agree to unanimously and he is hereby appointed".

An illustration of the form of the supplication is that of 8th April, 1797, from the congregation of Killinchy to the Presbytery of Belfast :-

"To the Revd. Presbytery of Belfast to meet at Belfast the 2nd of May, 1797. We the Session and congregation of Killinchy supplicate your Revd. Body to procure us a hearing of the Revd. Samuel Watson of the Revd. Presbytery of Dromore and the Revd. John Davidson of the Revd. Presbytery of Colrain Each for four Lord's Days commencing the second Lord's Day in May.

"We also supplicate your Revd. Body to procure Three of your Revd. Body to administer the Sacrament in our Meetinghouse in the Month of July if convenient and your supplicants as in duty bound shall ever pray".30.

When Calls were made out they were always presented through the Presbytery, as the following extracts from the Presbytery of Belfast minutes show :-

7 January, 1783: Arrangements were made for a pro re nata meeting to moderate a Call in Newtownards. The minute continues : "The Presby above mentioned to draw up the Call to Mr. McEwen at Killinchy are empowered to transmit said Call to the Revd. Presby of Dromore that they may recommend it to Him at their next meeting and send him back to the Presby of Belfast with Credentials".

2 March, 1790: "The Modr. produced a Letter directed to him Signed by the Revd. Jos. Lawson, Modr. of the Monaghan Presbytery : `Revd. Sir, The People of Glentubrat, having formed the most favourable opinion of the Revd. Mr. Goudy a probr. under the care of the Revd. Presby of Belfast have drawn the enclosed unanimous call which by order of the Monaghan Presby I have the pleasure of conveying to your Revd. Body and request that you would present and recommend the same to him as worthy of his acceptance. As it is usual on these occasions you will be kind enough to give him his credentials, appoint him a subject as a Specimen to be delivered to a committee at his return thatso we may appoint him the constant supplier of that Congn'."

When a minister was ordained or installed the Presbytery exercised oversight over him and the congregation, and were responsible for seeing that he received his stipend. The last was one of their greatest problems, for example, so far as the writer can make out, in 1702-03, every congregation in the Route was in arrears, some for up to three or four years. However, the Route was not alone, all Presbyteries had to face this problem.31. The problem of "arrears" of stipend was not confined to Synod of Ulster congregations, but was also quite common among the Seceders, and as the Presbytery of Route has been quoted on the one hand, on the other a reference may be made to the minutes of the Secession Presbytery of Lower Tyrone which record that in 1825 Mr. Bell of Eglish was owed by the congregation "�200 in stipend".

Presbyteries had power to call congregations to account concerning every aspect of congregational life, and to review the proceedings of Kirk-Sessions. They also had to deal with cases of appeal, complaint, or reference. This, however, need not be discussed here, as illustrations will occur in the next two chapters.

Presbyteries conducted Visitations of Congregations, but this appears, owing to historico-political reasons, to have been irregular until the eighteenth century. The following, by way of illustration, is the record of the Visitation of Convoy by the Laggan Presbytery in 1696:

"This day Mr. Ja. Allexr. preached in his ordinary and is approven, and being removed and the elders called in, they are asked if this be Mr. Allexr's ordinary and usual way of preaching, which they say it is, and being asked concerning his life and conversation and all other questions ordinary upon such occasions relating to their minister being put to them: they answer that they can object nothing against him in any particular ; they say also that the people gives both him and them due reverence. They also give account that they paid to Mr. Allexr of salary from May .94 to May .96, 411b. 03s. 0d., due to him from the above said time 10 lb. and that they have given him in corn for the time above said 52 burls., the meeting requires them to give diligence to pay up all arrears against next Meeting. The people being called declare their satisfaction both with their minister and session. Mr Allexr being called in, the meeting demand a sight of the Session book which being produced and found much out of order, they are required to put it in better order with all convenient speed".

After the Revolution Settlement Presbyterial Visitation became a regular practice, except when persecution made it impossible. It follows a common pattern, but the questions prescribed for such occasions do not appear to have been codified until 1841.32.

Prior to 1841, ruling elders were ordained by the minister in the local congregation, but in that year it was enacted that elders should be ordained in the Presbytery, although, on the other hand, it appears that this practice did not become universal until about 1887.33.

Since 1841 there has been a considerable modification of the powers of Presbyteries, for example, in the reception of candidates for the ministry the right of Presbytery is "to nominate for the approval of the General Assembly, persons desiring to undertake the work of the ministry, to receive them under its care when approved as students for the ministry, to co-operate with the Board of Studies in supervising their life and conduct when under its care"34. ; with regard to erecting new congregations the power of Presbytery now is "to constitute new congregations when it has obtained leave from the General Assembly to do so"35. ; and in filling vacancies "No step shall be taken by the congregation or Presbytery towards filling the vacancy in the pastorate of any congregation without first obtaining the sanction of the Commission"36. of the General Assembly on Union of Congregations, who "have power to fix a minimum of Stipend and Central Ministry Fund to be paid by that congregation".37.

These illustrations show a tendency towards centralisation in the General Assembly of many powers formerly exercised by Presbytery. Of course, it should be noted that the Presbyteries voluntarily assigned these powers to the Assembly, and that they could be withdrawn again, if the Presbyteries so wished.

The General Assembly is a representative Court, and all constitutional legislation must be sent down to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act.38. In the 1841 Code it read, "When any Overture establishes a new regulation, or the modification of an old one, each Presbytery is ordered, before the Assembly's next meeting, publicly to discuss the same, and report their opinion in writing to the Assembly".39. In the current Code among the powers of the General Assembly is "to enact, change, or abrogate a law of the Church, but only after an overture embodying the proposed law, or change, or abrogation, has appeared on the Minutes of the preceding annual meeting. It shall send down every overture which, in the opinion of the Judicial Commission, contemplates a change in the constitution of the Church to the Presbyteries enjoining them to give their judgments thereon".40.

The Barrier Act has for its object the "preventing any sudden alteration or innovation, or other prejudice to the Church in either doctrine, or worship, or discipline, or government thereof, now happily established".41. It is the great bulwark of the rights of Presbytery against the dictatorship of Commissions and Committees of the General Assembly, or by the Assembly itself.


Each congregation is under the care of a Presbytery, which is responsible for seeing that the people are supplied with the Word and Ordinances, and for oversight.

A minister of the Word and Sacraments, or pastor, presides over each congregation, and he is responsible for conducting Public Worship, for preaching the Word, for the celebration of the Sacraments, the administration of Ordinances, for Catechising, and pastoral visitation. Because the oversight and discipline of the congregation stands under the Word of God, the minister of the Word presides over all meetings in the congregation. He governs it with the assistance and co-operation of the ruling elders. They, as a Court, meet in the Kirk-Session, with the minister of the Word as Moderator, and are responsible for the spiritual oversight of the congregation.

The fullest sources of information for congregational life are the Session records, so let us attempt, in this chapter, to draw from the evidence they supply a picture of congregational life in relation to the election of the Session, Public Worship, the Word and Sacraments, and the administration of Ordinances. Since the formation of the General Assembly the practice and procedure of the Church has been set forth in the various editions of the Code of Discipline, so the writer has only quoted from Session records prior to 1840, noting the changes which have taken place. The Synod of Ulster prepared a Code in 1825, as did the General Assembly in 1841. The latter was revised in 1859, 1868, 1887, 1912, and 1948.

The Abbey minute book gives particulars of the Session's procedure during the election of elders. On 31 January, 1800, it says :�"It being determined at this Meeting that four additional elders be appointed to the Session the following Persons were put in Nomination, viz.:

John Orr ----- 11111
John Wilson ----- ----
James McCreary ----- 1
James Baird ----- 1
John Duncan ----- 11111
James Chambers ----- 1111
Alex. Todd ----- 1111

It appearing that the following persons had the majority, viz. Messrs. Orr, Duncan, Chambers, and Todd.

Resolved, that the minister wait on those gentlemen (and that they) be requested to accept of the said office".

It, also, furnishes information concerning the sanctity of Session nomination, for on 27 October, 1776, it records :"This day Mr. Baird came into the Vestry Room attended by several people, and did there propose Messrs. Houston, Shafton, and Wheeler to become elders, without having previously consulted the Members of the Session on that head, which they, on duly considering that matter, found to be a measure contrary to the usual practice in our congregation ; and therefore entered into a Resolution, that the reasons why such gentlemen should not be elected into that Office should be read publicly from the Desk to the Congregation next Lord's Day, immediately after Divine Service, which was accordingly done".

A full description of the election of elders may be given by quoting the Carnmoney minute book for 14 and 28 April, 1697: "The Session of Carnmoney being weak by the removal of some by death and indisposition of others have considered it necessary to find out if any of the parish may be fit for that office and having proof of the sobriety of John Russell, Alexr. Kilpatrick and John Dickson and the minister being desired to speak to the said persons as to their inclination about undertaking the charge of an elder he having done so and told that the said persons may be persuaded to embrace the said office, the Session appoints Geo. McRoy to signify to the people of Hightown that it is designed John Russel be their elder; and Sam Guy to signify to the people of Bally-Earle that John Dickson is to be their elder and David Ferguson to acquaint the people of BallyHenry that Alexr. Kilpatrick is to be their elder, and the said commissioners have this day given answer of their diligence to the Session that they find several quarters are satisfied the Session appoint the Clerk to desire the above persons to appear `coram' the next Session which is to be this day fourteen days".

"John Russel, Alexr. Kilpatrick and John Dickson appeared before the Session, did acknowledge their willingness to embrace the office of an elder which office they are to discharge in the above quarters mentioned in the preceding session. The minister by appointment of Session appointed the said persons to attend our several meetings as they shall be advertised which they promised to observe".

Cahans minute book shows that this procedure was also followed in the case of the election of a person, who previously had been an elder in another congregation.'

It would appear that prior to 1859 a ruling elder when he left a congregation, and went to another ceased to be an elder; and that, if elected to the eldership there, he was ordained, for the 1859 Code says :�"A ruling elder, certified as such from one congregation to another, shall, if nominated and elected, be admitted into the Session of the congregation to which he is certified, without reordination".2. He was elected and installed.

Those elected could refuse to accept office as the Larne and Cahans minute books show, and in some cases this problem became so acute that the matter had to be referred to the Presbytery, for example, Thomas Allen, the representative elder of Dawson's Bridge, on 13 January, 1710, was instructed by the Session thereof "to ask the Presbytery's advice what we shall do with such as is called to join with us in the office of elders and still refuse".

There is evidence also that in some places the names of candidates were not only approved by the congregation, but by the Presbytery, in accordance with the decision of the Synod of Ulster in 1707.

The above outline corresponds to that laid down in the Codes of 1825 and 1841. By this procedure the Session submitted their nominations to the congregation for approval. In 1859 an alternative form of election was provided whereby the congregation proposed names for the consideration of the Session.3. Both forms are still legal today, but the latter is the more common usage.

There is no one term in general use for the "appointment" of ruling elders, after election. They are "admitted", "taken into", "set apart", "invited and joined", "constituted", "appointed", "ordained", "received", and "added". The term "ordination" is the most common, and is that used in the 1825 Code.4.

After election, ruling elders were either appointed to office by the minister with prayer, without laying on of hands, or simply invited to take their seats. The former apparently was the practice in Templepatrick, Antrim, Connor, Rosemary Street, Cahans, Carland, Glascar, Anahilt, and First Ballybay, whereas the latter appears to have been the practice in Carnmoney, Larne, Aghadowey, Magherafelt, and Abbey. The former came to be the common practice, and is the procedure prescribed in the 1825 Code.5.

Cahans, Glascar, and Boardmills records show that prior to "appointment" ruling elders were required to subscribe to the Westminster "Confession of Faith". The following account of an ordination on 12 April, 1752, in Cahans is given as it contains the questions put to elders-elect and the formula of subscription :-

The Eldership being met and constitute by prayer agreed that seeing the Edict of the said persons had been duly served and no objections made they therefore might be ordained after sermon. They being called and exhorted not to be adverse from casting in the `mite' of their endeavours to glorify God by advancing Religion in these bounds but to embrace this divine call and opportunity to this, however, sensible to their own weakness, to which they at last consented and even desired to answer and stand up in a rank before the pulpit when called in the afternoon. Closed with prayer.

After public worship being ended they were called and stood up accordingly were publicly and solemnly asked :


  1. 1st. Do you own and believe the Holy Scriptures to be the only and Infallible Rule of Faith and practice ? Answered : Yes.

  2. Do you own the Westminster Confession as truly grounded on God's Word? Yes.
  3. Do you own it as the Confession of your faith? Yes.
  4. Do you own and approve of the Directory for public and family worship compiled by the Westminster divines approven and established by Acts of General Assembly and parliament of Scotland as agreeable to God's Word 1645 ? Yes.
  5. Do you also approve of the Form of Presbyterian Church Government and adhere unto it as agreeable to God's Word? Yes.
  6. Do you resolve so far as the Lord enables you to suppress sin, encourage true Religion by exercising Discipline and other ways all your days diligently ? Yes.
  7. Do you resolve by God's help to behave exemplary and piously in your stations before your families ? Yes. Then said Elders according to 10th Act of Assembly, 1711, did in presence of the congregation sign the following formula.

We undersubscribers do hereby sincerely declare that we do heartily own and believe the whole Doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith approven by the General Assembly of the Scots National Church and ratified by Law in the year 1690, to be the truth of God's Word and we do own the same as the Confession of Our Faith. We do also own the purity of worship presently authorised and practised in this Kirk, and likewise the Presbyterian Government and Discipline now happily established therein; which Doctrine, Worship, Discipline and Government we are persuaded is founded on the word of God and agreeable thereunto. And we promise that through the grace of God we shall firmly and constantly adhere unto the same and to the utmost of our power in our stations assert, maintain, and defend the same, Conform to it and Submit to it in our practice, Renouncing all tenets, opinions, and practices that are contrary thereto or inconsistent therewith as witness our hands this 12th day of April in the new Meeting-house Ballibay, 1752.

Then follow the names.

"Then the minister by solemn prayer did set them apart for that sacred office imploring grace from God whereby they might on all occasions be enabled to do this duty as faithful Rulers in the House of God and that the people might carry suitably also towards them, etc.

"After prayer the minister did at some length exhort the elders to do their duty carefully to the people and encouraged them in their work howsoever opposed by the friends of sin. Upon the other hand he exhorted the people to pray for their elders and to give care unto their private admonitions from the Holy Scriptures as unto the voice of God.

"The minister having done advised the eldership to give those newly-ordained the right hand of fellowship . . After dismissing the people their names were added to the Roll and they took their seats accordingly".

It should be noted that the congregations supplying evidence for "subscription" are all Secession congregations. That this was the common practice in the Secession Synod, and not in the Synod of Ulster, may be seen by T.K's article in the "Christian Freeman" in 1834. He writes :-"Should men be ordained as elders without making a profession of their faith, and without examination as to their religious principles ; Should there not be as much care in admitting elders into office as candidates for the ministry? To the latter two questions, the Secession has been answering YES by their practice for a century past . . . Our Presbyteries permit no elder to sit in Church Courts, without deriving his authority from profession, ordination, and appointment for that occasion in a constituted Session . . . At the opening of our Synod, every minister entered on the roll, has, at license and ordination, publicly adhered to the Westminster Confession of Faith .. . When the lay elders are called to be entered, each elder must produce a testimonial, signed by the minister of the congregation, which he claims to represent, certifying: 1st-That he was regularly ordained. 2nd That he Subscribed the Westminster Confession of Faith. 3rd-That he was appointed to attend that meeting of Synod".6.

In view of the fact that there is generally levelled at the Synod of Ulster a charge of slackness with regard to the scrutiny of elders-elect, which the records do not appear to the writer to warrant, the procedure in Rosemary Street may be quoted, and compared with the Cahans extract given above.

The first minutes in Rosemary Street Session Book, 1827-1846, are of meetings of Committee; and they deal with the appointment of the Session. The candidates were nominated by the Committee on 16 July, 1827, and approved by the congregation on 23 October, 1827, "the nomination of these persons being thus confirmed Dr. Hanna proceeded to ordain them to the office of elders". The minute of the ordination is, "Accordingly on Sabbath the . . . he explained at considerable length in his sermon the principles of Presbyterianism and gave a general outline of the proofs on which we rest in showing that the Presbyterian Form of Church Government is founded upon and agreeable to the word of God. After the sermon was finished, having called on the following persons, they appeared in two pews in the congregation". Here follow the names. "For the satisfaction of the congregation Dr. Hanna proceeded to put to them a number of questions respecting their belief in the following doctrines of Christianity :

"1st. On the Divine authority and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures as the only infallible rule of Faith and practice. 2. On the doctrine of the Trinity. 3. Of the Supreme Deity of Christ. 4. Of the Atonement. 5. Of the Deity and Agency of the Holy Spirit. 6. Of a future state of rewards and punishments. They then made a declaration of their approbation of the Presbyterian Form of Church Government and of their acceptance of the office of elders. After this Dr. Hanna proceeded to set them solemnly apart and ordain them to this office by prayer and supplication".

The records show that elders were "appointed" or "ordained" by the minister "after sermon" as in Scotland. This is the procedure laid down in the 1825 Code.7. Today, elders are ordained by Presbytery.

Ruling elders could resign the eldership in the Session, and it is not until the 1887 Code that this was changed to Presbytery, although the Presbytery's consent to their resignation was required from 1859.8. This Code says, "A ruling elder shall not resign his office in a congregation without the consent of the Session, nor the eldership without the consent of the Presbytery".9. The change in 1887 was made because ruling elders were ordained by the Presbytery.

The Kirk-Session, as a Court, from the beginning, watched over and guarded the whole spiritual life of the congregation. A ruling elder, as an individual, had no authority. He could not act as an individual, except commissioned by the Court. Let us now turn to the functioning of the Kirk-Session.

At all meetings the minister was Moderator of the Kirk-Session ; and the Lame and Drumbo minute books show that if he was absent there could be no meeting. On 1 June, 1701, the former states :�"No meeting of Session next Thursday the minister being at the General Synod at Antrim".

In some places the attendance roll is recorded, for example, Templepatrick, Aghadowey, Dawson's Bridge, Magherafelt, Cabans, Abbey, and Carland, whereas it is not in Carnmoney, Larne, Drumbo, Glascar, Boardmills, and Creggan. In the latter instance the formula, generally speaking, is "The minister and elders met" or "minister and elders present".

Carnmoney, Larne, Cahans, Glascar, and Sandholes testify to the meetings being opened by prayer; and Carnmoney, Cabans, and Glascar to their being closed with prayer. Other minute books record this from time to time.

In Carnmoney, Larne, Aghadowey, Drumbo, Dawson's Bridge, and Magherafelt the "absents" are recorded, and required to state the reason why. On 31 December, 1703, the Dawson's Bridge Session enacted :� "This Session enacts that every elder when he is called to an account for his absence from any Session or neglect of any duty shall be put out after he bath given his reasons, until he be judged by the Session". A fine was imposed if the reasons were considered unsatisfactory. The term "neglect of any duty" covered absence from Presbytery or Synod, if appointed representative elder, or failure to summon a member cited to the Session.

The Session appointed one of their members to act as Clerk. They were, also, responsible for providing a book in which to record the minutes, for providing Baptismal Registers, Marriage Registers, Communicants' Roll Books, etc.

The minutes in most cases are not signed, but a few are signed by the minister or the session clerk, or by both.

The Session, as well as looking after the records, from time to time revised the old minutes, and the various Acts of the Session.

Each elder, except there were extenuating circumstances, was appointed to the oversight of a "quarter" or district, on the moral and spiritual welfare of which he was required to report periodically, especially before the celebration of Communion. This report was based on his visitation of his quarter.

The Session had an important part to play in the election of the minister or pastor. The first "Book of Discipline" asserts that "it appertaineth to the people, and to every several congregation, to elect their minister".10. However, after the second "Book of Discipline" and the abolition of patronage by Act of Parliament in 1649, elections of ministers "were in the hands of the Kirk-Session, the people being asked if they acquiesced and consented, the Presbytery, as always, trying qualifications, a minority of the Session or congregation being allowed to offer objections, of which the Presbytery was judge", in harmony with the principle in the second "Book of Discipline" that "no person be thrust into any of the offices of the Kirk contrary to the will of the congregation . . . or without the voice of the eldership",11. that is, the Presbytery.

Abbey, Rosemary Street, Connor, and Larne minute books, and the 1825 and 1841 Codes testify to the same procedure being followed in Ireland.12. The procedure was that the Session nominated, and if the congregation approved, the Session presented a supplication to the Presbytery requesting the hearing of the nominee for four Sabbaths.

At the end of this period, if the congregation were satisfied, they "prayed" the Presbytery to appoint a minister to "moderate" at the making out of a Call. If the candidate was considered unsuitable, the congregation "prayed" the Presbytery to grant the hearing of a second. The same procedure was then followed, until a Call was made out. Broadly speaking, this is still the practice of the Church, in that all candidates to be heard during a vacancy have to be approved by the Session and the Commission of Presbytery in charge of the vacancy. Originally all candidates during a vacancy preached in the congregation, and this is still the general practice, but in some congregations, principally in the cities and larger towns, they are now heard by "hearing committees" who nominate to the congregation for their approval a candidate for a "Call". While it might be argued that this is in harmony with the principle of the people governing themselves through their representatives, it does not appear to the writer to be in keeping with the spirit of Presbyterianism, which is that after a candidate has been approved by the Presbytery "he is to be sent to the church where he is to serve, there to preach, and to converse with the people, that they may have trial of his gifts for their edification". It would be better if all candidates were heard by all the people as formerly.

If the Session could not determine which of two, or more, candidates to hear, they might consult the congregation, at a meeting presided over by a minister appointed by the Presbytery.

The following illustration may be given from Connor in April, 1733 :�"The Session meet this day at the little house after Sermon after some reasoning agreed to set up Mr. William Willson in the Presbytery of Letterkenny and Mr. Charles Caldwell in the Presbytery of Straban that the congregation may come to a poll and to stand to the one of those who the majority shall fall upon".

If the "Call" was sustained and accepted, the candidate was ordained by prayer with the laying on of hands by the ministers of the Presbytery, or installed, as the case may be.13.

The Session were responsible for the "Encouragement" presented to the minister, that is, the pledge of support spiritual and financial. This is testified to in the Abbey, Rosemary Street, and Creggan minute books. It had also to be approved by the Presbytery, before the "Call" was presented. Today, before applicants are heard for a vacancy, this has to be fixed by the congregation, the Presbytery, and the Commission on Union of Congregations of the General Assembly.

From the first ruling elders had much to do with the Communion services, but "in no fundamental document of any of the Reformed Churches is participation in the distribution of the elements included amongst the functions of elders".14. Nor was it regarded as a prerogative of the office in Ireland, for there are instances of the minister being assisted by communicants. Nevertheless it was, and is, the general practice for ruling elders to assist the minister in this way. The doctrine is that the elders "being the arms and hands of the pastor after that he hath consecrated the sacramental elements and distributed the bread and cups to them that are nearest to him, may come in to his relief and assistance and distribute them also unto those who are more remote from him".15.

The extant records testify to this duty being performed by elders, and others, as the following quotations from Rosemary Street records on 17 February, 1828, shows :- "The Session agree to request on this occasion the assistance of those who formerly acted on such occasions but are not members of Session. Messrs. Munford and Annesley are deputed to request their assistance.

"The members of Session appointed to the following places in distributing the elements were :

The East Aisle-Messrs. Gamble and Hughes aided by Mr. John Suffern.

South East-Messrs. Annesley, Blair, and Bottomley. South West-Messrs. Thomson, Milford, and Sterling.

West Aisle-Messrs. Sinclair, Young, and Halliday assisted by Mr. McConnell".

The Kirk-Session determined when the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper should be celebrated, and, in some districts, for example, in Aghadowey, their purpose was announced to the congregation for five weeks, although the normal practice was two.

The Communion services began with a Fast Day, as a day of preparation, and concluded with a Thanksgiving Service on the Monday. The following account is taken from Carnmoney on 26 June, 1698 :-"Good providence ordering the affairs of this congregation the people being visited and examined intimation was made two Sabbaths preceding that we proposed to administer the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in this place, we had the fast day on the 23rd instant Mr. Jo. McBride was a helper, helps at the Communion were Mr. Tho. Cobham, Mr. Jas. Brice, and Mr. Jo. Malcom. Mr. Malcom began on Saturday Mr. Brice preached, Mr. Cobham began on Sabbath morning. There were very nigh eight Tables which make almost 600 Communicants the people were orderly and much of God's presence was seen at the work. Mr. Malcom preached on Sabbath after Tables. Mr. Brice began on Monday and Mr. Cobham closed the work".

It is sometimes stated that Communion was celebrated only once, or twice, each year. This is true congregationally, but not for the communicants as four or five congregations united at the Communion season and had a Communion on successive weeks. The following extract from the Larne and Kilwaughter Session Book for 15 June, 1701, illustrates this :"This day it was intimated that we will not have Sermon next Lord's Day because Mr. Ogilvie will be at Carncastle Communion and people exhorted to repair thither for hearing of the Word and communicate (as many) as may be admitted and are willing". This shows that members might communicate as often as eight, or ten, times each year.

For the celebration of Communion long Tables were brought in and placed in the aisles.

All the preliminaries for Communion were the responsibility of the Session. They were responsible for making arrangements for an orderly celebration. The following is the oldest extant record in an Irish Session-Book, that on 28 June, 1647, in Templepatrick, "For the ordering of matters at the Communion, for keeping the elements, drawing the wine, and cutting of the bread Adam . McNielie. Gilbert berrihill to attend Adam McNielie for reaching the elements to the servers at the table.

"For receiving the tokens at the Table Gilbert McNielie and John Pettigrew.

"For serving with the bread Major Ellis and Lievt. Lyndsay, major at the East door, Lievt at the West for serving with the cups Mr. Shaw and Hugh Kennedy.

"Thomas Windrum and Thomas taggart for keeping the west door that all may be `keeped out' that wants tokens. John inglis and Thomas Loggan for the East door that none come in at that door but go out immediately from the tables.

"Hugh Sloan and Guian Herberson for filling the cups and delivering them to the hands of the elders, and Alexr. Coruth to relieve them by turns.

"Collectors at the barn Wm. Wallace and Wm. McCord, and to attend them Mr. Shaw and Hugh Kennedy. Major Ellis and Lievt. Lyndsay to attend the collectors at the church.

"Hugh Sloan is to provide the table cloths. He is likewise to go to Carrickfergus with Wm. McCord about the elements".

A further illustration may be taken from Dawson's Bridge on 31 October, 1709 :-"This Session having a design of having the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper celebrated in this place the next Lord's day therefore did meet together this day in order to the providing of the Elements and other `necessarys' for that work.

"And therefore have concluded to have two dozen of two penny bread and appoints Ellen Ekin to make the same which she promised to do.

"This Session also concluded to have five gallons of wine and appoints John Buntin to fetch the same which he promised to do.

"This Session appoints John Kent to go to Maghera for the cups and John Raney to bring the flaggons from Magherafelt which they promised to do.

"This Session appoints John Buntin to provide the long table cloth and James Garvan to provide the dishes, plates, and little table cloth and napkins which they promised to do.

"This Session appoints Patrick Kaven to bring the liquor table for the work which he promised to do.

"This Session appoints Andrew McDooll, John Calwell, and William Weer to provide the tent and what is needful about it James Garvan is his advice in the thing which they promised to do.

"This Session appoints Robert McAdow to stay in the Session House Saturday at night and Patrick Kaven on the Sabbath night with Gilbert Davison".

They were, also, responsible for the supplying of the Communion vessels and "tokens".

There is little definite information concerning the elements, which appear to have been ordinary daily bread, although Antrim and Carland both refer to "biskett". The minutes simply refer to "wine" although Templepatrick and First Ballybay state claret and sherry respectively.

Most of the minute books give a number of Communion accounts. The following is that in Carland for 5 July, 1755 :--

The Fast Wednesday collected �1  4 4
Saturday collected 1 4 0
Sabbath collected 1 15 10
Munday collected 1 9 9
The total collected 5 14 0


The disbursements first to wine 

2 8   0
To Cakes 0 12   0
To Ale 0 07   0
To a Door for the Meeting-house 0 11


To Rum 0 01


To bis Cakes 0 00   5
To Aqua Vitae 0 01   3
To Turf for the Retiring house 0 02   8
To Clerk Session 0 05 11
To John Murtagh for work done 0 05 11
To Scallops for the Meeting-house 0 03


Then follows the list of disbursements to the poor. This aspect of the Session's work will be dealt with in chapter VI.

The Session still are responsible for making all arrangements for the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Today, however, communion is generally received in the pews, which are covered with a white linen cloth, instead of at the table in the aisle. Also, in most churches there is a central Holy Table. The elements, generally speaking, are common daily bread and unfermented wine.

Catechumens were admitted by resolution of the Session. While, no doubt, procedure varied in different districts that in Creggan on 3 June, 1837, is typical. The minute says :-"At a meeting of the Session of the Presbyterian congregation of Creggan, held at Freeduff, on Saturday, the 3rd day of June, 1837. The following young persons being examined in the Shorter Catechism, and in their knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and having answered satisfactorily. It was resolved that they be admitted to partake of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper; at the approaching solemnity, and that they now may receive tokens of admission accordingly".

On the other hand, reference ought to be made to the procedure in Connor. The minute of 2 November, 1716, says : "The young communicants according to appointment met at the little house with Mr. Masterton and after solemn exhortation they were put in mind of the several heads of their Baptismal Covenant which they had verbally engaged to observe and adhere unto before they were admitted to the Lord's Table and were solemnly asked if they did adhere to the same now, and whether they were willing that their names should be entered into the public register of this congregation in a way of subscription to their Baptismal Covenant which now they had solemnly owned at the Lord's Table on Sabbath last was eight days which was the 21st day of October, 1716, and accordingly these young people desired their names to be inserted and subscribed to keep the heads of the Baptismal Covenant and at their desire their names were entered. The tenor of the covenant is as followeth on the other side of the leaf. Turn over the leaf".

"We whose names are under written do solemnly profess our hearty desire to believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost according to the several articles of the Christian faith as they are contained in the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, summed up in our Confession of Faith and Shorter and Larger Catechisms. And earnestly desiring to repent of all our sins we give our selves up to God the Father as our revealed Father in Christ and to Jesus Christ as our only Saviour and to the Holy Ghost as our sanctifier, renouncing the Devil and the world and the sinful desires of the flesh. We promise through grace in all things to behave ourselves orderly and according to the principles we have now professed and that we will deny ourselves and take up our Cross and follow Christ as the Captain of our salvation unto the death in the earnest hope of living with Him in endless Glory".

Admission to the Lord's Table is still a function of the Session, but today in many congregations, and correctly so, they are admitted not at a Session meeting, but at a service of public worship after approval of the Session.

Testimonials or certificates of transference from another congregation had to be received and approved by the Session.

The "tokens", which communicants received, were made of lead.16. Admission was by "token", and these were lifted either at the kirk door, or when the communicants were going to the Table in the aisles.17 . The lead "tokens" have now been changed to "cards".

Not only was the Session responsible for the admission of catechumens. They reviewed the character and conduct of all members of the congregation prior to Communion. They jealously guarded the Lord's Table in the interests of discipline, for example, on 12 April, 1686, the minute in Carnmoney reads :-"The Session considering that after their long desolation it hath pleased the Lord in His mercy to grant them again a gospel minister settled amongst them they do ordain all the elders to make diligent enquiry concerning scandalous persons and delinquents in their several quarters that they may be brought to the Session to give satisfaction, etc., and likewise that they enquire concerning each as not testified for from the places they came last from, etc.".

Records of "Communion kept" are entered in the Session Books, and also a Roll of the communicants.

The Session had the same responsibility, as in the case of Communion, with regard to the Sacrament of Baptism. It, too, was celebrated in accordance with discipline ; and if parents were under censure or did not fulfil the necessary requirements, sponsors were appointed.

On 9 February, 1647, Templepatrick Session enacted :"that no children be baptised till first they come to some of the elders, the parents who presenteth them, and get their children's names `inregistrate', and that the elders may testify of them to the minister".

The minute for 12 April, 1686, in Carnmoney reads :"The which day the Session taking into their consideration the irregularity of many in this parish in coming to get the ordinance of baptism without absorbing the end and holy order they doth unanimously appoint and enacteth that none in this parish shall have access to that ordinance of baptism for their children without they bring their elder or his token to the minister and give the child name to the Session Clerk to be inserted in the register and this to be intimated to the congregation publicly by the minister the next Lord's day after sermon".

The minute on 16 April, 1838, in Ray reads :-"Public Baptism was also appointed in the congregation".

After this minute is added a note-"Note, the above appointment was at a time, when the public administration of Baptism was not the law, nor practice, of the Synod of Ulster. Some families were lost by the carrying out of the law". Public baptism was always the law if not the practice within the Synod, and has always been the doctrinal and legal practice in the General Assembly.

The following illustration may be cited from Cahans on 10 June, 1753, as an example of Baptismal discipline :"Compeared Mary Gordon and owned her guilt of fornication with a man that belonged not to this congregation whom it was said left the Kingdom lately. She was instructed in the evil nature and danger of her sin and appointed to be publicly rebuked for it this evening, but as she appeared so ignorant she was desired to be diligent in the use of means to get more knowledge and converse with the minister or with John Riddel from time to time. Could not be sponsor for her child nor be yet absolved from censure".

Another instance showing the importance of discipline is the entry on 2 February, 1701, in Antrim Baptismal Register:-"James Bell had a child baptised held up by McBoarus for want of a testimonial. William".

Instances of appointing sponsors occur in Templepatrick, Carnmoney, Larne, Cahans, Anahilt, and Connor. The last also testifies to the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism "after sermon", as in Scotland.

The Baptismal Registers vary greatly, for example, the entry on 30 May, 1696, in Carnmoney, "Andrew Reed had a child baptised called Alexander", This is the form found in Drumbo, Glascar, and Boardmills, the last adding the townland after the parents' names. The Larne and Kilwaughter book is by pages, headed for example, "G" for "Glen", "K" for "Kilwaughter", etc. Dawson's Bridge, Anahilt, and Carland registers are set out in columns, for example, Date, Child's Name, Parents' Names, Townland, etc.

A fee was charged for registration, and the non-payment of this could have, as in Larne, disastrous results, namely, the non-insertion of the child's name. Generally speaking, but not always, the canonical order-boys followed by girls-was followed in Baptism. Today, unfortunately, it is seldom remembered that the Session have the same jurisdiction and responsibility with regard to admission to Baptism as they have concerning admission to the Lord's Table.

Marriage, also, was celebrated in accordance with discipline. It must be remembered that up to 1844 marriage by Presbyterian ministers was "countenanced", and while Presbyterians fondly believed that "when a minister is ordained, he acquires a legal right to celebrate marriage",18. the famous case Regina v Millis in 1841-44 revealed how mistaken they were.19. It is unnecessary to go into the details of this case, suffice it to say that Presbyterian marriage was, until 1844, celebrated in accordance with ecclesiastical discipline.20.

The names had to be publicly proclaimed three times "after sermon", and while this was normally at Public Worship on the "Sabbath" the Larne and Kilwaughter book shows that they might be proclaimed also on "Lecture" day. The importance of proclamation may be seen from the fact that the Synod of Ulster in 1701 unanimously approved that a minister who transgressed the rule of proclamation "three several Sabbaths" "shall be rebuked and suspended at the discretion of the Presbytery, whereof he is a member". Breach of this regulation also affected the individual members of the Church, for example, on 3 September, 1786, the minute in Glascar Session book reads :-"Appeared Jas. boyd acknowledging himself guilty of marrying without proclamation . . . after some conversation it was agreed to rebuke him in the Session which was accordingly done".

A fee was charged for proclamation, for example, in Templepatrick on 9 February, 1647, the minute reads :-"The which day John richard and Margaret Cunningham gave up their names to be proclaimed on the purpose of marriage consigning two "ryels" for their bands, and gave one shilling to the clerk for booking their names . . ."; and on 13 April, 1647 :-"The which day Shan O'Hagan and Shilie O'donally both entered their bonds of marriage and hath delivered four shillings for their bonds to the treasurer".

The Session scrutinised every wedding to see that it conformed to ecclesiastical discipline, and if not the parties were summoned before them. Marriage was irregular if celebrated by a "papist priest", in the Established Church without the Session's permission, by a "debarred" clergyman of any Church, or in disobedience to parents.

At the same time, parents were not permitted to be unreasonable as the minute for 12 February, 1832, in Magherafelt shows :-"An application was made on behalf of William Farson desiring to obtain marriage to Margaret Brown. It appeared that several years before said couple had been guilty of the crime of fornication. And having expressed repentance and a desire to be restored to Christian privileges, were rebuked agreeably to the discipline of the Church; since which they have led irreproachable lives. He from the first was willing to marry her, but was prevented, because it was contrary to the wish of his father. A few days ago the Moderator had spoken to Robert Parson, father of the Applicant, on this subject, and reasoned with him touching the propriety of his son's marriage with Margaret Brown the aforesaid, and wished to obtain his consent, which however was refused. The whole of this case being thus laid before the Session, and deliberately discussed by them�It was unanimously resolved that no reasonable or proper objection has been urged by Robt. Farson to the marriage of his son William Farson with Margt. Brown, and therefore, the celebration of such marriage is not only to be permitted, but under existing circumstances to be highly approved. A member accordingly was authorised to inform the parties, that the Moderator was at liberty to marry them whenever they should apply".

Neither were parents permitted to lead their children astray without rebuke, for on 29 November, 1753, the minute in Cahans records :-"Compeared James Sanderson of Drumhirk who owned that he had compelled his daughter to marry a man from beyond Newry according to the Form of the Book of Common Prayer . . . He professed some sense of his sin and declared his sorrow for it. He was accordingly rebuked before the Session and absolved from further censure".

Eloping was frowned upon, and also the assisting of people to elope left cupid's assistant open to censure.21. In some cases of irregular marriage the parties, after censure, were remarried, but this appears to have been done only in cases where the officiating person at the offending ceremony was a "debarred" clergyman, although on 10 July, 1784, in Anahilt, "Intimation was given to the congregation that if any of the members of it in future married irregularly, they should be remarried and pay half a Crown to the poor of the Parish and half a Crown to the Clerk of the congregation. And that this regulation should not be departed from upon any account whatever". This decision, however, is probably only of local significance as a certain debarred priest was very active in the district at this period.

Sessions, also, kept a careful watch on conduct at wedding receptions, for example, the Templepatrick records state :"Its enacted by the session of Templepatrick the 28 of December, 1647, that if there be any misdemeanour at bridals as drunkenness or swabling that besides the censure that the persons comes under, who makes the abuse, the parties married shall forfeit their penalty".

The testimony of the Session books shows that the practice followed is that which came to be codified in 1825.22.

Bigamy was also a matter dealt with by Sessions, and deserves censure, but the reasons stated by the Session of Aghadowey for their leniency hardly commend themselves to the Christian conscience of the twentieth century. The following are the relevant minutes :-

21 August, 1730. "James Turner being refused Christian Privileges these several years, upon account of a scandal of having two wives in the time of the late wars . . . The Session agree to give Public Notice that any who can fix this upon him shall appear at the time hereafter appointed".

16 December, 1730. "Mr. Elder having wrote to the Revd. Humphry Thomson of Ballybay concerning James Turner, who told the occasion of the report of his having two wives happened in Mr. Thomsons' neighbourhood. Mr. Thomson wrote that he remembered James Turner perfectly well and one Armstrong with whom he lived as his wife. James Turner confessed before the Session that he had that woman in bed with him. The Session unanimously agree that he is to make a public acknowledgment of that sin, but inasmuch as the fact was committed so long ago as the wars and his being in the army which took him away from where his first wife found it convenient to stay, it is agreed that he only shall stand one Sabbath day".

The question of divorce arises on only one occasion, that is, on 7 December, 1698, in Carnmoney, when the Session advised Alexander Collbeart "to seek counsel whether he may not be legally divorced seeing she (that is, Jenat his wife) will not cohabit with him".

Not only did Sessions deal with marriage, they also were called upon to decide cases of breach of promise, for example, the minute of 12 October, 1714, in Connor :�"Andrew Sprule appears before the Session he complaineth that he is wronged by Jonat Scott, John Scot's daughter who now is under proclamation of marriage with Robert Carnohan and that notwithstanding of promises often made by the same Jonat Scott to him Andrew Sprule that she would marry him and appointed to meet him at Ballymonah and he went according to her appointment but she came not as yet. The Session orders the Clerk to delay the proclamation until further enquiry be made if there was consent of parents in this case. The Session orders both parties to confront and to bring in their evidences if any be also parents to command and to declare what they have to say in this case".

The bewitching Jonat was also claimed by Samuel Elliott on 15 October, 1715 ; but, much to their dismay, no doubt, neither Andrew nor Samuel won the fair lady for his bride.

The above extract from the Connor minutes shows that "banns" were published by the Clerk of Session in accordance with the practice of the Church of Scotland.

The Marriage Acts of 1844, and the appeal to the civil courts in matters of breach of promise, and bigamy, and divorce, have tended to obscure the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Session in these matters. Indeed, today much re-thinking is necessary if marriage is to be regarded not simply as a "legal contract", and to be restored as an Ordinance of the Word.

Attendance at Public Worship was supervised by Kirk Sessions, and non-attendance involved censure. Discipline was also enforced for misconduct during public worship. Members were rebuked for seeking ordinances in the Established Church, or with the "sects".

The Kirk Session appointed the Precentor; and the Antrim records tell of their arranging a "Singing school". Sessions were also responsible for the provision of an Hour Glass, presumably to make certain the sermon was not too short.

Not only Presbyteries, and the supreme Courts, ordered special days for prayer and fasting and for thanksgiving, but also Sessions. The following extracts from the Session minutes of Magherafelt are an excellent example :-

11 July, 1832. "Resolved that the awful judgment from God, the pestilence of `Cholera Morbius', which has visited our land, and threatens to pervade every district of it, presents to us a solemn warning and a more than ordinary call to the exercises of humility, repentance and prayer. That in order to excite the people of this congregation to such exercises, our pastor shall preach in the various districts, on catechising ; and our members, and all others who may think proper to join with us, shall be requested to assemble for such devotional services.

"After this the Moderator repaired to the House of Worship, and preached to a large congregation, assembled at the hour of 6 o'clock in the evening".

28 August, 1832. "Agreeably to the foregoing Resolution, a sermon was preached at each of the following places, at the hours of 5 and 6 o'clock, on the evenings of Catechising days . . . In the months of July and August, viz.

"At Coleshinney Schoolhouse�At Robt. Ekin's, Ballymoughan . . . Ended on the 28 August".

31 July, 1833. "The 10th of Romans was read and commented upon. After which, Mr. Wilson preached a sermon at 5 o'clock, as a thanksgiving appointed by the Church, to Almighty God for His mercy in protecting us from the Pestilence of Cholera, which lately ravaged the land, in many parts, yet approached not us".

February, 1834. "On the first Sabbath of this year, viz. January 5th, 1834, `Cholera Moribus' made its appearance in Magherafelt. On the following Sabbath the 12th Jany. the Session held a Solemn meeting, and, the attention of the congregation was directed to this awful visitation from God, and all were called upon to humble their souls before Him, to repent of their lives and flee for refuge to the Lord Jesus Christ, `the hope Set before them in the Gospel'. The following Tuesday was appointed as a day for humiliation and prayer. Public Worship to commence at 2 o'clock.

"It was resolved to have public worship and a sermon (besides on the Sabbaths) in the middle of each week during the prevalence of the disease.

"These services lasted for six weeks, and concluded with a day of Thanksgiving".

The following page gives an account of the ravages of the disease in Magherafelt and neighbourhood, tells of the medical efforts to overcome the situation, and how the Schoolhouse was turned into a hospital for "an hospital was wanting". It gives a list of deaths, and records how Rev. James Wilson "visited in town during the disease, and in the hospital every day".

Before leaving the subject of Public Worship, one must not omit to point out that the Larne records show a correct approach to the use of the festivals of the Christian year. The following are the relevant extracts :-

April, 1701. "The Session is acquainted that the order is come out from authority concerning the Fast, and that the prefixed day is the first Friday of May which will be the 2nd day next . . . And that authority has discharging the observing or keeping of Christmas or any other festival holy days because of much abuse has been made at such times".

There is some doubt if the "authority" referred to in the minute is civil or ecclesiastical. It is probably the former. In addition its exact meaning required clarification as is seen by the record of the next meeting.

27 April, 1701. "It is reported that it is only the papish festival days that is discharged, but no word of discharging Christmas as to the Protestant form nor other festival days".

It is also interesting to note that in Mary's Abbey as early as 1798 there was a service on Christmas Day. The collection on that day was �l. 6s. 6d., approximately the same amount as that at the Sunday morning services. For over twenty years, at this period, there are records of a service on Christmas Day in Abbey congregation. Today the great majority of congregations observe the great Festivals of the Christian year.