Ballyeaston Second Presbyterian Church celebrates its 250th anniversary this year.
The church has a colourful and interesting history, dotted with many different characters and visionary figures.
The church was formed originally through division after opposing viewpoints among the church leaders developed.
In the middle of the 18th century many ministers belonging to the General Synod were thought to hold too liberal views and congregations argued over the matter.
The Seceders (from the Latin secedere – to go, meaning ‘to withdraw membership’ or ‘break away from’) challenged the Synod in matters of doctrine, discipline and worship. This is what happened in Ballyeaston.
Around 1758, when a number of people in the Ballyeaston district were attracted by the stricter standards of the Secession Church, they banded together to form a congregation to join the Secession movement.
In 1763 they built a small meeting house near the Five Corners and named it Rashee, which was organised under the jurisdiction of the Secession Presbytery of Belfast. There are no known remains of this meeting house.
The first minister was the Rev. Anderson who unfortunately died in 1765. In 1768 the Rev. William Holmes was ordained minister and in 1787 the congregation built a new church near Ballyeaston village on the Trenchill Road - the site of the present church. It was first known as “New Rashee Presbyterian Church”.
Shortly afterwards the uprising known as the ’98 rebellion took place.
There were many in the Ballyeaston district who were United Irishmen – Henry Joy McCracken was actually appointed Commander and Chief just outside Ballyeaston prior to the Battle of Antrim.
The Rev. Holmes trained and drilled the Yeomanry loyal to the Crown in the field opposite the church which was known as the Parade Field. Eventually the church Manse was built in this field and to this day it is known as the “Parade Manse”.
A stone marking this is still visible today on one of the gate pillars.
The Rev. Holmes was only actually following the principles of the Secession Synod who disagreed with an armed rebellion, preferring to sort the problems out by dialogue. He retired in 1813 and died ten years later.
In 1813 the Rev. John Wright was ordained minister and in 1840 the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod decided to put their differences in the past and unite to form the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The name of the church was then changed to “Second Ballyeaston Presbyterian Church”.
In 1842 the Rev. Alexander Pollock was ordained the minister and in 1860 he was followed by the Rev. Andrew Porter, and in 1901 by the Rev. William Brann.
By this time the congregation had grown rapidly and it was decided to rebuild the church which took place between 1901 and 1903.
A sexton’s house was later built in 1907 beside the church and the following year a new manse was opened.
The sexton’s house was eventually replaced by the Brann Memorial Hall in 1959. The Hall proved to be a great boon to the congregation, being used by the Sabbath School, The Boys’ Brigade, The Young Peoples’ Guilds, the Bowling Club and the W.M.A.
In 1941 The Rev. James Coulter was appointed minister. At that time he was the youngest minister in the General Assembly and he served the congregation faithfully for 24 years.
It was under his ministry that the Boys’ Brigade Company was formed. The church underwent repairs in 1960 and in 1962 an Electron Organ was installed.
In 1962 Second Ballyeaston was transferred from the Carrickfergus Presbytery to the Templepatrick Presbytery.
The Rev. Coulter was very interested in music and was an enthusiastic supporter, member and chairman of Ballyclare Male Choir.
It was through his initiative in partnership with Albert McClenaghan that the choir was set up.
In 1963 bicentenary services were held and two years later the Rev. Coulter resigned because he had accepted a call to two churches in the Dumfries area of Scotland.
In recognition of his outstanding contribution to the life of the church and the community the extension to the Brann Hall, opened in 1982, was named after him.
In 1966 the Rev. Boyd was installed and a few years later the church was re-opened after renovations, when there was a ceremony of dedication of memorial windows. Under the Rev. Boyd’s initiative country fairs were organised between 1972 and 1978 which were a great success and people came from far and wide to enjoy the extensive range of activities.
It was out of these country fairs Ballyeaston Tractor Club grew.
In 1988 a Country Fair was organised to celebrate the 225th Anniversary and in the same year the Rev. Boyd retired. The ‘Boyd Room’ (upstairs in the Brann Hall) was later opened in 1991.
In 1990 the Rev. Purvis Campbell became minister and in 1993 a new Allen Organ was installed.
For the millennium much work was carried out in the grounds of the church, including a Millennium Courtyard and a Millennium Waterfall. Due to his interest in farming and the devastating effect the foot-and-mouth crisis had in 2001, the Rev. Campbell decided to hold a special Farming Service which has gone on to become an annual event up to the present time.
The Rev. Campbell was involved in an exchange with Allen Park Presbyterian Church in Michigan in 1999. Rev. Kirk Millar, youth minister at Allen Park brought over a party of 41 young Americans from Allen Park Presbyterian and St Frances Cabrini Roman Catholic Church in 2003. In 2005 the Rev. Campbell received a call to Belmont Presbyterian Church in Belfast which he accepted.
In 2006 the Rev. Christopher Glover was installed. He has been the driving force behind initiatives whereby the inside front of the church was renovated and just in the last year renovations were carried out on the Brann Hall.
The church is a very lively participant in the community. The Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades are shared with 1st Ballyeaston, while the other organisations are well attended these include Presbyterian Women, Indoor Bowling Club, Creche, Sunday School, 4CYT, Shine, Mum’s and Toddler’s groups, plus much more.
The choir naturally plays an important part in the worship of the church and it is joined on a regular basis by a Praise Band so that all ages are catered for.
Various events have been organised to celebrate the church’s 250th Anniversary, including a Thanksgiving Service with guest the Right Reverend Dr Roy Patton, Moderator of the General Assembly.
There was also an anniversary dinner and the choir hosted the Templepatrick Presbytery Choirs Festival.
Residing minister, Reverend Chris Glover said: “I am very fortunate to be here at Ballyeaston and to be a part of these fantastic anniversary celebrations.
“It is a church that is very much so driven by its congregation and I am here only as a custodian. There have been many before us and there will be many more after us.
“There is a strong community ethos in the church and the village and I am very well looked after.”
He added: “We started up a farmers’ service in 1994 at the time of the foot and mouth crisis to support those locals who were hit bad.
“And recently the community once again rallied for the many local farmers facing massive pressure during the local fodder crisis.
“There is a great rural support network here and it is down to the congregation which has helped to establish it.
“Everyone is very welcoming and very friendly. We are all here to share the Good News and demonstrate God’s Love to each other and at Ballyeaston the people really do embody that Christian spirit.”