In this notable year of centenaries, a small local church celebrates its own bicentenary and with it 200 years of continued Christian witness.
The fabric of Straid Congregational Church has changed little over the two centuries and, apart from extension work in 1857, there would be little that the original congregations would not recognise in the present building.
The village around the church however, has changed dramatically since those early days with recent developments increasing the size of the population beyond anything that might have been expected, or even dreamed of, in 1816. The church has also grown and it remains one of the prime locations and principal influences on rural village life. Modern expectations have resulted in an extensive programme of ministries on offer to the community not only in Straid, but its immediate environs as well.
In 1816 Straid was known as Thomastown and stood on the boundary limit of what was known as the ‘Liberty of Carrickfergus’. The estate by this time had been in the ownership of one Henry Clements Ellis for over 30 years and he was known as a ‘reasonable’ landlord. He gave his support and assistance to the establishment of this independent church by providing both the land and materials for its construction. Prior to this building project, it is believed the congregation had met in a disused corn mill.
When Mr Ellis died in 1826, the estate passed to his daughter, Jane Anne Clements Ellis, who was known for her charitable work distributing simple medicines to the poor around Straid through the church and in providing the establishment of a local school whose teacher benefited from the provision of a free house. In 1847 she sold the estate to Arthur Hill, Marquess of Downshire, one of the grandees in Ulster.
Straid has become a modern, commuter hub for those working outside of the immediate area and the difficulties faced by residents of so long ago have all but disappeared. Straid Congregational Church has suffered the effects of famine, fever (cholera/typhus), blight, war, crippling poverty, immigration and spiritual impoverishment. Yet it remains, stronger, vibrant and with a definite vision for the future.
In its 200th year the congregation is reflecting on it motto, ‘Remembering the past, building the future’, and has organised a programme of events to celebrate with this community.
l A debt of thanks is due to Dr Robson Davison whose extensive knowledge of local history has been the source of much of the detail in this article.