Presbyterian Church opens its doors

For the second successive year, Carlisle Road Presbyterian Church is to open its doors to the public on key dates during July.

The first will be an Open Day on Wednesday, July 1, from 11am to 3pm, where there will be guided tours of the church buildings.

“When we opened the church last year a lot of people who lived around the area visited us and told us that they had never been inside the church before. We had people visit us from Foyle Road and Carlisle Road and people visiting the town for the day from Donegal and further afield,” said congregation and committee member, Victor Wray.

“So successful was the open day last year that we decided to open our doors again, and we hope that everyone will take the opportunity to come in and enjoy looking round the buildings with us.”

In addition to the open days, last year another highly popular event was the all day teas during the August 12 Apprentice Boys of Derry pageant and parade.

“This was very, very successful for us. We charged for the teas and the money we raised allowed us to do a lot of work. We are putting a new roof on the church hall this summer, which will cost is over £30,000,” said Victor.

Founded in 1838, the congregation of Carlisle Road Presbyterian Church had its origin in a body of people who met in a hall, formerly a theatre, at Fountain Street in the Cityside, who were received by the United Secession Synod in 1837 and they were supplied with preaching.

Rev Thomas Thompspon, of Kilraughts, began the work and on his recommendation, others from the Presbytery of Coleraine followed.

On June 26, 1838, the Synod ordained Rev John McFarland (1838-1842) to the pastoral charge of the newly formed Second Presbyterian Secession Congregation in the city and the congregation, which was 27 families strong, met in London Street in what was formerly a theatre, but is now the Synod hall and the Diocesan headquarters of the Church of Ireland.

In 1840 the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod united to form the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and when the new Presbyteries were constituted in August 1841, the Carlisle Road Church became known as 4th Derry, under the care of the Presbytery of Derry.

The driving force of the congregation in the 19th Century was Rev Robert Ross and it was during his Ministry (1850-94) that the church was built. Financial help was received rom teh Honourable the Irish Society for the construction costs and it opened on March 23, 1879.

Built by the Colhoun Bros, to the design of Belfast architects Young and Mackenzie, the church has a neo-Gothic perpendicular style facade in whinstone and sandstone.

A broad flight of steps leads from the street to the porch and on into an almost theatrical interior, as the photographs show. The theatrical impression is made by the three-sided balcony and by a feeling that the building narrows towards the central focus of the pulpit.

Halls were added about 10 years later and these were constructed primarily as a church school and were in use by the education authorities until 1995. Together the buildings cost upwards of £10,000.

By 1965 there was a thriving congregation of around 400 families and it was possible for the then Minister, Rev R C Graham (1965-97) to do nearly all of his pastoral work by walking around the parish, as most of the people lived around and near the church. By 1994, the congregation was reduced to 280 families and the Sunday School had been reduced from 240 to 80 children.

Only 50 families remained and were for the most part elderly, as everyone else had moved out of the Cityside during The Troubles.

The church fabric and roof were extensively renovated during the 1960s and in the 1970s the stained glass windows and organ were damaged in a bomb blast.

In 1993 the interior was completely renovated with the halls being refurbished in 1998, providing the present congregation of around 300 families with modern amenities and facilities for their weekly church-related activities.

The succession of Ministers after Rev Ross’s long ministry included Rev Huey, Rev Hay, Rev McVicker, Rev Girvan, Rev Graham and Rev Teeney, and the current Minister is Rev D T Robert Buick.

In 1989 the congregations of Carlisle Road and Crossroads (founded in 1783), had been a Stated Supply of Carlisle Road since 1974, became a Union. The Minister has responsibility for both - one in Northern Ireland and one in the Republic of Ireland. Crossroads in Co Donegal, is six miles from Londonderry.

Due to declining numbers and escalating costs for upkeep of their buildings, it was decided by Presbytery that 2nd Derry (Strand) and Buncrana should amalgamate with Carlisle Road.

On Sunday, October 10, 2010, the closing service was held in Strand Road in the afternoon and later that evening the first service of the new congregation of Carlisle Road (incorporating Strand and Buncrana congregations) was held.

The Moderator of the General Assembly, Rt Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, was present at both services.