Belfast Telegraph

A legacy from Easter 1916 that Christians can be rightly proud of

By Nelson McCausland

This is a year of centenaries and the primary focus has been on two events, the Irish republican rebellion in Dublin at Easter 1916 and the Battle of the Somme, which started on July 1, 1916.

At Easter there were many commemorations of the rebellion. Some were official commemorations organised by the Government of the Republic and others were organised by a range of republican groups, including Sinn Fein.

However, at the same time there was another Easter centenary that received much less attention.

At Easter 1916 Dublin was filled with the sound of gunfire. Hundreds of people were killed, including more than 250 innocent civilians, and thousands of people were injured.

However, 117 miles away in the quiet little seaside town of Bangor an altogether different event was taking place.

There the weather was beautiful, Bangor was peaceful and, instead of the sound of gunfire there was the sound of hymn-singing and preaching.

A group of Christians met in the Good Templar Hall on Hamilton Road under the auspices of the Faith Mission.

But after the first few meetings they had outgrown the Good Templar Hall and, before the Easter weekend was over, they had to move to the more spacious Hamilton Road Methodist Church.

The Faith Mission was founded in Scotland in 1886 by John George Govan, a successful businessman who gave it all up to become a Christian evangelist. His aim was to evangelise the villages and country districts of Scotland and, just six years later in 1892, the work extended across the sea to Ireland.

Today, 130 years after its formation, the Faith Mission still carries on its work, sending its evangelists, who are known as "pilgrims", to conduct gospel missions, especially in rural areas, across the British Isles - although the work has always been strongest in Scotland and Ulster.

In July 1915 two of the evangelists had a day off and they spent it in Bangor.

While they were there they walked along the seafront and agreed that the town would be a great place to hold a Christian convention.

They put their idea to a local businessman Samuel G Montgomery, who supported them, and decided that Easter would be a good time of year for the event.

Easter was a holiday time and farming folk were usually not too busy at that period and could spare a few days off.

There was also accommodation available at that time of year in the seaside boarding houses. The first Bangor Convention was held the following year at Easter 1916.

Since then, year after year for the past 100 years, Christians from different parts of Ulster and beyond have gathered in Bangor for the annual Easter Convention.

At its peak the convention had expanded from using just one church in Bangor to using five churches simultaneously on the Easter Monday and they were all packed to capacity, with sometimes an overflow meeting, as well.

This year the Easter Convention in Bangor celebrated its centenary and there were four churches in use.

So, if we look back and reflect on the two events that occurred in Bangor and Dublin at Easter 1916, what are their legacies?

The Faith Mission Easter Convention has drawn many people into full-time Christian service as ministers, evangelists and missionaries, including medical missionaries, while others who remained in their ordinary employment have become more active and fervent workers in their local churches, perhaps as Sunday school teachers and youth leaders.

On the other hand, the rebellion in Dublin consolidated a militant republican ideology that has led to so much misery, death and destruction.

As I reflect on Easter 1916, I believe that the legacy of that first convention in Bangor has been the greater and the better.

It has done far more for our land and other lands than the gunmen on the streets of Dublin.

Nelson McCausland was a DUP MLA for North Belfast in the last Assembly at Stormont.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph