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Trip reminded me of Tommy Toye who helped put Church on road to the revival


By Rev Gareth Burke

I broke new ground this week. I finally succeeded in working out how to use the SatNav on my phone!

Travelling from my home in east Belfast to a previously unvisited location in west Belfast I was guided on my journey by the cultured tones of a lady who informed me as to when I should 'turn right' or go 'straight on'.

During the course of this one-way conversation the lady kept referring to 'Great George's Street'.

The mention of this street name instinctively triggered in my mind a name - that of Tommy Toye.

Tommy Toye was born in Clonakilty, Co Cork, in 1801 and came to personal faith in Christ as a young man. In time he moved to Belfast and became known to some of the leading Presbyterian ministers in the city and in 1842 was installed as the minister of James Street Church.

The next year a new building was opened in Great George's Street to accommodate the ever growing congregation.

Tommy Toye was unconventional and eccentric in his everyday living and these characteristics were reflected in his preaching and pastoral work.

If, during the course of a service, he felt an asthmatic attack coming on he would leave the pulpit during the singing of a hymn in order to 'puff at his pipe' which he believed eased his asthma and enabled him to continue the service.

Tommy Toye was the first of the Belfast ministers to invite some of the new converts from Connor and Kells to address a series of meetings in Great George's Street at the end of May 1859 and historians of the revival agree that it was during these meetings that the revival first broke in Belfast.

Indeed, so many people in the city came under conviction of sin at this time that on June 4, 1859 Ewarts Flax Spinning Mill had to close early as many of the staff were troubled in their souls and were incapable of continuing with their work.

My favourite Tommy Toye story concerns his antics during a sermon in Great George's Street church. He slid down the pulpit bannisters to demonstrate to his congregation how easy it was to go down into hell and then he tried to climb up the bannisters again to show how impossible it was to go to heaven apart from God's salvation.

Now that was truth presented vividly! Something to ponder.

Belfast Telegraph

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