Belfast Telegraph

Historic Bessbrook church celebrates major renovation

Former minister Rev Robert Nixon (far right) and Barbara McMullen, wife of moderator, with her husband, the minister, clerk and session members
Former minister Rev Robert Nixon (far right) and Barbara McMullen, wife of moderator, with her husband, the minister, clerk and session members
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

A service of dedication was held at the weekend to mark an extensive renovation of Bessbrook Presbyterian Church, its first in 40 years.

The ceremony was performed by Moderator Dr Charles McMullen.

He paid tribute to the congregation and others for their hard work in restoring the interior of the beautiful mid-19th century church, which is on a hill overlooking the 'Model Village'.

It was founded as a linen manufacturing centre in 1845 by the Richardsons, a Quaker family from Yorkshire.

They stipulated that the village would have no police, pawnshops or public houses, hence the name.

During his inspiring address to the large congregation, the moderator paid tribute to former minister the Rev Robert Nixon, who served in Bessbrook from 1972-1998, prior to current minister the Rev Keith McIntyre.

Mr Nixon, who attended, is a member of Dr McMullen's Presbyterian West Church in Bangor.

The congregation included Ronald Carser, son of the Rev Hugh Carser, who was minister in Bessbrook from 1936-71. Also there was Geoffrey Martin, the first EC head of office in Belfast, and later head of the EC Office in London.

He attended Bessbrook Presbyterian as a boy.

Danny Kennedy, the former Stormont Development Minister and the Ulster Unionist candidate for the European election, is clerk of session at the church.

He told those gathered details of the £60,000 renovation before he and Rev McIntyre presented a picture of the church to the moderator and his wife Barbara.

In its long history, Bessbrook Presbyterian Church has witnessed much joy and sadness, including the deaths of two village men, Albert and David Bell, who fell in the Second World War.

The church was also where the funerals took place in January 1976 of seven of the 10 victims of the Kingsmill massacre, including brothers Reggie and Walter Chapman.

A memorial to the Kingsmill victims stands outside the town hall in the centre of the village.

Following the reception, Mr Kennedy told the Belfast Telegraph: "This has been a wonderful event for the Bessbrook congregation, and I am delighted that so many former members came home to take part."

He added: "The impact of Kingsmill is still felt today, but people are heartened and encouraged at the refurbishment project, and the very special reopening service conducted by Dr McMullen and our minister the Rev Keith McIntyre."

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