Historic church that overcame fire and floods marks 150 years
A Newtownabbey Presbyterian congregation which had its church buildings almost totally destroyed by arsonists 15 years ago celebrated its 150th anniversary yesterday with a Victorian Lamplight Service.
Many members of Whitehouse Presbyterian Church dressed in Victorian style for the special service where the preacher was former minister Rev Dr Allen Sleith.
The guest speaker was church member and Belfast Telegraph religion correspondent, Alf McCreary, who launched his paperback book Amazing Grace, the 150-year history of Whitehouse.
He said: "This is my special gift to Whitehouse which has given so much to me and my family over many years."
A special exhibition, put together by church members Billy and Isobel McDowell, was opened by 98-year-old Mrs Ruby Parkes MBE, the oldest active member of the church.
Next weekend the Presbyterian Moderator, the Rt Rev Dr Noble McNeely, will preach at the Sunday morning service to mark the official opening of Whitehouse Church on November 24, 1867.
Next Sunday evening there will be a service featuring guests from Rwanda, where Whitehouse has been supporting the work of the Gikondo Presbyterian Church in Kigali, as part of the Connected Church Programme in association with Tearfund.
Whitehouse Presbyterian Church has had a colourful and turbulent history. Its first two ministers spent less than 10 years at Whitehouse between them, but the next two ministers served for nearly 100 years combined.
Rev Dr Robert Barron served from 1875-1925, and his successor Rev James Nutt was in post from 1926-1965.
In 1912, the Whitehouse children's church outing to Castledawson was mistakenly attacked by a local Hibernian group at the height of the Home Rule crisis, and the incident was hotly debated two days later in the House of Commons.
In May 1941, 35 adults and seven children died during the Belfast Blitz, and Rev Nutt conducted funeral services for 13 people on one day alone.
In 2002, the main church building was almost completely destroyed by arsonists, but was re-opened three years later. Part of the funding came from other churches including £10,000 from nearby Catholic parishes. In 2008, the church was again badly damaged, this time through severe flooding, but the congregation and friends rallied to help, and the buildings were fully restored.
In 2000, Whitehouse appointed its first female minister, Rev Dr Liz Hughes, who in 2014 was also the first woman to be runner-up in an election for the Moderatorship. Two years ago she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by the Presbyterian Church, and will retire at the end of December.
She said: "Whitehouse church members have a heart to serve, and a heart for people. The congregation's life and energy, with God's spirit, lies in the army of unnamed volunteers who engage in its many ministries throughout the week."