Belfast Telegraph

Oldest church in Belfast marking 375 years with a service of celebration

First Presbyterian Church in Belfast
First Presbyterian Church in Belfast
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The congregation at the oldest surviving in-use church in Belfast will come together for a special service this Sunday at 3pm to mark 375 years of worship.

Dating back to 1644, First Presbyterian Church Belfast has been located in Rosemary Street since 1783 and counts the illustrious name of John Wesley as one of its former guest preachers.

Wesley's visit dates back to the year of the French Revolution in 1789, but by then, the Belfast Presbyterian congregation had already been up and running for well over a century.

"It is the oldest surviving in-use church in Belfast," said current minister Rev Simon Henning.

"The congregation can trace it's foundation in Belfast back to the start of Prebyterianism in 1644."

In that year the Scottish Army started a congregation in the city during the Irish Confederate Wars in the time of Oliver Cromwell.

One of the most memorable dates in the church's history was when Rev James Crombie founded The Academy in Donegall Street in 1785, which went on to become Belfast Royal Academy school.

A sermon by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was hosted in 1789 after a neighbouring congregation refused to give him permission to preach.

Throughout the years, congregation members have played a big role in the history of the city.

Always a liberal congregation, members helped to fund the first Roman Catholic Church, St Mary's Belfast, with collections taken to finance St Mary's Church in 1784.

In 1785 church member Thomas McCabe was responsible for preventing a slave ship docking in Belfast, and in 1791 he, and fellow member William Drennan were among those responsible for the formation of the Society of United Irishmen.

In more modern times, EJ Harland, co-founder of Harland & Wolff in 1861, was a member, as was the ill-fated Thomas Andrews, chief engineer of HMS Titanic.

The church has also hosted lunchtime recitals in co-operation with NI Opera during July and August for the last 26 years.

Belfast First Presbyterian is also planning to pay tribute to the minister who kept the church alive during the Troubles.

"Rev Tom Banham led the congregation from the early 1970s to the early 1990s," said Rev Henning. "We will have a memorial service on November 30 at 3pm. He is fondly remembered for his work to keep the church alive during the darkest days of the Troubles."

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