First Presbyterian Church (Non-Subscribing), Newry
Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland

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History


Beginnings

The story of Presbyterianism in Newry dates from 1642 when one of the chaplains to the Scots army then in Ulster, and a member of the first presbytery established in Ireland that year, the Rev James Simpson, was stationed in Newry. In addition to his army duties he would have taken public services and would have been happy to minister to any Presbyterian-minded people in the area. In this way Simpson laid the foundations of the congregation.

Simpson returned to Scotland in 1645 and, while other congregations did have ministers settled in the later 1640's, there is no record of a minister being settled in Newry until 1665 when George Lang was ordained for that congregation. His ministry saw progress in that a meeting house was built, probably in the early 1670's "at a place called the Meeting House Rocks". This is now the site of Newry High School on the Ashgrove Road. However the meeting house was burnt down with much of the town during the political turmoil of 1690. Indeed Mr Lang and many of his congregation fled from Newry at that time and settled in Carnmoney in Co Antrim, where he actually served as minister from 1689 to 1692. Lang returned to Newry in May of that latter year and the congregation was re-established and the meeting house rebuilt. Shortly afterwards, in 1697 or 1698 on the instructions of the General Synod, this meeting house was relocated to a place a mile outside the town on the Narrow Water side, in order to accommodate members from that area. George Lang died, while still minister of Newry, in 1702.

The eighteenth century was a time of stability and progress for the Newry congregation, being spanned by only three ministers: Robert Rainey (1706 - 1736), James Moody (1740 - 1779) and his son Boyle Moody (1779 - 1799). These years were also a time of increasing wealth for the town of Newry, one sign of which was the further relocation of the meeting house to a new building in High Street, opened in 1724.

New Light Tradition

While Newry was not troubled by the First Non-Subscription Controversy of the 1720's there is little doubt that the Moodys laid the basis of a liberal or "New Light" tradition in the congregation. This was continued by Andrew George Malcolm (1809 - 1823) and by John Mitchel (1823 - 1840). It was Mitchel's ministry which coincided with the eruption of the Second Non-Subscription Controversy in the 1820's and he strongly espoused the cause of the Non-Subscribers. As an individual he was recognised as a minister of outstanding moral character and he was noted as the "Melancthon of our Synod", that is the one who strove to make peace. However in the heat of controversy spirits ran high and theological dispute was keenly pressed. In March 1828 a portion of his congregation, disapproving of his views, requested the Presbytery of Dromore that they be erected into a new congregation. This request was approved in May 1828 and the new congregation, later known as Sandys Street, had its first minister ordained in June 1829 and its new meeting house opened in September 1830.

Mitchel, together with the rest of his congregation, withdrew from the jurisdiction of the General Synod at the end of 1829 and were among the founders of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster in 1830. His congregation was numerically strong with 1,815 members in 1834, as compared to 1,250 in the new congregation which had just broken away. Sunday School figures in the early 1840's give averages of 30 teachers and over 270 children. It seemed as though prospects were set fair for future growth.

Present Church Built

Mitchel died on 28th February 1840 and was succeeded by the Rev Henry Alexander. His salary was set at 100 pounds p.a. plus manse, which reflected the wealth and prosperity of the congregation. By 1858 the numbers in the congregation had fallen to 730. It is probable that a significant part of the reason for this was the rapid decline in rural population in the years immediately following the Famine. It is also significant that these years saw economic stagnation in the town of Newry with limited growth and development.

The falling numbers may also have influenced another decision. It is probable that the High Street meeting house was now too large for the congregation which regularly met there. A surviving photograph also indicates that it was a fairly plain structure, not in keeping with the aspirations of many in the confident mid-Victorian years. So a site was obtained in Needham Place (since renamed John Mitchel Place) and the present church erected to the design of a leading architect, W.J. Barre, in 1853.

While this certainly enhanced the prestige of the congregation, numbers continued to fall. By 1899 they stood at 71 families or approximately 200 members. The next 30 years saw a further decline and some very low attendances. Other factors at the time also seemed to suggest a shrinking church community. The Presbytery of Armagh was wound up in 1913 and Newry, with the other remaining congregations, was transferred to the Presbytery of Bangor. In addition, from 1915 onwards, the minister of Newry was always either minister or minister-in-charge of the neighbouring Warrenpoint congregation, which was no longer able to support a minister of its own.

Warnock Hall

However the decline was reversed during the ministry of John McCleery (1934 - 1941) and a renewed confidence and sense of purpose carried the congregation forward. This was sustained over the following decades and saw such developments as the opening of the Warnock Hall in 1969. When the linkage of shared ministry was extended further to include Banbridge between 1976 and 1989 and from 2001, this was deemed not as a sign of weakness but an indication that Newry was clearly the strongest church in the area.

In the political turmoil of the Troubles Newry had more than its fair share of violence and destruction, and this congregation suffered acutely through the murders of the Treasurer and the Sunday School Superintendent. Against this they placed a strong devotion to their church and a determination not to be overcome by malice or evil.

In recent years the congregation has been stable in numbers, active within itself, in the community and in the denomination, and presents a strong sense of its long and worthy heritage.

Roll of Ministers
From To Minister
1665 1702 Rev George Lang
1706 1736 Rev Robert Rainey
1740 1779 Rev James Moody
1779 1799 Rev Boyle Moody
1800 1808 Rev John Thom
1809 1823 Rev Andrew Malcolm
1823 1840 Rev John Mitchel
1840 1866 Rev Henry Alexander
1866 1890 Rev John Crozier
1891 1903 Rev Samuel Pinkerton
1903 1907 Rev George Crook
1909 1933 Rev George Slipper
1934 1941 Rev John McCleery
1941 1953 Rev Henry Hall
1953 1958 Rev William Millar
1959 1970 Rev William McMillan
1971 1977 Rev Angus McCormick
1978 1993 Rev Desmond Porter
1997 date Rev Norman Hutton


The first commandment is this: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second is this: "You must love your neighbour as yourself." No other commandment is greater than these.

Mark 12:29-31


Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

2 Corinthians 3:17b