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

Site menu:

History


This account of the church's story has been compiled based on the booklet "Across the Narrow Water" by Elaine Crozier, which was published on the occasion of the congregation's tercentenary in 2007, and on articles by Rev Dr John Nelson published in "The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian" magazine in 2008.

Beginnings

The story of Presbyterianism in Warrenpoint may be traced to the end of the seventeenth century, by which time a significant number of Scottish settlers, many of them Gaelic-speaking Highlanders, had come to live in the area. The first clear reference we have dates from 1697 when the people within the district of Narrow Water were transferred from the Presbytery of Down to the Presbytery of Tyrone and annexed to the congregation of Newry, which was at the time instructed to build a new meeting house. While this was erected at the Narrow Water side of Newry town it can still hardly have been convenient for the people there.

In 1705 a request from the people of Narrow Water was brought to the General Synod asking that they be separated from Newry and linked with Carlingford. While Synod declined the request it was clear that a process was now in train, which would shortly be concluded. At that time Carlingford, although a very small Presbyterian congregation in its own right, was linked to the congregation of Dundalk and shared the services of the Rev John Wilson, a Scotsman. In 1707 the proposal for the union of Narrow Water and Carlingford as a joint charge was approved by the Presbytery of Armagh and events proceeded rapidly. A site was provided by Squire Hall in the townland of Ringmacilroy, that is the present location, and a simple meeting house was erected. Also, before that year was out, Mr Wilson resigned his charge of Dundalk and began his joint ministry to the congregations of Narrow Water and Carlingford. He himself was a Gaelic speaker and was reported as "often having preached in Irish".

One might imagine that all problems had now been resolved, but almost immediately attention turned to the issue of how the minister’s time should be divided between the two churches. By 1712 Narrow Water complained that, although more numerous than Carlingford, they had only one-third of his time. The decision was given that in summer both congregations were to have an equal share of his time and an equal share of services. In winter, however, Carlingford was to have two-thirds of his time and Narrow Water one-third. It seems clear that Wilson lived on the Carlingford side and that on Sundays there was service in one place or the other, but not both. While a satisfactory working arrangement was arrived at fairly soon, it is probable that this long remained a sensitive issue between the two congregations.

The Rev John Wilson emigrated to America in 1729, to be replaced by the Rev Alexander Reid, but he died after only six years of service. His successor was the Rev George Henry but, in May 1764, he also emigrated to America. There followed the long and significant ministry of Robert Dickson, who was ordained to Narrow Water and Carlingford in November 1765 and who was to remain until his death, 39 years later. For the last fifteen of those years he combined his local ministry with the role of Clerk of the General Synod of Ulster. Then in 1805 the Rev Samuel Arnold became minister of the joint charge.

Separation from Carlingford

Over the course of the eighteenth century the population of Ulster rose steadily and it increased rapidly in the early nineteenth century. As late as 1780, Warrenpoint consisted of only two houses and a few huts used by fishermen during the oyster fishing season. However by the early 1800s, with the emergence of Warrenpoint as a fashionable seaside resort, the town was planned and built on a grid system, with the "Square" as its central feature and the town's harbour sited along one side of it.

This now meant that Arnold’s congregation in Narrow Water was significantly larger and wealthier than under his predecessors. It also became apparent that, if Narrow Water had grown, Carlingford had declined. By 1819 Arnold was only preaching in Carlingford every sixth Sunday and he requested permission to devote his whole time to Narrow Water. The request was declined at that stage, but the following year, at the request of the Presbytery, Arnold resigned his charge of Carlingford. This was a new beginning for Narrow Water, now a viable congregation in its own right, with a known minister, able to give them his undivided attention. It is probable that in this period there took place many of the extensions and renovations to the meeting house which give it the distinctive character which is still apparent, namely pews and gallery for additional numbers, the entrance hall and staircase to the gallery and the rooms behind the pulpit for the minister and session.

In 1821 Rev James Lunn succeeded Arnold as the minister of the sole congregation at Carlingford. Lunn is an interesting character – although never the minister to the Narrow Water congregation, the minutes of their 1840 Annual General Meeting note Lunn as being a member of the church committee (while still minister in Carlingford). One entry in his diary records, "this day I rode to Narrow Water, tethered a horse there, rowed across the lough and hastened on my way to Carlingford". This also explains why Lunn chose the Narrow Water church’s burying ground as his last resting place. He died in Warrenpoint in 1863 and a plaque in memory of his wife Annabella can still be seen in our meeting house.

Subscription Controversy

The years following the splitting of the two congregations on either side of Carlingford Lough, however, were to bring major changes of an adverse kind. The second Non-Subscription controversy had a significant impact across Irish Presbyterianism. This was felt more acutely in some areas than others and Narrow Water was one of the most severely affected. In 1829 Arnold and a large portion of the congregation declared their support for the Non-Subscribers, withdrew from the General Synod of Ulster and joined with sixteen other Non-Subscribing congregations (including Carlingford and Newry) to form the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster.

However some members of the congregation who were unhappy with this development, aided by ministers and licentiates of the conservative Presbytery of Dromore, attempted to take control of the congregation and meeting house by the device of coming to Arnold’s services and remaining in the building afterwards for the purpose of holding separate services of their own. Verbal abuse degenerated to violence and the door of the meeting house was forcibly broken open on more than one occasion. Only when some of those leading the campaign against Arnold were personally made the subject of litigation was the matter resolved in the Summer of 1830. The General Synod recognised the conservative group as a new congregation, with a new minister, the Rev Thomas Logan, being ordained for them in 1833 and a new meeting house, the present-day Warrenpoint Presbyterian Church, opened in 1834. A kind of peace returned to the community and Arnold continued to serve as minister until his retirement in 1836. In spite of these divisions it is clear that the congregation remaining with Mr Arnold, although of modest size, was still thoroughly viable. In 1834 a membership of 253 adults was recorded and in 1840 there was a Sunday School of 28 pupils and 6 teachers.

Library and Learning

The earliest surviving minutes of the church committee date from the early 1840s. It could be interpreted from reading these minutes that the committee of the day were on a mission to empower the members of the church through study and other forms of learning. In 1842 the committee received a "freight of library books from London" for the price of 11/6. The following year the committee authorised 3/- to be spent "binding those books which were in poor condition". This entry heralds the creation of the "Library Room" - born of a desire by the church committee that their members should be reading "correct and suitable reading matter". That same year, the committee instructed that "the new collection of psalms compiled by the Remonstrant Ministry be put into the hands of the families belonging to the church". They also agreed that the minister "would recommend their adoption by the congregation to be read and studied and brought to church to be used instead of the old collection at present in use".

In November 1843 the committee set about "drafting regulations to order the lending of library books for the enhancement of the knowledge of the congregation". They appointed Andrew Langton to act as church librarian. In terms of having a strategy to empower their people through learning, the Narrow Water congregation was certainly not to be found wanting.

Famine and Emigration

Change was to come shortly, however, for reasons beyond the control of any church. In the immediate aftermath of the Potato Famine Irish society was massively changed by large scale emigration and rural decline. The full impact of the famine may be seen in the census records. Between 1841 and 1851 the population of County Down fell by almost 44,000, with 11% of the population perishing. At the same time, thousands were emigrating to the New World, many embarking upon their journeys at Warrenpoint. Today, a plaque stands in a corner of the Square in the town "to commemorate the thousands of emigrants who passed through this port in search of a new beginning".

In 1850 Narrow Water numbered 146 members. In 1858 there were 92 members and only 14 stipend payers. This general trend was to continue for the next sixty years. In the congregation difficulties became apparent. After the lengthy ministry of Rev Samuel Moore from 1836 to 1867 there followed two very short ministries – those of John Armstrong Crozier and John Jennings. Matters were stabilised in the 1880s and 1890s under the ministries of John Farmer Kennard and George Winslow Bannister with slightly increased numbers and a salary of £120 which was paid regularly. Sadly, once again early death intervened to cut short the promising work of Mr Bannister.

It is notable that only from this period is the name Warrenpoint introduced. It made its first official appearance as the name of the congregation in 1875 and was used increasingly after that time, doubtless in keeping with the growth of the town. Within a few years the long established title of Narrow Water slipped into abeyance.

The next minister, William Edward Mellone, was a remarkable man, but was 61 years of age when he began his ministry. In spite of his best efforts, numbers and finances were reduced and when he retired in 1910 there was no question of another minister being called to Warrenpoint alone. Thereafter the congregation was regarded as a joint charge with its sister church in Newry.

The 20th Century

The Rev George Slipper had been minister of Newry since 1909 and he was installed as the minister of Warrenpoint in 1915. He continued to serve both congregations until 1933. He was succeeded the following year by the Rev John McCleery who remained until 1941.

In 1938 the Presbytery of Bangor had visited the Warrenpoint congregation and recommended that "the half yearly Communion services should again be instituted in the church and a Sunday School should again be installed in the church". It is likely that for some years beforehand, due to small numbers, Communion services were conducted at the Newry church and it had been decided to defer the practice until the membership became stronger. At Rev McCleery's urging, the congregation accepted Presbytery's recommendation and instituted services for the first Sundays in June and December respectively. The practice of twice-yearly Communion services still continues in this meeting house, except that, in common with many other churches, Communion months are now May and November. Never again however, would small numbers be a reason for deferring the practice. Even in the lean years of the 1990s when numbers on the roll numbered just six, the sacrament of Holy Communion continued at Warrenpoint, giving poignant meaning to "where one or two are gathered in my name, there I am also".

However the congregation were not so fortunate with their Sunday School. Despite their best efforts – setting a date for the recommencement and appointing Mrs Thomas Brown as Sunday School teacher – its opening had to be deferred twice and eventually at a meeting in September 1939 the church committee agreed "to leave the matter indefinitely".

The rules of the graveyard had been approved at an earlier congregational meeting in July 1939 and were to be strictly enforced. Members were advised to keep their graves neat and tidy and to make them "beautiful when possible with natural flowers"; trees were not allowed. Shrubs of small dimensions should be planted, however the committee reserved the right to cut down "all trees and shrubs which [grew] to an inconvenient size". The church graveyard fund was to be generously supported by everyone. The congregation were passionate about the maintenance of their graveyard even a century before, when in July 1851 they ordered gatekeeper John Pinky to "prohibit all cattle of any kind from feeding upon the burying ground attached to the meeting house".

From 1941 through to 1993 the ministers of Newry (Henry Hall, William Millar, William McMillan, Angus McQuoid McCormick and Desmond Hadden Porter) served both congregations and sustained the cause at Warrenpoint. Regular services were held and the sacraments administered; and, over the years, a succession of renovations and improvements carried out.

Into a New Millennium

The current minister, the Rev Norman Hutton, was installed to the charge of Newry and Warrenpoint in November 1997. His ministry has witnessed a "mini revival" in numbers attending worship on the first and third Sundays of each month. Plans are now at an advanced stage to restore the meeting house to its former glory in the very near future and fundraising efforts to enable this work are continuing.

It is a fact of life across many churches that the smaller the congregation the greater the dedication of those who worship and serve in such a place. In the congregation of Warrenpoint faithful souls have maintained their witness because they believe that the presence of liberal Presbyterianism is needed in their town and community, that they have done something worthy in the service of the Kingdom of God, and that they shall continue to do so as the congregation has now entered its fourth century of work and endeavour.

Roll of Ministers
From To Minister
1707 1729 Rev John Wilson
1731 1737 Rev Alexander Reid
1743 1764 Rev George Henry
1765 1804 Rev Robert Dickson
1805 1836 Rev Samuel Arnold
1837 1867 Rev Samuel Moore
1868 1868 Rev John A Crozier
1869 1870 Rev John Jennings
1875 1887 Rev John F Kennard
1888 1896 Rev George W Bannister
1896 1910 Rev William E Mellone
1915 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 McQ McCormick
1978 1993 Rev Desmond H Porter
1997 date Rev Norman Hutton


I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another. If there is this love among you, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.

John 13:34-35


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

2 Corinthians 3:17b