The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), Right Reverend Dr Sam Mawhinney joined members of First Presbyterian Church Bangor, the city’s oldest established Presbyterian congregation yesterday when he preached at a special service of worship to mark 400 years of the Presbyterian presence in Bangor.
The moderator was joined by various civic dignitaries and political representatives including His Majesty's Lord Lieutenant of County Down, Gawn Rowan-Hamilton, the Member of Parliament for North Down, Stephen Farry MP, Ards & North Down Borough Council’s Deputy Mayor, Councillor Hannah Irwin, along with local MLAs and councillors.
During the service Dr Mawhinney preached on his theme for the year, which is ‘Confident in Christ’. “Four hundred years of Presbyterian witness in Bangor is a remarkable achievement that is worthy of celebration. I would like to thank Mairisíne for her invitation to come and preach at today’s special service of worship. It was my privilege to renew my acquaintance with her, and her husband David, whom I first met as fellow participants on the Arrow leadership course some 10 or so years ago.”
Dr Mawhinney continued, “The course was aimed at growing Christian leaders of character, who understand their call, and desire to develop competency in leadership. In First Ballynahinch Presbyterian, Mairisíne’s first congregation, and now in First Bangor for the last decade, she continues to show good, wise and effective leadership.
“While I welcome to the opportunity to celebrate the Presbyterian presence in the city with my brothers and sisters in Christ, first and foremost it was an opportunity to highlight the goodness and sustaining power of God, who has blessed the churches past and present and their commitment to the Gospel and to effective leadership. As one of my predecessors said a few years ago at a similar service, be it the 40th or 400th anniversary that we are celebrating, what really matters is that Christian people preached the Gospel, sowed the seed and were faithful – and for that we can always give thanks. This morning was an important and very special moment,” he said.
Speaking after the service Rev Mairisíne Stanfield, who has just celebrated her 10th anniversary as minister of First Bangor, said that the city had a long Christian heritage that began with the establishment of Bangor Abbey in the sixth century. “Our Christian heritage is not only long, but rich, with our Presbyterian story beginning over a thousand years after the setting up of the Abbey, when in 1605 Scottish Presbyterian James Hamilton was given land in and around Bangor by King James VI of Scotland, who had just become King of England and King of Ireland.
“James Hamilton repaired the Abbey and a few years later invited Robert Blair from Ayrshire in Scotland to come and minister to the growing number of Scottish settlers in the area. Robert was ordained and installed according to the Scottish Presbyterian service of ordination in the summer of 1623. And so began a Presbyterian community of faith that has made a significant contribution to the growth and development of Bangor over the past four centuries. As a fellow Scot, I am proud to follow in Robert’s footsteps as First Bangor’s 19th minister,” she said.
Having initially met in Bangor Abbey, the first Presbyterian Meeting House was built on Fisher Hill, which was destroyed in 1661. Until a new Meeting House was built in 1686, the congregation met in the open air. In 1741 a new stone building was built on Quay Street and 90 years later in 1831 the current Meeting House was built on Main Street, where worship continues today.
Mrs Stanfield said that today, 400 years on, there were nine Presbyterian congregations in the city and the surrounding area. “Throughout the decades our ministry has involved establishing schools as well as looking after the poor and marginalised as needs arose.
“As an integral part of the local community, we partner with other Presbyterian congregations and Christian groups to provide support to those in need wherever necessary. We also join forces with other Bangor churches, for example, to minister in creative ways to the asylum seekers and refugees placed in the city, and through the local foodbank, Storehouse North Down.
Mrs Stanfield concluded by saying, “Today’s service has been a very special moment. While we continue to share the love of Christ in practical ways, expressing God’s heart for Bangor over all this time, our primary focus has always been spreading the Gospel of the risen Jesus. As a congregation, we wanted to use the 400th anniversary as an opportunity to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and to thank God for his goodness and faithfulness, trusting in His continued plans and purposes for a new restoration of Bangor and its prosperity, the place where He has placed us. This special anniversary was also an opportunity to have our Moderator, and all our special guests, celebrate with us.”