HISTORY

KELLSWATER REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

The Kellswater congregation was formed in 1760 being the first Reformed Presbyterian Church planted in Ireland. 

The present meeting house was built in 1806. We have our roots in Scotland and those Ministers who came over to Ulster to pastor Scots Presbyterians at the time of the plantation, and to help bring the reformed faith in its purest form to the island.

These Presbyterians were sometimes referred to as ‘Covenanters’ due to their adherence to solemn promises by which they vowed to uphold Jesus Christ as rightful King in the Church and over the State.

The name Covenanters and their aspiration is one today we continue to gladly share with them.

Read more about the Covenanters Here.

 

Funeral of Rebert James Buchanan (Elder and Superintendent, RUC)

Order of Service March 23 1989

Some remarks made at his funeral service, by the Rev. Prof. Robert McCullum minister of Lisburn RPC. 

    It is my hope that this brief insight of the man, his vision and work for Christ and Country and as a husband and father, will help show for some of us the nature of the man many of us never got to meet this side of Glory.

“Superintendent Robert Buchanan was murdered by terrorists on Monday, 20 March, he will be remembered in our congregation for his unswerving loyalty and devotion to Jesus Christ his Saviour. Having committed his life to Christ as a young man, he demonstrated submission to Christ and His Word in every area of his life, “that in all things Christ might have the pre-eminence.”   

1: Personal life

  Mr. Buchanan was a gentle, kind and gracious man. In his disposition before others, he was thoughtful, courteous and unassuming. A man of deep piety, his Christian maturity was evident to all who knew him, in that the fruits of the Spirit blossomed in his life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Robert was a biding in Christ and therefore was a fruit-bearing Christian, bringing much honour and glory to his Saviour.

2: Family life

   The many people who had the privilege of visiting the Buchanan home knew that there Christ was His rightful place. This was evidenced by the warm and loving relationship that existed between all the family members and by the generous hospitality experienced by many. Family worship was regular feature in the Buchanan home. Morning and evening Mr. Buchanan led the family in reading the Bible and in prayer, recognizing that “his times were in God’s hands”. Visitors staying overnight in the family home cherished these times when they could join in the family devotions. As a husband, father and grandfather, Mr. Buchanan was a pillar of strength and his godly example will be remembered by his friends and loved ones.

3: Church life

    It has only been since Mr. Buchanan’s death that many of us have realized the demands and pressures associated with his work. And yet church was always given a priority in his life. Having come to the conviction that the doctrinal standards and practices of the Reformed Presbyterian Church were according to the Word of God, he always sought to worship within the bounds of that church. This took him across the province from Bready in Co. Tyrone, where he was baptised, married and ordained to the eldership, to Drimbolg in South Londonderry, to Kellswater in Mid-Antrim, to Bailiesmills in North Down and then to Lisburn.

    The congregation in Lisburn began as a Bible study ten years ago in the Buchanan home, when the Superintendent lived on the Nettlehill Road. The Bible study was blessed and Mr. Buchanan had the joy of seeing a congregation formed in 1982 and its suite of buildings on the Nettlehill Road opened in 1985. Not only was he a foundation member; he was also an elder in this new congregation. We won’t forget his commitment to the work here during the years that he was stationed in Omagh and travelled to worship with us every other week-end. Some excuses heard for absence at public worship sound hollow when measured against this commitment.

    As an elder in the congregation for twenty-four years and in our congregation for six years, Robert set a worthy example before us all. In his oversight he had a pastoral concern for all within the congregation. Asa congregation you were always delighted to hear him preach, a privilege also enjoyed by many RP congregations. His leadership of the prayer meeting in the manse was always exercised in a winsome and heart-warming manner. The Wednesday night before his death he led the group in a study of John 19. The theme of this chapter, the death of Christ, related to his favourite text: “we preach Christ crucified” Mr. Buchanan will be remembered by the congregation in many ways, especially for the friendly and gracious way in which he greeted visitors attending public worship.

4: Public life

    Superintendent Robert Buchanan served his country through his calling in the RUC. I had the privilege of spending one afternoon with him in the Omagh Station. I was immediately impressed by his quite thoroughness and efficiency. The many tributes paid to him by his superiors confirm what we had always thought, that Robert Buchanan was a police officer per excellence. He did his work wholeheartedly, with concern to win Divine approval; not jockeying for power, but humbly fulfilling the duties assigned to him. And it was in the course of duty that his end came. Involved in an exercise that was intended to make this Province a more peaceful and secure place in which to live, he made the ultimate sacrifice.

We know that a prince and a great man has fallen from our midst. However we do not sorrow as those who have no hope, for we believe that our devoted elder is now with his Saviour in Heaven.  He leaves a great gap in the life of this congregation. It is the duty of us all to rally round and respond to the challenge of catching the vision and doing the work so close to the heart of this servant of Christ. A similar gap is left in his home and we trust that, in some small way, we as a congregation will be able to help Mrs. Buchanan, William and Heather, and their families, with whom we sympathies today. 

The lecture Hall at Kellswater RP Church is known as the Huston Memorial Hall and bears the flowing inscription:

Memorial Hall erected by Henry H. Houston of Philadelphia, USA in honour of the kinsman, the Rev. David Houston, MA, who was buried by members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Connor Graveyard under the following inscription which has long [been] obliterated; Here lies the body of David Houston, a faithful minister of the Gospel, who departed this life the 8th December, 1696, and of his age the 63rd year.

On 9 March 1985 a special service was held to commemorate 225 years of Covenanting witness and a new extension to the Houston Memorial Hall, costing #27,000, was opened. The service was conducted by the Rev. J. A. Ritchie, and others taking part were Rev. Prof. Adam Loughridge, Rev. Prof. Hugh Blair and Rev. Isaac Cole. Guest came from near and far, including four ladies from the USA, who were descendants of a member of the congregation in the eighteenth century. After a speech Presbytery, Mr. JA Lyons Wright, the oldest member of the congregation, Mrs. Annie Wilson (88), formally accepted the key from Mr. Stanley Simpson and opened the new extension. Among the distinguished guests was the Mayor of Ballymena, Alderman Sandy Spence, who brought greets, as did Professor FS Leahy. There followed a week of special services conducted by Professors Blair and Loughridge

What more picturesque setting could there be than the situation of the Covenanting meeting house of Kellswater, nestling neatly between the road and the river from which it derives its name? This historic building in the townland of Carnaughts (old name: Ballycarnake) can be traced back to an old mill which stood on the same site and was itself the first meeting-house [since demolished] and the outbuildings surrounded by tress in a well-kept churchyard all add character to the place where prayer is wont to be made.

In the early days there was no minister but, met in Societies, the Covenanters or Praying Folk in Ireland were extremely devout people. One can easily picture the scene here in a Communion Sabbath as the emblems were laid out on the flat stone forming a table in the churchyard, with the vast congregation seated on the grass and the green bank rising up to the roadway and with the adherents and spectators standing on the carriageway and leaning on the wall. The only music was the quite, unchanging song of the Kells Water. It most certainly spoke of peace, beauty and tranquility and many I am sure, were touched with the solemnity of the occasion, but a foretaste of better things to come. The service on Communion Sabbath would have commenced about 11 am and lasted until 4pm or 5pm, without a break. In the latter part of the last century an intermission was introduced, which was regarded as a great boon, with the communicants partaking of food. In those days, and indeed until not so many years ago, the worshippers not only stood for prayer (as they still do), but also turned their backs on the minister or elder praying. When it came to singing God’s praises in the Psalms of David, they remained seated.

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One hundred years ago, when Mr. Dick was minister, there were two hundred and thirty-five members in Kellswater. He was minister when the Covenants were renewed with great fervor, firstly in the denomination, at Dervock, and then, for the first time in a special period of fasting and humiliation, the Covenants were renewed in Kellswater. The elders who took part were John Duncan, Samuel Darragh, William Clugston and John Hyndman. Mr. Dick had the longest ministry in Kellswater. For fifty-three years he labored here and here he was laid to rest.  

    Mr. Dick was a member of Synod during that storm concerning the powers of the Civil Magistrate which raged from 1833 until the schism finally came in 1840. In that year eleven churches and five ministers left to form what came to be known as the Eastern Reformed Synod. The leader of the schism was Rev. John Paul who again was a local man, having been born in 1777 at Tobernaveen near Holywell, of farming stock. The minister of Loughmourne, near Carrickfergus. He was an able expositor and author, as was his opponent, Dr. Houston, who was also a Kellswater man, then minister of Knockbracken. Many said afterwards that it was good that Rev. Staveley did not live to see this sad spectacle causing havoc in the Church he loved so well.  

   Rev. John McClelland Cromie BD. Was the fifth minister at Kellswater. A Native of Loughbrickland, he was ordained in Kellswater on 22 November 1882, at the end of a three-year vacancy. He remained in Kellswater until 1898, when he want to Kilraughts. In 1917 he too became a Professor in the Theological Hall. He married a lady from Kellswater, Miss Mary Dinsmore. 

    The present, imposing, two-storied, stone-built manse was erected on the church grounds at Lisnawhiggle during Rev. Cromie’s ministry.

A successful call was made to a student of the Scottish Reformed Presbyterian Church, Mr. Samuel McKay Calderwood MA, who, by his ordination at 12 noon on 14 December 1932, became the eighth minister of Kellswater.  The stipend offered was for the sum of #115. Mr. Calderwood was a native of Glasgow, but of Irish parentage. Educated at Glasgow University, he had trained at the Original Secession and Reformed Presbyterian Theological Halls. From his ordination in Kellswater in 1932, he labored faithfully for almost forty-one years.

    Mr. Calderwood was indeed an Israelite in whom was no guile. Nature and grace had admirably fitted him for shepherding the scattered congregation until, in the early hours of Tuesday 23 October 1973, God suddenly called him to serve in His Upper Sanctuary. On Thursday, 25 October, his earthly remains were interred beside the meeting-house he loved so well. Mr. Calderwood’s funeral was undoubtedly the largest in the neighborhood for many years, which reflected the esteem in which he was held in the community at large. His last service in Kellswater was at the Autumn Communion on 14 October 1973 and most certainly his text on Pre-Communion Sabbath summed up his whole life and ambition. It was “Looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). This surely epitomized his life, in the service of the One he loved and was soon to see face to face. His last service on this earth was on Sabbath, 21 October 1973, in Ballymoney RP Church.

Another incident in which Mr. Staveley was involved concerned the execution of a young Covenanter from this very area, named Daniel English, described by Seaton Reid as “a pious and amiable youth”, had been charged with leading a party of United Irishmen to the home of  Samuel Redmond of Thornhill, near Connor, with intent to rob and murder. English was tried and found guilty and sentenced to death. A condemned man, he was led out from the guard-house in Ballymena to be executed in Connor. Rev. Ferguson describes the occasion as seen by an eye-witness: 

He (English) was accompanied by the soldiers and a vast concourse of the inhabitants of the whole district who assembled to show their sympathy with him. His arms were pinioned and he was clad in grave-clothes. Mr. Staveley walked by his side for four miles. He read alternatively to him portions of Scripture and prayed with him. While the multitude from time to time, as directed by Mr. Staveley, engaged in singing such Psalms as the 74th, 68th and 119th. At length the Mill Bridge at Connor was reached; a grave had been dug by soldiers on the roadside. English stepped over to it and calmly remarked, “It is a new tomb wherein never man lay”. A countryman who was passing at that time with his horse and cart was pressed into service, though most reluctantly, and the cart was drawn under the scaffold. Mr. Staveley now prayed for the last time with English, who immediately afterwards knelt by the minister’s side and prayed himself. The condemned man was then assisted into the cart, whilst solemnly declaring his innocence of the crime charged against him; the rope was adjusted around his neck; and the cart driven on, leaving his body hanging lifeless. The remains were buried uncoffined in the grave on the roadside, despite the entreaties of his friends who wished him to have been buried in the family burying-ground in Connor. Their request was granted by the authorities only after three days. It was generally believed at the time the charge against English was false and the evidence quite insufficient to secure a conviction. 

If there is one word that would sum up the people of Kellswater (although they are small in number), that word must certainly be faithfulness. Records cannot portray the full story of those who have faithfully contended here in the cause of their Covenant God. Have we that faithfulness today? Have we the faithfulness of a generation that has passed on? Some can tell of Mr. Taylor who walked from Ballymoney to Kellswater to take part in the Communion Service and then walked home again. Others can tell of children walking in their bare feet over six miles to Sabbath school, then staying for church and walking home again.

Many more such stories can be told and will be told, but let us, the stewards of a great spiritual heritage, not be content to dwell in the achievements of a by-gone age. Let each of us instead press on towards the mark for the prize of the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. 

Headstones

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 Burial Ground layout

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“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11
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