THE congregation of Magherally Presbyterian Church have been pulling out all the stops to celebrate its 350th anniversary this year.
The church is one of the oldest Presbyterian Churches in Ireland and for the first in a series of anniversary services on Sunday, many churchgoers turned out in period costume to celebrate a history that goes back as far as 1656.
The celebrations are perhaps particularly poignant for one member of the congregation, 95 year-old Miss Mary Martin, whose father, the Rev. John Dunwoody Martin, was one of the church's best known minister's, serving there from 1883-1937.
Sunday's service was in a style that would have been more familiar to earlier churchgoers, featuring old time psalms only, sung without the benefit of musical accompaniment but with only a presenter.
The speaker for what was undoubtedly a highlight of the church year was Moderator of the General Assembly the rt. Rev. R. E. H. Uprichard.
The existing cross-shaped church at Kilmacrew Road dates back a mere 250 years, but the congregation was established 100 years previously at a site perhaps half a mile along the same road, in the vicinity of what is now Gibson's Quarry.
The first minister was the Rev. Andrew McCormick, a Scot, and he served from 1656-63, the first of a total of 18 clergymen to minister at the Magherally church in its three and half century history, the Rev. William Campbell Lockhart (1946-1988) being another of the best known, certainly in the memory of today's congregation.
The current minister, the Rev Stewart Mackay, himself of Scottish descent, succeeded the Rev. Mark Rodgers in May last year.
Mr. Rodgers, whose calling took him to Scotland after 14 years at Magherally, returns to the church this Sunday for the second of the anniversary services, a traditional service featuring special praise led by the choir.
The principal officers of today's church include Clerk of the Kirk Session Mr. Alexander Martin, treasurer Mr. William Adams and secretary Mr. John Montgomery.
Mr. Adams explained that Magherally Presbyterian, while having undergone rewiring, redecoration and numerous renovations over its many years, was in remarkably good shape for its age, undergoing inspections every 10 years or so.
The congregation, he said, had swelled by about 20 families in the last quarter of a century, but had generally remained steady over the years, at 200 families.
Today it boasts a new suite of halls but the building project on which the congregation is currently focussed in the rebuilding of the manse.
"We have had to undertake a lot of fundraising," said Mr. Adams, "but after Mr. Rogers left we basically leanred that it would be more economic to demolish the existing manse (itself 150 years old) and rebuild."
The congregation hopes to stage another anniversary celebration at the newly constructed manse this summer – a fun open day with all proceeds going to the building fund.
Meanwhile, there remains the third in the series of anniversary services, on Sunday, April 2, a modern style of service led by the church's praise group, at which the Rev. Mackay will be speaker.
Mr. Adams said of the ongoing celebrations, "Plans have been ongoing over the last year or so and there has been a lot of excitement in the past six months, with everyone very much looking forward to it all."