Ballynahinch congregation celebrates landmark anniversary for 250 years of witness and worship

Ballynahinch congregation celebrates landmark anniversary for 250 years of witness and worship

8 May 2024

ON May 2, 1774 – some 250 years ago – 2nd Ballynahinch Presbyterian Church was officially born with the arrival of its first minister, the Rev Thomas Dobbin Fryar, of Banbridge.

The world was a radically different place back then. King George III was on the British throne, the American colonies were slowly moving to outright rebellion, Captain Cook was sailing the world, a general election returned Frederick North as Prime Minister and Edmund Pery was the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons.

On a slightly less serious note, the first ever pair of Birkenstock sandals were created by Johann Birkenstock in a small German village called Langen-Bergheim.

Few outside of the town will report that 1774 also saw the birth of 2nd Ballynahinch, but the date has been marked and celebrated by the thankful congregation which now bears the name Edengrove.

Although the men and women of the church are in celebratory mood, they certainly don’t wish to appear arrogant. The fellowship has a deep understanding that without God there would have been no Edengrove and certainly no 250th anniversary.

The current minister is the Rev Scott Woodburn who since 2008 has served as the congregation’s 19th pastor.

He said: “We wanted to mark a very special milestone in the life and witness of our church, but at the same time we didn’t want to pat ourselves on the back.

“Jesus reminds us in Luke 17v10 that even on our best day, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’. So in all our celebrations we have tried to remember Psalm 151v1. ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness’.”

The congregation’s history is as varied as it is long. It witnessed the tragedy of the Battle of Ballynahinch in 1798, losing the communion goblets to the United Irishmen who melted them down to make bullets.

Edengrove’s third minister, the Rev Samuel Edgar, started a school in 1800 and eventually two schools would trace their roots to the work of the congregation before being transferred to the State in 1954.

Another minister, the Rev Robert Irvine, was almost burnt in effigy in Ballynahinch’s Market Square in 1843. He headed for the United States where his statue still stands in Augusta, Georgia, outside the congregation of 1st Augusta Presbyterian Church.

Sadly, in 1829, Edengrove endured division, splitting into two with a disagreement over who should follow Samuel Edgar as minister. 2nd Ballynahinch moved to the current Dromore Road site in 1841 and the new congregation of 3rd Ballynahinch was established just across the road from the war memorial where the building still stands and is the home of the Happy Children Day Nursery. Thankfully the two fellowships came back under the same roof in 1949, adopting the new name of Edengrove.

Rev Woodburn acknowledges the changes witnessed by his church.

“We started in a building near the site of Cafe Rossi and when our current building was erected, it was very much outside of the town,” he said.

“Since then the world has changed dramatically and the boundaries of Ballynahinch have swept past our church.”

Nevertheless, Rev Woodburn says the fellowship is thankful.

“I’m humbled as I consider that the Lord Jesus had a plan for our church from the beginning of time,” he remarked.

“Long before there was a place called Ballynahinch, the Lord knew every single day that He had planned for us. He hasn’t changed in all of that time, he is the same yesterday, today and forever and even if we don’t see another day, we can be abundantly thankful to Christ for His faithfulness from our first day to this one.”

So what does the future hold for Edengrove Presbyterian Church?

A bullish Rev Woodburn said: “No man knows what the future holds, but I often think of Paul’s words in Hebrews 3v13 where he urges us to exhort one another as long as it is called today. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow never comes and today is all we have. So as long as it is called today we will strive to continue preaching about Christ and His crucifixion.

“We still believe what our forebears held to that the one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.”