ABOUT OUR CONGREGATION
How a congregation split to become two and then rejoined to become one again.
COVENANTERS IN BELFAST
In the early 19th century as the town of Belfast began to grow, the Reformed Presbyterians formed a congregation there in 1832 and, in 1835, erected a meeting house in College Street South (later to become part of the Grosvenor Road).
The congregation grew rapidly and, in 1871, an enlarged church with hall and library was opened. The continued growth of the congregation and the great difficulty, if not impossibility, of providing pew accommodation for the number who desired to become connected with the church led a number of the members to consider the advisability of having another Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Belfast.
In 1888, the same year as the granting of the City Charter to Belfast, the new congregation was organised, several elders, deacons, and members of College Street South congregation severing their connection for the purpose.
DUBLIN ROAD CHURCH
The new congregation first met in the Central Hall, Rosemary Street and, in 1889, Rev. John Lynd was installed as their first minister.
This site on the Dublin Road was selected as suitable for the erection of a church building and purchased for the sum of £800. The plan submitted by the architect, Mr. Samuel Stevenson, for a building to accommodate 450 people was accepted and the contract for the building was awarded to Messrs. H & J Martin at £2,550. The Memorial Stone was laid on 14th September 1889 by Mr. James Rea, a generous benefactor.
It is noteworthy that Samuel Stevenson and Sons is the longest established architectural practice in N. Ireland. Other designs they have been responsible for are Ballysillan and Ulsterville Presbyterian churches, Grand Central Hotel – Royal Avenue, Belfast Municipal Institute – College Square East, and many homes on the Malone Road.
SOME HISTORICAL DATES
The Dublin Road Church building was officially opened for public worship.
13th April 1890
During the Second World War, the Committee allow the church hall to be used for the purpose of storing furniture belonging to people bombed out of their homes.
The church was hit directly by an incendiary bomb at the corner to the left of the pulpit. Thankfully a passer-by raised the alarm, preventing the damage from being extensive.
The Spring of 1941
The Grosvenor Road church building was indirectly severely damaged by an IRA bomb. The congregation was invited to join in worship with the Dublin Road congregation, the daughter congregation coming to the aid of its parent.
SHAFTESBURY SQUARE CHURCH
The decision to formally amalgamate the two congregations and call the new congregation Shaftesbury Square Reformed Presbyterian Church was soon made. However, it was 2nd May 1978 before the new congregation could be established. Later that year, on 12th December, Rev. Harold Cunningham was ordained and installed as the minister of the congregation.
It took another year for the legal formalities to be completed as there were many bequests and other funds held by the two congregations. This must have been something of a precedent as it attracted a top-of-the-page position in one of the local newspapers under a four-column heading. Part of the article noted that “…It is understood that today’s case may be the forerunner of several similar applications…”