Dervock Presbyterian Church- Since 1646.
‘The Cradle of North Antrim Presbyterianism’
The congregation of Dervock Presbyterian Church was originally called Derrykeighan, but is known by many locals as ‘Carncullagh’, and this is the name of the townland that the present meeting house is now situated.
In 1641, English and Scottish troops were deported to protect the settlers in the North Antrim Coast after the rebellion and massacre of the same year. Dervock was a military station occupied by a Scottish regiment, whose chaplain ministered to the Presbyterian settlers under the care of the first presbytery; the army presbytery. This was how the congregation was originally formed. In 1646, the Reverend John Baird, who had previously served as Chaplain to the Earl of Argyle’s regiment, then the Dervock district, was installed as the first Minister. Interestingly, this first minister of Dervock, the Reverend Baird, was a member of the first presbytery in Ireland, and it was he that preached the sermon on the 10th day of June 1642, at Carrickfergus; the day on which the first presbytery was constituted. He preached from Psalm 51:18, “Do good in Thy good pleasure unto Zion, build thou the walls of Jerusalem.” The people of Dervock are very proud to be able to trace their roots right back to this most historic event. As he was asked to preach the charge, he may well have been the first Moderator of this Presbytery.
In these early times the congregation of Dervock met for Sabbath worship in the parish church, hence the original name of the congregation being Derrykeighan. However, the congregation soon had to provide their own meeting house for Sabbath worship. It is still said by locals that this original building was a very simple, humble building of mud and stone, and was situated near the Strachan River, about a quarter of a mile due north of where the present meeting house is now situated. These were the days when unaccompanied metrical psalm singing was the form of praise, and any form of decoration in the meeting house was considered ‘romanish,’ so what more did the people of God want?
The Reverend John Baird, the first minister and pastor of the Dervock congregation, may well have had to flee his position after the objection of many Presbyterian ministers to the execution of Charles I. It is suggested by some, that the Reverend Hugh Vaunsse may have been Reverend Baird’s successor as an independent. If so, he was succeeded by the Reverend Robert Stirling. Not much is known of this pastor, except that when he died in 1698 he was succeeded by his son, the Reverend Thomas Stirling. Local tradition would say that it was during his ministry (1703-1719) that the meeting house for Dervock Presbyterian Church was moved from its first, primitive site at the Strachan River, to the field opposite the present day meeting house. The Reverend Thomas Stirling was succeeded by the Reverend John Orr, and he by the Reverend Joseph Douglas. During the ministry of Reverend Douglas, the meeting house was moved for the last time- this time to the position it now occupies, approximately a quarter of a mile outside the village bounds of Dervock. However, its size means it is a recognizable landmark, seen for miles around.
Lord McCartney, the owner of the estate where the meeting house is built, gave the congregation an acre of his land, in perpetuity, at the annual rent of five shillings. This meeting house served both the ministries of the Reverend Douglas and also his successor in Dervock, the Reverend Alexander Martin. At this time, records show that there were 2,230 persons connected with the congregation.
The Reverend Joseph Bellis, successor to the Reverend Martin was minister of the congregation in 1834-1835 when the present meeting House was erected. The cost for this new meeting house was £900, a considerable sum of money in those days, but it allowed seating capacity for almost 700.
The next minister was the illustrious and renowned, Reverend Doctor Alexander Field (1857-1904). He was a man of great vision and it was he who oversaw the building of the present, majestic and commodious manse (1877-1878; the plaque can still be observed on the gable wall). Under him, the meeting house renovated in such a way that some considered it to be a new building (1883-1884) as the new structure was built around the old one- this is known because the present meeting house actually has 2 roofs. In addition, a church hall, one of the very first in the North Antrim area, was erected (1887-1888). There is no doubt that it was due to the minister’s foresight, inspiring leadership, tenacity, generosity and skilful personal supervision during those years that the congregation had buildings which, for a rural charge, were among the finest of their time. In fact, these buildings still stand to this day, and due to the way they were so well built, remain to be impressive, even in the twenty-first century. The minister, it is believed, journeyed to America to preach for the money to build these buildings and brought with him much of the beautiful pitched pine that now adorns the manse at Mansefield, still occupied by the minister of Dervock Presbyterian Church. The Reverend Field’s portrait still hangs in the church hall that he erected as a perpetual reminder of such a great man, that Dervock Presbyterian Church still hold in high esteem to this day. It was not just the people of Dervock who thought like this, but the denomination at large, recognising the Reverend Field’s outstanding services to Dervock, to the presbytery of Route as clerk and to the General Assembly and Theological Faculty as Convenor of the Theological Committee. His esteemed reputation is also illustrated by the degree of Doctor of Divinity that the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland, conferred on the Reverend Field.
The Reverend Doctor Field’s successor was the Reverend John S. Pyper B.A. The Reverend Pyper was ordained to oversee the pastoral charge of Dervock Presbyterian Church in September 1904. He completed his duties as a faithful pastor and preacher of God’s most Holy Word until he received another call in North Antrim, this time to the coastal town of Portrush in 1911. The Reverend Pyper initiated new ministries in the attractive North Coast town and in recognition of his vitality and good work, he too, was recognised by the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland in 1947, as they conferred on him the degree Doctor of Divinity.
The Reverend W. Norman Maxwell M.A, was the next minister of Dervock Presbyterian Church. Coming to the North Antrim countryside after serving in Strand Presbyterian, Sydenham- Belfast was no doubt a change for this preacher and pastor.
Reverend Maxwell came to Dervock in 1911 and resigned the charge after receiving a call to the congregation of First Presbyterian Church, Omagh in 1926. It was during the ministry of Reverend Maxwell that the church tower was built. This was erected in memory of the Reverend Alexander Martin, minister of the congregation (1789-1838) and was built at a cost of £1,700. The tower was built after a bequest was made to the congregation by the Reverend Martin’s grandson, Mr. R. C. Martin, Solicitor, Ballymoney. After only three years, West of the Bann in Omagh, the Reverend Maxwell accepted the call to Woodvale Presbyterian Church, North Belfast. Like his previous two predecessors, the Reverend Maxwell’s meritorious ministry in the congregations of Strand, Dervock, First Omagh and Woodvale Presbyterian churches resulted in his recognition by the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland in 1954, as he also was conferred with the degree, Doctor of Divinity.
In June 1926, the Reverend Robert G. McBride B.A. was ordained as the next minister of this historic congregation.
The Reverend Robert McBride was in-situ during major renovations that took place around the church properties between 1948 and 1957. This lengthy ministry of over 44 years, was tinged with sadness on two separate occasions; firstly the untimely death of his wife, Mrs. Constance Irene McBride and secondly of his 17 year old son, William Gardiner, head boy of Dalriada Grammar School, Ballymoney. The Reverend McBride was the Religious Education agent for the presbytery and it is reported that he took a keen interest in the spiritual education of young people. He is well remembered by many in the congregation of Dervock as a warm and very pastoral man. Rarely did he take a Sabbath off to preach in other pulpits and he died whilst still Minister of the congregation in 1970.
The Reverend Harold Boyce B.A., was installed in Dervock Presbyterian Church in 1970. Coming to Dervock after an assistantship in the Shankill Road Mission, his ministry, compared to his predecessor and successor was one that was short in Dervock, as he resigned and received the call to Stand Presbyterian Church, East Belfast in 1977. Although his time in Dervock was short in terms of years, it is remembered as one that was rich, thinking especially in terms of his emphasis on evangelism and reformed theological teaching. The Reverend Boyce enjoyed a good working relationship with his Reformed Presbyterian neighbour at Carnaff, the Reverend Edward Donnely. In the year of the new millennium, 2000, the General Assembly appointed the Reverend Boyce as Director of Evangelism. After the Reverend Boyce’s resignation, the congregation was served most faithfully by their convenor and interim moderator of session, the Reverend Doctor A.W. Godffrey Brown, minister of Ballycastle Presbyterian Church. Under his leadership, the congregation once again were in a position to call their own minister.
The Reverend James A. Thompson B.A., B.D. accepted the call to Dervock Presbyterian Church in 1979, leaving the congregations of Kingmills and Jerresttpass Presbyterian Churches, in the Newry Presbytery. During the Reverend Thompson’s ministry, a large renovation programme was undertaken which resulted in a new hall vestibule, committee room, kitchen and minister’s room. An Elder in the congregation, Mr. William Peden sold enough land to the congregation that allowed for the car park and grave yard to be extended. During the Reverend Thompson’s ministry he read for the degrees Master of Sciences and Doctor of Ministry. The Reverend Doctor Thompson felt this enriched his preaching and pastoral work within the congregation. He retired in 2012 after over 33 years in ministry. He and Mrs Thompson still live in the Dervock district. They continue to enjoy good health and enjoy being well-informed of the continued work and witness of Dervock Presbyterian Church.
The Reverend Scott W. Moore B.A., B.D., Dip.Min., Dip. Y.Min., M.Res., was ordained and installed in Dervock in November 2014. The Rev. Moore came to Dervock after serving almost 4 years as an assistant minister in Carryduff Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Down. Although Rev. Moore had a short ministry, (he was installed in 1st Dromara in September 2018) it was certainly a very interesting and busy one. Rev. Moore instigated a number of successful new ventures within the church. He was very active among the young people of the area. He had good relationships with many local clergy and sought to move the church forward as a more inclusive church for the whole community. Although the time was short, he impacted upon the lives of many people. During Rev. Moore’s ministry the church undertook a complete modernisation of the manse to make it a beautiful modern house whilst retaining its original character and had plans drawn up to renovate the church to put in new disabled facilities and a new kitchen area. We wish the Rev. Moore and his wife Lorna God’s blessing and every success in 1st Dromara.
Ministers of Dervock Presbyterian Church
1646- The Reverend John Baird
1654- The Reverend Hugh Vaunsse
1687-1698- The Reverend Robert Stirling
1703-1718- The Reverend Thomas Stirling (Son of above)
1723-1745- The Reverend John Orr
1751-1789- The Reverend Joseph Douglas
1790-1838- The Reverend Alexander Martin (Assistant and Successor)
1827-1872- The Reverend Joseph Bellis (Assistant and Successor)
1857-1904- The Reverend Alexander Field D.D. (Assistant and Successor)
1904-1912- The Reverend John Stanley Pyper B.A.
1912-1926- The Reverend William Norman Maxwell M.A.
1926-1970- The Reverend Robert Gardiner McBride B.A.
1971-1977- The Reverend Harold Boyce B.A.
1979-2012- The Reverend James Armstrong Thompson B.A., B.D., M.Sc., D.Min.
2014-2018- The Reverend Scott William Moore B.A., B.D., Dip.Y.Min., Dip.Min., M.Res