‘A very remarkable man’ – Rev J.B. Mooney

Rev J.B. Mooney, former Minister of Grange Presbyterian Church, near Randalstown, passed away recently, aged 102.
One of his successors at The Grange, Rev Desmond Knowles, has penned the following tribute.

“Joseph Buchanan Mooney was born on 2nd June 1917 – a 1st World War baby! He grew up in the Congregation of Oldpark spending his formative years under the Ministry of the late Very Rev Dr James Dunlop. As a lad of 16, in the BB he committed his life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Two years later he became a Sunday School teacher- the first step in a life spent teaching others about his Saviour. While still in his teens he sensed the call of God to serve as a Missionary in Africa. And so at the age of 20 he began Theological studies at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow.

With studies completed, in the summer of 1940 he sailed for Nigeria on a Troop ship, as a member of S I M International. (Interesting to note the changes in travel. His journey to Nigeria was 13 days sailing, and coming home for his first Furlough it was 6 weeks sailing in convoy – because of the 2nd WW!) Though he did not know it at the time his future wife, Margaret, was also studying at B T I in preparation for work overseas. So while Joe (as he called himself, and would have others call him) went for a 4 year term in Nigeria, Margaret finished her Bible Training, and started her course in nursing and Midwifery.

Loneliness in Africa very obviously made him think of Margaret. He began writing to her and their unique courtship, he tells us, was mostly conducted by correspondence. With nursing studies completed Margaret joined him in Nigeria. The Mission Leaders had a position for them in the North of the country, but it not being appropriate to send an unmarried couple there, they asked them to bring their wedding date forward a few months, which they were happy to do. They were married in 1945. It was in Nigeria that both Gordon and Eileen were born.

In Nigeria, Margaret was busily employed in rearing her family and using her nursing skills to help people with great physical needs. Joe likewise was busily employed, in what we would call today, pioneer evangelism. He would travel on foot or by bicycle out into the Towns and Villages surrounding their base, and in his own words, “tell the people about Jesus”. If there were Christians in the village or a new Church, he would support and encourage the people of God through Preaching and Teaching the Scriptures. Many of the people among whom he laboured at that time were Animistic. Some of their customs were pretty cruel. EG – baby twins were regarded as a bad omen, and they were left in the bush to die! It was his great joy to see Christian teaching change attitudes so that twins were accepted, allowed to live, and make their contribution in society. It requires a man of exceptional ability to persevere in that kind of Ministry. Mr Mooney did so for 20 years! And then in the interests of his children’s education the family came back to Northern Ireland.

Aware of the call of God to Ministry in our Church Mr Mooney did further Studies at the Assembly’s College. He served, what he describes as “a very enjoyable Assistantship under the late Rev Dr J W Orr” in Bloomfield. Ministerial training completed, he received a Call to be Minister in Grange in 1961. During his 21 years as minister there, the Congregation prospered remarkably. According to what was said about him in Presbytery when he retired: All Church Property was greatly improved. Giving per family was the highest in the Presbytery. Vital spiritual life was evident among young and older throughout the Congregation. Attendance at worship and in all the Organisations was excellent. The PWA had 50 members! There was an evangelistic thrust and missionary zeal that was evident to all. A spirit of youthful keenness and zest was everywhere apparent in the Congregation. Presbytery paid him this Tribute: “Mr Mooney is highly respected, not only within Grange Congregation and Ballymena Presbytery, but in the community generally among all shades of religious opinion”.

'A very remarkable man' - Rev J.B. Mooney
Rev J.B. Mooney (centre) who recently passed away aged 102

Mr Mooney had a very winsome, engaging way with people. Both he and Mrs Mooney were greatly loved. He loved children and they loved him. I’m told they would follow him around like a Pied Piper. He had an endless treasure of stories and tricks for them. And after a Pastoral visit many a child spent a long time trying to make his or her arm lengthen and shorten the way Mr Mooney could his!

The Rev Mooney was a phenomenal worker. Just 3 years after coming to Grange he was appointed Clerk of Presbytery, in which capacity he served for 18 years. Colleagues said of him, he was always well prepared, highly efficient, wise in his advice, and with his gentle humour solved many a problem before it became a problem! The following year he was appointed Stated Supply in Craigmore, which meant he had 3 services every Sunday. And in addition to all of that he undertook the work of Pastoral Assistant in two of the larger Ballymena congregations, spending 71/2 years in High Kirk, followed by 41/2 years in First Ballymena. Despite this massive work commitment he ensured his own Congregation never suffered adversely. He certainly was a workman who had no need to be ashamed.

Mr Mooney was Clerk of Presbytery when I applied for the Ministry (over 50 years ago now) He was most kind and helpful. As one of his successors among the lovely people of Grange with Craigmore, I was very aware of how greatly loved Mr and Mrs Mooney were in those congregations. It was always a joy to have them visit us. He remembered everyone: even the names of those who were only children when he left, he could recall without hesitation.

No Tribute to Mr Mooney would be complete without reference to his Jokes. He was a Master in the art of story- telling. As a boy I remember hearing about him Chairing the Festival of Male Voice Praise which was held annually in Ballymena Town Hall. Naturally there were many jokes, So many indeed that after a while one lady was heard to exclaim, “O stop, stop, stop! My sides are sore laughing”. Fellow Ministers requested that he put his Jokes in written format, and so 3 little books, aptly titled “Joe’s Jokes” appeared. All the proceeds of these went to our Irish Mission. I suspect that in many a Minister’s Study these little books were read more avidly than Calvin’s Institutes!

In 1982, after 21 years Ministry in the Ballymena Presbytery the Mooneys retired to live in Belfast near to Eileen and her family. But inactivity was not to their liking. First, they became Wardens of the newly opened Lowry Court, and then when invited by Rev Wilfred Orr and the Session of Newtownbreda to be Pastoral Visitor among the Elderly of that Congregation, he accepted it with pleasure. He continued in that work for 15 years, finally retiring when he was 81!

The Rev J.B. Mooney was a very remarkable man in many ways, not the least of which was his ability to use his Computer right until the end. Every Saturday he used it to talk to Gordon in Canada using Skype! He was grateful for a long life with a clear mind, and at 102 years and 9 months, was very pleased to be the Father of the House. His was a long, happy, fruitful life, enjoying God’s presence with him and God’s blessing on him, spreading gospel light and joy to the very end of his pilgrimage on earth. His great delight he tells us was “to preach the gospel and rejoice when individuals put their trust in his Saviour, Jesus Christ”.

Eileen found him in his usual form last Friday afternoon. Later he and his friends were together for their evening meal. Mr Mooney said grace, rested his head back on the chair, and gently and peacefully passed into glory. In Paul’s language he fell asleep in Jesus, and as James assures us “received the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him”.

He is survived by his son Gordon, his daughter Eileen and their respective families.’