Hazelbank Presbyterian Church, Coleraine turns 50

The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick was in Coleraine on Sunday 26 March 2023, joining minsters past and present of Hazelbank Presbyterian Church, along with church members and guests, to celebrate the congregation’s 50th anniversary with a special service of thanksgiving.

The service was led by Hazelbank’s Rev David Brown who was called to the church as its fourth minister in December 2014. Joining him for the service were his surviving predecessors, Rev Alan Johnston, who was minister from 2004-2013 and the son of the late Rev Sam Millar, whose father served the congregation for nearly 30 years from 1974 to 2003. Also present was Rev Professor Bill Addley, who began work on establishing the church in February 1971.

Hazelbank Presbyterian Church, Coleraine turns 50
The Moderator and ministers past and present of Hazelbank Presbyterian Church following a special Golden Jubilee service of thanksgiving to celebrate the church’s 50th anniversary. Left to right: Current minister Rev David Brown, Moderator, Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick and founding minister Rev Professor Bill Addley, with Rev Alan Johnston.

During the service the Moderator, who is also the minister of Portrush Presbyterian Church, preached on Philippians 2:13. “Since I became Moderator last June, I have visited and preached most Sundays, sometimes twice, and it is always a pleasure to be with God’s people hearing their stories in their own place. Some have been special thanksgiving services like this, and as one of my predecessors said a while ago now, it doesn’t really matter if we are celebrating a half century or a bicentenary; for what really matters is that for however long the gospel’s preached, and people are being reached for Christ. It will be the same for First Armagh Presbyterian when I join them in May for their 350th anniversary.

Dr Kirkpatrick continued, “But there is something else to bear in mind as well, and I touched on it today. I took my text for the sermon from Philippians 2:13, when the Apostle Paul writes “…it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.” For what we are really celebrating is the faithfulness of God to us and what He has enabled us to do to fulfil His purpose. It is also the story of grace and how grace alone works – and inspires works. It has been a real blessing to experience that here in Hazelbank.”

Speaking after the service Rev David Brown said, “This afternoon has been a wonderful and very special occasion as we came together to give thanks to God for what He has done in and through Hazelbank over these past 50 years. As only the fourth minister of the congregation it is a privilege and an honour to be minister during this time in the life of our church, and to welcome the Moderator here today.

“For 50 years we have been a light on the hill, shining for Christ in the midst of the community where He has placed us. Therefore, while giving thanks for the past we continue to look to the future, excited at what God will do in our community as we continue to reach out through our Foodbank, for example, coffee mornings, Bowls Club, or our Hazelbank Toddlers on a Thursday. I very much look forward to seeing what God will do in the years to come.”

Hazelbank Presbyterian Church, Coleraine turns 50
Rev David Brown, minister of Hazelbank Presbyterian Church, cuts a commemorative cake to mark the congregation’s Golden Jubilee with one of Hazelbank’s original members, Mrs Eva Tolson.

Celebrations for the Golden Jubilee started on New Year’s Eve when the church held an all age social event that led into a ‘watchnight service’ that went into New Year to mark the beginning of Hazelbank’s 50th anniversary. Along with Sunday’s service, other anniversary events have been planned, including a celebration dinner in October at the Lodge Hotel, finishing off our the celebrations with a Harvest Bible Teaching Weekend the same month.

Today Hazelbank has 167 families connected with the congregation and meets on the west side of the River Bann situated in ‘The Heights’. In 1968 Rev Bill Addley was appointed as the first Presbyterian Chaplain to what was then the New University of Ulster at Coleraine, and was also asked to take on the establishment of a new church on the top of a hill overlooking Coleraine. Land had already been purchased form a local farmer and work began in February 1971. The first service took place on 17 February 1973, with 220 worshippers attending, with the official opening service conducted a month later on 31 March, when the then Moderator, Dr Victor Lynas preached.

Talking about the early days, Professor Addley (who ultimately became a Professor of Practical Theology at PCI’s Union Theological College in Belfast said, “We began the work of setting up the church in the February in ’71, going round knocking on doors and putting leaflets through letterboxes with the help of many from the local area. We actually met in a glorified warehouse, which was horrendously difficult to heat, and is now the church hall.”

Professor Addley continued, “As I remember, on our first Sunday we had about 40 people sign up, which was a good start. My wife Ruth and I had picked up a baby grand piano for next to nothing, which she played during the service, while our Communion Set came from a another Presbyterian church in Belfast. It was all very ‘make do’, with furniture coming from other churches, but God was with us and we were very blessed, especially with my successor, Rev Sam Millar, who replaced me in late 1974 and went on to serve the congregation for nearly 30 years. He even went to Scotland to bring back an old church bell for Hazelbank’s bell tower! It is a real privilege to have been part of the church’s story and it was wonderful to meet Sam’s son, Sam junior yesterday, who came over with his wife Alison especially from England for the service.”

Hazelbank Presbyterian Church, Coleraine turns 50
The Moderator Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick and his wife Joan outside Hazelbank Presbyterian Church.

You can find out more about Hazelbank Presbyterian Church on their website.