The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, was in Burt Presbyterian Church, County Donegal on Friday evening, 15 September 2023, joined by fellow Presbyterians and their invited guests for a special Service of Thanksgiving to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Church there.
Just off the busy N13, the main Derry to Letterkenny road in the townland of Carrownamaddy, the congregation was founded in 1673, when William Hampton from Scotland, was ordained as Burt’s first minister. The first of 20 ministers to serve the surrounding local community down the years, and by pure coincidence Burt’s current minister is also a Scot, Rev Craig Wilson.
Originally from Glasgow, Mr Wilson was installed as minister of Burt and Inch Presbyterian Churches in September of last year, while continuing to serve the congregations of St Johnston and Ballylennon as their minister, which he has done for past 15 years.
“As a relative newcomer to the Burt congregation, I was unaware of the long and distinguished history of this old congregation, especially in the early days of the congregation a service could last up to three hours, there were no pews and you had to stand unless you brought your own seat! Thankfully not anymore,” Mr Wilson said.
“Our Clerk of Session, James Buchannan, has written a very comprehensive and excellent history of the church, which we had printed, with all proceeds going to Donegal Hospice. It was also great to have the Letterkenny Hospital Choir with us, and the Moderator, all of whom were made very welcome.”
Mr Wilson continued, “We are a small congregation that overlooks Inch Island and sits beneath Greenan Mountain and its hill fort that was built around a thousand years before our church. The location is both historic and beautiful, as is the witness that the congregation has bourn to Christ over the past three and a half centuries.”
Mr Wilson concluded by saying, “I have been greatly encouraged by the warmth of fellowship that Burt’s Presbyterians have shown me since beginning my ministry here and I pray that the Lord will be at work amongst us now and into the future. Friday evening was a special time of thanksgiving as we gave thanks to God for His work of Grace amongst us for the past 350 years. It was so encouraging to see so many join us, including two of our four surviving ministers,” he said.
During Burt’s long history, two of the congregation’s former ministers have led the all-Ireland denomination as its Moderator: Rev William Clerk, who was minister from 1876-1879 was elected Moderator in 1889, and Rev Dr William Boyd, who was elected in 1967, ministered in Burt from 1932-1939. Dr Boyd returned to preach at the congregation’s 300th anniversary in 1973. Two hundred and sixty seven years earlier the son of Burt’s first minister, Rev John Hampton was one of four local ministers who founded the first Presbyterian Presbytery in America.
PCI’s current Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, who is the minister of Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church in Dublin, followed in the footsteps of two of his more recent predecessors who have preached from Burt’s pulpit. Rev Dr John Dunlop, who came to the special service to mark the 100th anniversary of the current church building in 1996, and Dr Ken Newell, who preached following 2011’s refurbishment of the church.
Speaking after the service, Dr Mawhinney said, “Anniversaries are important and it is fitting that we celebrate and give thanks to God for Burt’s 350 years of Christian witness in this part of the island. As a denomination we have 30 congregations in Donegal, and remarkably 10 of them, including Burt, can trace their roots back to the 17th century, when Scottish settlers brought our reformed witness to Ireland.
“Having been elected Moderator of our Church in June, this evening was my first opportunity to preach this side of the Border. Having served in congregations in Counties Cork and Tipperary, and now in the capital, Dublin, it was good to be in County Donegal,” Dr Mawhinney said.
“It was also a privilege to be part of the celebrations and meet Craig, his wife Jennifer, and be with the congregation at this special time. Together we gave thanks for the past 350 years and I wanted to encourage them to continue to put Jesus, His Word and witness to the forefront of all they do, ever confident in Christ’s love for the Church as they continue to worship and minister in this corner of the country.”
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