THIS year marks the 350th anniversary of First Rathfriland Presbyterian Church and the Moderator Dr Ivan Patterson led a special Anniversary Service on Sunday to mark the occasion.
An evening service was conducted by Rev Alistair Smyth, who was minister of the congregation from 1988 until 1996.
First Rathfriland was one of four churches in the Presbytery of Iveagh formed during the earliest period of Presbyterian settlement in Ulster in the 17th Century, alongside Magherally, Tullylish and Loughbrickland congregations.
The congregation of First Rathfriland dates back to 1662, but the first meeting house was built in 1679 and the present church building in Newry Street was opened in 1775. John Wesley preached in the pulpit of First Rathfriland in 1787. Rev George Morrison was the first son of the manse to be ordained into the ministry. He later emigrated to Canada and served with the United Church there.
Now in the 21st Century with a total of 220 families, the church is currently vacant and the Rev Raymond McKibbin, minister of nearby Glascar and Donaghmore Presbyterian churches, is the Convener in charge.
Clerk of Session John McConnell said, “Whilst we are currently without a minister, the church is about the people and the generations of families that have worshipped here down through the centuries. It is important we mark this anniversary and give thanks and glory to God for the work He has done in this place over the past 350 years.”
A special committee was assembled to organise a series of events and these have been planned throughout the year to celebrate and commemorate the Christian witness in the County Down town and wider community.
Members of the PW group in the church have also organised a concert at which the Belfast Community Choir will perform at on Saturday March 31 in Rathfriland High School.
A youth mission will take place on Thursday April 12 and 13 in the local Young Farmers Hall led by Blaze Ministries. One of the highlights of the year will be a fortnight of special Mission events to be held in November during which Rev John Woodside and Billy Patterson will both participate in. A detailed list of all the anniversary events can be found by visiting the congregation’s new website www.1strathfriland.co.uk.