Reaching and teaching in seaside town of Portrush

The inside of Portrush Presbyterian Church building
The inside of Portrush Presbyterian Church building

Modern Portrush has the responsibility and the privilege of being host to the modern traveller and the local tourist.

In some ways the town belongs to everyone in the country.

Most people go ‘up to the Port’ at some time of the year. Many have memories of the day at the seaside. For me it was the sixties. It seems that time is able to erase the bad weather and the sunburn. Today a little nostalgia remains of whipped ice cream, morning swims at the harbour, thrilling rides in Barry’s and a steam train ride home to Ballymena. That was the perspective I had until 20 years ago when I became the minister of the congregation.

The church story began in the middle of the 19th century. We might like to say that there was some great spiritual revival that was the impetus but in reality it was ‘the bathing season’. That was the time when the Victorians, flush with their newly acquired wealth in the industrial boom, built their summer residences, brought their families and servants for the season to Portrush. With all the recreational facilities, it was still important to have a place of worship. None existed for Presbyterians within the town so an arrangement was made with the recent Methodist congregation so that their building could be borrowed on a Sunday afternoon.

In 1842, a young Jonathan Simpson fresh from serving in congregations in Wexford and the South and west of Ireland became the first minister. Deep poverty and desperation combined with some amazing providences of God led him to travel to America to visit the Presbyterians to seek help for his fledgling church. One year later he returned with $5485 and this paid for the original church building. A movement of the Holy Spirit spread over parts of Ireland in the years 1858-59 and the Portrush community experienced wonderful blessing as a result. One third of the population were converted to Christ that year, many of them finding their way to this small congregation. That is the main reason we have a building that can seat almost 1,000 people. Society is very different from those early day of beginnings. New generations have come with no experience or legacy of Christian faith but with the same common human need to know God and come to be known by Him.

Three communities make up the focus of our ministry. One is the gathered Christian community that most people will call ‘our church’; one is the community among whom we exist in the town of Portrush, and the other is the visiting community who come to join with us throughout the year.

We feel a responsibility to each of these and it is this that shapes what we do and sometimes the way we do it. Our primary mission is already given to us and defined as “loving God with all our heart soul mind and strength and loving our neighbour as ourselves”. As we seek to interpret this the result is our worship and Christian education programmes on the one hand and our service within and to our local community on the other. We don’t claim to be perfect at either but we are really serious about both. Some of this takes place within the context of our buildings but much of it occurs as our members live out their faith in their daily lives and jobs and leisure.

We don’t believe that there is any division between what we do on a Sunday and the rest of the week; rather that our love for God should enhance everything else. Listening to God by listening to the Bible taught and studied is foundational to all we do. Our passion is to do this as a community who love the Lord and who seek to understand the gospel. This gospel is what gives everyone the freedom to be honest about their lives and creates a safe place to belong to. We are convinced that only believing the gospel can give depth to relationships in our community. There is room for all and invitation to all. In recent years we have had a growing conviction that we must find ways to serve the wider community of Portrush along with the other churches. Many of our youth

programmes and community projects for different ages and stages of life are attempts to bless the whole community. The Boys’ Brigade has already passed 100 years of serving generations of boys. CSSM, a scripture Union programme which runs in July, has just celebrated 121 years with 590 children registering this summer. Two years ago we opened New Beginnings, a second hand shop of high quality clothes and household items. This has been a doorway to helping people practically while building relationships of trust in the community.