Roamer: Calls for a reunion of those who remember Christian Endeavour

Rev Francis Edward Clark, founder of Christian Endeavour
Rev Francis Edward Clark, founder of Christian Endeavour
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The reference here last week to the 50th anniversary of the World Christian Endeavour (C.E.) Convention has prompted requests for a reunion!

Limavady-reader Christopher Wilson recalled Belfast’s King’s Hall packed with 8,000 people from all over the world who’d come here for the 15th international gathering of the C.E. in July 1966.

Mr Wilson wondered if anyone remembered the Finnish girls’ choir singing on Stormont’s steps, and reminisced about a 500-stong local choir that performed in the King’s Hall.

Intriguingly, Christopher’s letter queried “does anyone remember the greeting to C.E. delegates by the then Prime Minister, Captain Terrence O’Neill, during the Germany-England European football final when he kept the delegates up to time with the score?”

Captain O’Neill’s impromptu soccer commentary seems to have been forgotten, but warm memories of the Convention, and stories about the C.E. and its history have arrived in Roamer’s mailbox.

And there have been four requests to date for a reunion or an anniversary event.

Margaret Boyd Potts outlined “many fond memories” of the Convention Choir in 1966.

As a choir-member she recalls “the choir practices in the old Y.M.C.A. in Wellington Place, the Civic Reception at the City Hall and the Garden Party at Stormont.”

Margaret joined the choir half a century ago “with a few friends from Great Victoria Street Presbyterian Church” and she’d love to get together again with her old C.E. singing acquaintances.

“Harry Carser was the conductor” Margaret recounted in her letter about the Y.M.C.A. rehearsals.

“Margaret Newell was the pianist and Edgar Pierpoint was the organist. Those were happy, fun times!”

The hymns and songs were “amazing to sing. The signature piece was ‘Wonderful Love of Jesus’ but my favourite,” she added “was the Hallelujah Chorus. Imagine 500 voices singing this piece!”

Regarding the big international event in the Balmoral Show Grounds “the reception of the foreign delegates stands out! The choir was in the show jumping enclosure and the different countries paraded round with flags identifying where they were from - a wonderful atmosphere!”

Another reader referred to names on the sleeve of the gramophone record which Mr Wilson shared with us last week.

The recording was made at the 1966 Convention, and Harry Carser was the conductor, but the organist was William Farr and the pianist was John Henderson.

“I think John Henderson was the same pianist who played at, and organised, the legendary Saturday Night Rendezvous meetings in Belfast’s Y.M.C.A.” the reader recounted, and repeated a suggestion that has been sent to Roamer’s mailbox on a number of occasions during the past few years - “It would be lovely to collect memories of those Saturday night youth gatherings.”

So if anyone can reminisce about the ‘legendary’ Saturday Night Rendezvous meetings in Belfast don’t hesitate to send your recollections to the address on this page. As always, copies of old photographs would be much appreciated too!

“The Christian Endeavour played a big part in my youth,” wrote an e-mailer, requesting to be anonymous.

“When we were at school we attended C.E. meetings once a week,” the e-mail continued, “and in the summer we went for lovely, sunny, family holidays to two C.E. hotels here, which were named with the letters ‘C’ and ‘E’”

Clar Ellagh in Kilkee, County Clare, was a C.E. guesthouse “with rooms and dormitories for about 60 holiday makers, with a lovely safe, sandy, beach nearby and a croquet lawn at the front.”

There was a short bible service every morning and the rest of the day was spent “swimming, excursions, treasure hunts and all sorts of games and activities.”

The other C.E. guesthouse - in Portrush - was called Castle Erin.

It was a former golfers’ hotel “built on a hill between the railway line and the sea, but it has gone now,” the e-mailer lamented!

So how did the Christian Endeavour movement start in Ireland?

According to information sent to Roamer, a Young Peoples’ Society of Christian Endeavour was set up in the U.S.A in 1881 by Canadian-born Rev Francis Edward Clark and his wife Harriet.

Rev Clark was Pastor of the Willistion Congregational Church, Portland, Maine.

Eight years later, though at the time she hadn’t heard of Clark’s organisation, Belfast factory-worker Margaret Magill ran a Sunday-school class in Belfast’s Agnes Street Presbyterian Church for older boys and girls.

The class became very popular, so Margaret extended it to meet during the week, with a president, secretary, treasurer and an organising committee.

She happened upon an article in a magazine about Rev Clark’s Christian Endeavour movement in America and was surprised to find that his organisation was run on similar lines to her own weekly meetings in Belfast.

Margaret adopted the American name and on 30 September 1889 the Agnes Street Young Peoples’ Society of Christian Endeavour was registered and the first C.E. opened for business in Ireland!

The organisation evidently generated many joyful memories, such as the “green Irish linen dresses which the girls wore” when Margaret Boyd Potts sang with the World Convention Choir here in 1966.

“It was a wonderful time, making new friends and enjoying music. It would be wonderful if any of the original choir members could get together and share some memories.”