First Holywood Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

The site of the first church building was in Shore Street at a place now covered by the sea at high tide. A new church was built also in Shore Street in the eighteenth century, and this was rebuilt in 1790 on the same location. The present building is a substantial classical fronted church designed by Sir Charles Lanyon who also designed, for example, the Sullivan School and much of The Queen's University, Belfast, and . It opened for worship in 1849. It is listed as a building of historical interest.

Contact Name:

Rev Colin Campbell

Phone Number:

02893 373119

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Holywood Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church (sometimes wrongly called "Unitarian") traces its origins to a congregation established in 1615 under the leadership of Revd Robert Cunningham. This church was the second Presbyterian congregation established in Ulster. Though ordained by a Bishop, as the law demanded, Cunningham was eventually forced into exile in Scotland for his Presbyterian views. The Holywood Church became a member of the first organized Presbytery in Ireland established in Carrickfergus in 1642.

The question of subscription arose in the Synod of Ulster in the early 18th century, with the result that the majority of the congregation and their minister were placed in the Presbytery of Antrim. This included a total of 17 ministers and congregations who refused to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith. A minority from the Holywood congregation - those who supported the Westminster Confession - formed themselves into a separate congregation, Second Presbyterian which was the origin of the Bangor Road Presbyterian Church. For many years, the two congregations were referred to as "New Light" and "Old Light".

During the ministry of Revd JA Johnston, installed in 1820, the old argument over subscription was revived by Dr Henry Cooke. The result was that the Non-Subscribing congregations were excluded from the Synod of Ulster in 1824. The Holywood congregation therefore joined the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster (Non-Subscribers) which first met in 1830, and which later united with the Presbytery of Antrim. The Holywood congregation is now part of the Non-Subscribing Church of Ireland.

Revd CJ McAlester was ordained in 1834 and remained minister for 54 years. He was responsible for the formation of a well-attended Sunday School, and he also ran a school in the schoolroom below the church building. Notable pupils included James Craig (later Lord Craigavon) and Rosamund Praeger. McAlester was known to have cultivated close personal friendships with all the clergy in the town. He was also a friend of Dr Robert Sullivan, becoming a founder member of the Sullivan Schools and secretary of Sullivan Upper School.

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