1996 - 400 Years of Worship

1996 was a major milestone for the parishioners of Antrim Parish in the Diocese of Connor, as they celebrated four hundred years of worship in All Saints’ Church.

Twenty four vicars and fifty two curates-assistant have cared for the spiritual well-being of the parishioners of Antrim since the church was opened in 1596; the longest serving vicar was the Very Rev. Maurice Henry Fitzgerald Collis Vicar of Antrim 1881-1945 and Dean of Connor. In 1798, during the Battle of Antrim, the church and its Vicar, George Macartney played important roles which were decisive in the overall outcome of the battle and the defeat of the United Irishmen. Two of the most noted people connected to the parish include Alexander Irvine, social reformer and novelist. Irvine was born in 1863 and after he emigrated to New York in 1888, he studied theology at Yale. His most noted work is the My Lady of the Chimney Corner. Irvine’s ashes are interred in the graveyard. George Victor Du Noyer, artist and antiquary is also buried in the graveyard. The Natural History Museum in Dublin contains a collection of his paintings of marine animals and plants. He had the rare distinction of having a fossil named in his honour. Du Noyer died while he was working in Antrim in1869.

The Antrim of 1996 is vastly different to that of 1596. Today the parish, which cares for approximately 600 families, is situated in a growing satellite town with several thriving high-tech industries. Due to Antrim’s geographic location, it is a centre for transportation and distribution companies and recently welcomed the opening of a new 400 bed acute hospital serving the surrounding towns and villages, as well as areas of Belfast. The parish also has within its boundaries two primary schools, two high schools and a grammar school. In the past twenty five years, it has nurtured a daughter parish in one of the many new housing areas in Antrim and which now enjoys its own parochial status.

The preparations for 1996 began during the incumbency of the Rev. Canon Leslie Forsythe (Vicar 1980-95) and under his leadership the members of the Select Vestry ensured that the church building and halls would be handed on to the next generations in as good a condition as possible. The church was rewired and painted, the lighting scheme was upgraded and flood lights were added and a new vestry was built. The church halls were redecorated and a new kitchen complex was installed. Over a short period of time around £200,000 was raised to meet the expenditure needed to finance these renovations and improvements.

The theme chosen for the year was ‘Celebrating 400 years of Worship’ and the celebrations began with a Parish Eucharist in January 1996 when the celebrant was Bishop of the diocese, the Rt. Rev. James Moore. The week of renewal services which have been held in the various churches in Antrim since the 1920s were hosted in All Saints’ and the four main denominations were represented by the Rev. Fr. Paul Symonds (RC), the Rev. Ken Clarke (C. of I.) the Very Dr. David Lapsley (Presbyterian) and the Rev Sydney Callaghan (Methodist) each of whom preached during the week.

Throughout the year a special event was planned for each month and three notable concerts were held in the church. Antrim Choral Society, ‘Renaissance’ and ‘Counterpoint’ provided parishioners and friends with varied and memorable musical evenings. Two parishioners, Peter Gates and Mervyn Kidd, who had spent several years researching the history of the parish, produced a book documenting the lives and events which had helped to shape Antrim Parish from 1596-1996. A noted local artist, Roy Gaston was commissioned to paint a picture of the church and a limited edition of one hundred prints were sold to parishioners. Other items of memorabilia included pens, tea towels, mugs and a series of coloured postcards of some of the church’s fine stained glass.

In May, a flower festival, which illustrated the contribution the church building and its worshippers had made to the life of Antrim, was one of the major highlights of the year. Several displays interpreted the Ministry of Word and Sacrament which has hallowed the walls of the building and the lives of the worshippers; other displays illustrated the contributions made by the various church and youth organisations. The Very Rev. Dr. Maurice Stewart, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin and the Rev. Canon Leslie Forsythe (Vicar 1980-95) preached at the festival services.

To mark the 400th anniversary of All Saints’ Church, a three day festival was held from 1 - 3 November. On All Saints’ Day, the Most Rev. Dr. Robin Eames was the special preacher and two former vicars, Canon Jack Hawkins (1950 - 68) and Canon Leslie Forsythe (1980 - 95) took part in the service conducted by the vicar, the Rev Dr. Stephen McBride and Curate-Assistant, the Rev. John McDowell. The vicar had an all-day ‘Sit In’ on Saturday 2 Nov. to raise funds for the various renovation projects. The Bishop of Connor dedicated several gifts on Sunday 3 November and confirmed thirteen young adults. A Choral Evensong led by the choir of St. Peter’s Parish, Belfast, at which the preacher was the Rev Charles McCollum (Rector of St. Peter’s), brought the celebrations to a memorable close.

The members of the Sunday School decided that they would mark the 1996 celebrations by constructing a Time Box which will be opened in 2045 when the 450th anniversary of the church will be held. All the classes studied the scenes in the east window of All Saints’ Church which depicts the events surrounding Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and under the leadership of the Superintendent, Alan Stevenson, a scrap book was produced which included a contribution from every child in the Sunday School. It also contained a photographic record of all the children and teachers. In fifty years time, it will be interesting to see how they have all changed! The Time Box was sealed at the family service in December 1996 when the members of the Sunday School deposited copies of the Hymn and Prayer books in use in 1996, photographs of Select Vestry, Choir and youth organisations, 1996 memorabilia, Parish History, a present to the Sunday School of 2045 and a letter to the Vicar of the Parish in 2045.

The celebrations of 400 years of worship gave parishioners a chance not only to indulge in a little nostalgia, but also focused their minds on the next century of worship in All Saints and the possibilities which lie ahead in the new millennium. Bishop James Moore in his foreword to the parish history captured the spirit of what was celebrated in 1996 and why. ‘This Parish Church, in the heart of Antrim Town, though old, is not a museum. It is a house of God alive with the prayers and worship of the people who down the years have served their church. …. It is the history of the Living Church serving its Living Lord, which grows not old, but grows ever young as he leads it forward into the future.’