By Rev. William Newman Hall (from Irish Congregational Magazine March 1895.)
In 1780, when Evangelical Christianity was at a low ebb in the west of Ireland, a God-fearing Scotsman, Mr. A. Maiken, a linen merchant, came to Sligo and commenced a service on Sunday with a few like-minded men. Eleven years later they built a church, receiving help in the undertaking from the Countess of Huntingdon. Some time before this, a young man, who had slipped carelessly into one of the prayer meetings, was led to surrender himself to the saviour and for nearly half a century Albert Blest was the most earnest and energetic member of the little church. In 1801 the Rev. Claudius Morrison, one of the Haldane’s students, became the first pastor and laboured for ten years with great faithfulness and affection. He was succeeded by the Rev. William Urwick, afterwards a D.D. and famous as the pastor of York Street, Dublin, for nearly forty years.
Mr. Urwick came first as a student and gives in his diary a vivid description of the tedious and somewhat perilous journey from London to Sligo in those days. A ferry-boat conveyed passengers across the Menai Strait and from Holyhead a sailing sloop, with but scant accommodation, made the passage to Dublin in between seven hours or seven days, as the wind might allow. It was a two days’ journey across a bleak and boggy country from Dublin to Sligo, which was a kind of ultima thule to Englishmen. Mr. Urwick found, however, that, then, as now, warm and loving hearts were ready with a true Irish welcome. For nine years he worked assiduously, both among his own flock and in the surrounding districts. Many of the poorer, as well as some of the richer, members of other churches rejoiced to give him the use of their parlours or drawing rooms for occasional devotional meetings and all creeds and classes admired his zeal in every good work. During the famine of 1823 he acted as Honorary Secretary of the Relief Committee and rendered excellent service as he did also to many other good causes. On his removal to Dublin, the Rev. E. H. Nolan undertook the pastorate, being succeeded after four years by the Rev. Noble Shepperd, who is still remembered by many with profound affection. During his ministry, which lasted from 1835 to 1875, the congregation removed from their obscure building on Harmony Hill to the present beautiful Gothic Church, which together with the adjoining manse, was erected mainly owing to his exertions.
Mr. Sheppard seems to have been one of those rare spirits touched to the finest issues by the grace of Christ and his very name to have been indicative of his life-work. Many of the best workers in the church today own him, under God, as their spiritual father. On his death, a short vacancy occurred, which was ultimately filled by the Rev. James Stirling, under whose able guidance the church continued to prosper. In 1885 he was succeeded by the Rev. H.E. Bennett, B.A., who maintained the traditions of his predecessors in the faith of the Gospel. During all these years the church never had to seek outside aid but was a generous contributor both to foreign and home missions. In 1891, however, owing to several members removing to distant places and others being called to the homeland, a small grant was obtained temporarily from the Irish Evangelical Society.
Mr. Bennett returned to England after seven years’ service and in July 1892 a unanimous call was given to and accepted by the Rev. William Newman Hall, formerly of Mount Pleasant Church, Hastings, and a student of Cheshunt College.
The ‘Annual Statement’ for 1895 says “During the past year it is a great cause for thankfulness that our services, prayer meetings, bible classes, band of hope, choir practices and the monthly services at Ballincar and Faughts have been well sustained. The number of members at present on the roll is 39; let each try and influence another for Christ, then we shall be blessings as well as blessed.” The same ‘Statement’ gives the following definition of our church polity: “As a Congregational Church it knows no ecclesiastical authority outside itself but regards the Lord Jesus Christ as its immediate Head and ever-present Lord. It elects its own officers, determines its own mode of worship, regards the word of God as its only statute book and welcomes as members all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”
It is interesting to note that the Congregational Union has met in Sligo three times, viz., in 1870, 1878 and 1887.