A SHORT HISTORY
In 1893 Mr. James Meharg and Mr. James Clark came to Ballywillwill from Downpatrick and Ballynahinch where they had been preaching. They arrived on bicycles and had come to look for a site for their tent and a suitable place to stay. They went first to the home of Mr. John McNeill, Senior, who had been saved during the 1859 revival many years previously. He and his son, John Henry McNeill, father of Wesley McNeill who still attends Ballywillwill Gospel Hall, obtained a site for the tent, and the preachers stayed in his home for a considerable time while preaching every night in the tent. After some time Mr. Robinson of Ballywillwill Estate invited the two evangelists to stay with him. They preached every night for almost a year and rejoiced in the interest shown in the gospel by friends and neighbours.
This marked the commencement of the assembly at Ballywillwill – the whole area being greatly moved by God at this time – and the two preachers, being reluctant to leave the new converts on their own, continued preaching in the locality. Baptisms took place in the river and at the lower farmyard of Ballywillwill Estate. The late Mr. John McNeill, Wesley’s brother, recalled being baptized in the river along with Hubert Dodds, after which they dressed and went immediately to the Breaking of Bread.
There was a Sunday School from the commencement. It was held before the morning meeting and the weekly attendance was between forty and fifty children. There were just two teachers – Mr. John Girvan and Miss Minnie Heenan. Many of those children remember being taught the word of God in Ballywillwill Sunday School. Bibles, texts and hymnbooks have been awarded annually to the children. Mr. Thomas Lough, grandfather of the Walker sisters in Newcastle, also preached with Mr. Meharg in the early days.
The hall was at the present site from 1895. It was well built. The architect was a Mr. Shannon from Belfast and Mr. A. Johnston was the builder. The outside was constructed of zinc sheets but the inside was tongued and grooved boards, beautifully painted and providing very comfortable accommodation. The coal stove was in the centre and paraffin oil lights hung from the walls.
Although many were saved and added to the assembly over the years there was a surprising movement of people. Someone remembers that John McBride from Kilmegan ‘sold the farm and went to Belfast’. Mary Jane Kelly, nee Truesdale, went with her husband to Canada in 1923. Others went to America, New Zealand, Australia or Africa. One Sunday School teacher went to Malawi.
In the early 1900’s many visiting preachers had gospel meetings. Willie McCracken had a tremendous interest and brought preachers constantly. We had W. J. McClure, Frank Hunter, Robert Hamilton and many others. At Robert Love’s meetings in 1928, Mr. Hugh Hagan, Senior, was saved. His future wife had been saved two years earlier when Sam Hamilton was preaching. Mr. Sam Wright came from Omagh and Hawthorne Bailie is fondly remembered. Mr. John Knox McEwan and his son Charlie McEwan stir the memory for their unusual manner. Mr. Fred Bingham is remembered as a very gracious and godly man. Four of the nine saved during his visit in 1936 were in the Hagan family – Hugh, John, Betty and Willie.
At the beginning of January 1949, T. W. Ball came to Ballywillwill for a series of gospel meetings which lasted about fourteen weeks. A large number professed faith in Christ and quite a few were added to the assembly at that time. Some of the other preachers who helped were Mr. T. Campbell, Mr. W. Gilmore, Mr. Robert Hawthorne, Mr. William Bunting, Mr. John Hutchinson, Mr. W. Hagan and Mr. David Craig. Mr. R. Peacock and Mr. Thomas Graham preached at Annsborough in 1954. During the 1950’s, open air work was carried on in the local villages with the believers from the Drumaness and Ballynahinch assemblies. Mr. Reg Jordan and Mr. Sam Thompson had meetings in 1958. Mr. Tom McKelvey and Mr. Eddie Fairfield had gospel meetings in 1960, and Mr. Fred Whitmore and Mr. Jack Noble in 1968. Mr. Sam Thompson had fond memories of Ballywillwill and prayed for the gospel there every day. A good number were saved at those meetings. From the early 1970’s Mr. Hedley Murphy had several series of fruitful gospel meetings.
In 1974 the new hall was built and Mr. Jim Flanigan conducted the first series of gospel meetings. Other special meetings followed with Mr. John Spiers, Harry and Jack Andrews, Thomas Wallace, Roland Pickering and Peter Brandon.
Currently, we have thirty-eight in fellowship with an active Sunday School and Youth Fellowship. We still have the annual outing for the children in the month of June and the Lord has been pleased to protect our movements on these enjoyable occasions. The sisters in the assembly meet regularly for a Missionary Work Class and have also arranged monthly gospel meetings for the ladies in the area. These meetings are well attended and appreciated. Brother Archie Carew encouraged the believers to reach out with the gospel during his visit in 1990. Regular meetings in old people’s homes commenced, and still continue today.
Each summer since 1983 the young people have been taken to camp in Scotland and this has proved to be a time of blessing, encouragement and challenge for them. The assembly is involved with the Northfield Tent during the month of July and some of the young people help the GLO teams that come for open air and tract work.
In the goodness of God we look forward to serving Him as a lamp-stand of gospel testimony in the local community and we pray that He might keep us faithful to this vision. Like the New Testament Christians we wait and watch for the Lord’s return to the air for His saints.
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