Ebrington: A Short History
Londonderry is an historic City. Its roots are in the 8th Century and from its Christian base the Gospel was taken by monks to Iona, Scotland and then to Lindisfarne in England. The famous siege of Derry in the 17th Century shaped the course of British Constitutional History until today. By the 1830’s the City had grown to a population of 12,000 and over the next decades it grew to 24,000. Today Londonderry is a thriving City with a population of about 100,000.
In the mid 19th Century Londonderry had expanded massively. Its large shirt industry was growing to be a main supplier to the world. Exports of pork and other food products from its well positioned harbour brought prosperity to the City. The increase in the business life of the City attracted many people from the County and from Tyrone and Donegal. In addition the local shipyard brought many skilled workers from Scotland and from Belfast.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland seized the opportunity to build new Congregations in the expanding City. The Waterside (East Bank of the City) was growing and two Congregations were planted there.
The second one was Ebrington and in 1894 the Rev. Leslie Rankin, began his work as the Congregation’s first Minister. He was ordained in 1896. Under his dynamic leadership the Congregation grew until it had the largest Communion Roll in the whole denomination. The Rev. Rankin was a legend in his own time – he was called “follow the flit” because anytime he saw a removal van he followed up to sign the family up as members of the Congregation. He was an evangelical of the best type. He preached Christ, prayed for the people and was a dedicated pastoral minister. He retired from active ministry in 1944 and died in 1949
The Congregation then called Mr. William Magee Craig who was then ordained by the Presbytery of Derry in 1945. The Rev. W. M. Craig had a short but very significant ministry in the Congregation. He was a courageous and warm Preacher of the Word of God. In those days the Sunday Congregations were massive and the music was ably led by Miss Florence Rankin who was a very accomplished organist. The Rev. Craig resigned the charge in 1948 having received a call from 1st Portadown. The Rev. Dr. W. M. Craig was called to be Moderator of the General Assembly in 1979.
The Rev. James Shepherd Woods was the next Minister. He had been Minister of Ballyalbany in the Monaghan Presbytery. He was installed in Ebrington in 1948. The Rev Woods was a fine Preacher of Christ and a warm pastor of the people. On September 3rd 1939 he and Mr. Ernest Smith (from Londonderry) as students for the Ministry were sailing to America to Princeton University, when their ship the ‘SS Athena’ was torpedoed by a German U Boat off Malin Head. The experience was traumatic for both men. Mr Smith eventually was Licensed by the Derry Presbytery and worked in Ebrington as Assistant Minister for many years but he was never called to his own Congregation. The Rev. Woods recovered from the events of that fateful night and ministered in Ebrington until he received a Call from Whiteabbey in 1960.
The Rev. J.S. Woods was an accomplished public speaker. He taught elocution to generations of Ministerial Students at Magee University College, Londonderry.
The next Minister of the Congregation was the Rev. Robert Dickinson who had been Minister of Argyle Place, Belfast. He was installed as Minister of Ebrington in 1960. The Rev. Dickinson was a dynamic Preacher of the Word of God and an able organiser. Under his leadership the Rankin Hall was erected to supplement the suite of church buildings. Robert Dickinson had a great capacity for friendship. His three sons eventually entered the Ministry – the Revs John, Stephen and Peter Dickinson. In addition his daughter Sharon married Minister – the Rev James Todd.
The Province of N. Ireland became embroiled in civil unrest in 1968. ‘The Troubles’ were to last for almost 35 years. Politics and violence dominated the society. True Ministers of Christ could not avoid being prophetic in such a situation. The Rev. Dickinson had a high profile in the City seeking to minister to is needs. Londonderry was the City in which the Troubles began and history will judge probably that it was the City in which the seeds of their ending were sown and cultivated.
Mr Dickinson had a great interest in students for the Ministry and often addressed the students at Magee College. His concern for the wider Church led him and others to begin “The Campaign for Complete Withdrawal from the World Council of Churches”.
The Rev Dickinson was called to be Moderator of the General Assembly in 1985, having resigned from Ebrington upon receiving a Call from Tobermore and Draperstown in 1973.
The next Minister of Ebrington was the Rev William Palmer Addley. He had been Chaplain to the University of Ulster at Coleraine and Mister at Hazelbank. He was installed in 1974. He brought to the Congregation a great passion for both evangelism and world mission and steadily built the Congregation through difficult Years of civil disorder and terrorism. The Rev. Addley completed a D. Min degree at Fuller Theological Seminary USA.
During his years of Ministry in Ebrington he was a founder Patron of the Waterside Churches Trust.
Eventually and in response to the call of God he was inducted as Missionary to Brazil in 1987. While in Brazil he fostered relationships with the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil and prepared the way for PCI’s involvement in the country. Upon his return and after a short Ministry in Conlig Congregation, Dr Addley was called to be the Professor of Practical Theology at the Union Theological College, Belfast.
The sixth Minister of the Congregation was the Rev. Joseph Fell. He had been Minister of Ballyloughan Congregation, a former Church Extension Charge that he had started in Ballymena. He was installed in 1988. His ministry has a City wide emphasis. He participated in talks to facilitate the Orange Parades in the City and in setting a pattern for the rest of the Province.
He is involved in Drug Education through HopeUK and he is the Chairman of ‘Keswick at Portstewart’ – the ‘North of Ireland Keswick Convention’. In addition he serves as a Director of Day One Ministries; he was appointed as Presbytery Clerk in 1997 and served as Moderator of the Synod of Derry and Omagh in 2002. He completed a Ph.D. at Trinity Theological Seminary USA in 1993.
The Rev. Joseph Fell maintained the good tradition of Expository Ministry in Ebrington. His wife, Sheila was Central President of the Presbyterian Women’s Association in 2005 / 06 and his daughter, Jennifer served as a Volunteer in Mission in Nepal for a short time.
Ebrington continues to minister to its Parish area. Its House Groups provide Mid Week fellowship for its members. The Congregation seeks to minister to the needs of the area as viewers of this website can see.
NOTE: A former Session Clerk, Mr Jack Tosh wrote a History of the Congregation in 1995 “One Hundred Year of Worship”.