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Presbyterian Church in Ireland

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Title: Presbyterian Church in Ireland  
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Subject: Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, Presbyterianism, Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Ireland), Northern Ireland, World Alliance of Reformed Churches
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Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Modern logo of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Classification Protestant
Orientation Calvinist
Polity Presbyterian
Leader Rev Michael Barry, Moderator
Associations World Communion of Reformed Churches
Region Ireland
Founder James I
Origin 1610
Branched from Church of Scotland

Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster (separated 1951)

Evangelical Presbyterian Church (separated 1927)
Congregations 550
Members c. 300,000
Official website

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) (Republic of Ireland.


The Church has a membership of approximately 300,000 people in 540 congregations in 403 charges across both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. About 96% of the membership is in Northern Ireland. It is the second largest church in Northern Ireland, the first being the Roman Catholic Church.[3] In the Republic of Ireland the church is the second largest Protestant denomination, after the Church of Ireland. All the congregations of the church are represented up to the General Assembly (the church's government).


Presbyterianism in Ireland dates from the time of the Plantation of Ulster in 1610. During the reign of James I of England (James VI of Scotland) a large number of Scottish Presbyterians emigrated to Ireland. The first move away from the Church of Scotland, of which the Presbyterians in Ireland were part, saw the creation of the Presbytery of Ulster in 1642 by chaplains of a Scottish army which had arrived to crush the rising of 1641 but they failed to do so. Under Cromwell congregations multiplied and new presbyteries were formed. After the Restoration, nonconforming ministers were removed from parishes of the Established Church, but the Irish administration could not afford to alienate such a substantial Protestant population and Presbyterianism was allowed to continue in the country, with the stipends of ministers paid through the regium donum – literally 'the King's gift'.

Ulster, enjoyed practical freedom of religion, confirmed by the Toleration Act of 1719. However, their members remained very conscious both of continuing legal disabilities under the penal laws and of economic hardship as many were tenant farmers and objected to the payment of tithes to support the Church of Ireland. Throughout the eighteenth century, many Presbyterians were involved in movements for reform, which culminated with their prominent involvement in the United Irishmen.[4]

The eighteenth century saw significant tensions within the Synod of Ulster, which was divided between the Old Lights and the New Lights. The Old Lights were conservative Calvinists who believed that ministers and ordinands should subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The New Lights were more liberal and were unhappy with the Westminster Confession and did not require ministers to subscribe to it. The New lights dominated the Synod of Ulster during the eighteenth century, allowing the more conservative Scottish Presbyterian dissenters, Seceders and Covenanters to establish a strong presence in Ulster.[5]

In the nineteenth century, a belief that some of those who did not subscribe to the Westminster Confession were in fact Arian provoked a new phase of the conflict.[6] This ended when seventeen ministers opposed to subscription seceded with their congregations to form the Remonstrant Synod. This led to the restoration of obligatory subscription to the Westminster Confession within the Synod of Ulster and facilitated union with the Seceders in 1840 to create the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The united church was active in missionary activity both at home and abroad, particularly benefitting from the evangelical Ulster Revival of 1859.[7]

Evolution of Presbyterian churches connected to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

The Church today

Magheramorne Presbyterian Church
Carndonagh Presbyterian Church

The headquarters of the church are at Assembly Buildings, Fisherwick Place, Belfast, which were extensively renovated as part of a multi-million pound project in 2010–2012. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, a founding member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, has 540 congregations in 19 presbyteries across Ireland. The church's two nineteenth century theological colleges, Magee College (Derry) and Assembly's College (Belfast), merged in 1978 to form Union Theological College in Belfast.[8] Union offers post-graduate education to the denomination's candidates for the full-time ministry.

Until 2007 the church was connected to a credit union, Presbyterian Mutual, that collapsed with the savings of almost 10,000 members, almost all of whom were also members of the church.[9]

The PCI is involved in education, evangelism, social service and mission in a number of areas around the world;

Church and worship

Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church, Bangor

Apart from the seats for worshippers, the inside of a Presbyterian church is dominated by four items of furniture.

  • The Pulpit is the place from which sermons are preached. It generally occupies the central place in the church, reflecting the central place of the proclamation of the Word of God in the worship of the Church. .
  • The Bible Stand holds the bible in a prominent place in the church. The bible is the source of all authority in the life of the church.
  • The Communion Table, often placed directly in front of the pulpit. The associated chairs are occupied by the minister and elders during the service of Holy Communion.
  • The Baptismal Font is used during baptisms, which is regarded as a sign of the covenant between God and the Church, welcoming the child into the community of the Church. Children are regarded as sharing the promise of salvation with adults in the church and have as much right to be baptised as adults. ('Infant Baptism' does not guarantee admission to Full Membership. Full Membership is only accepted on Profession of a personal Faith.)


The Word of God is central in the Presbyterian Church, along with Prayer and Praise. The worship is a mix of prayers, hymns, psalms, paraphrases, Scripture readings and sermons. In recent years, psalms and paraphrases have been used less but are still an important part of worship. The order of service varies from church to church but it generally involves a hymn, followed by a prayer, followed by a children's address and a children's hymn. This is then followed by an expository sermon by the minister and another hymn, then another prayer and a closing hymn. Many Presbyterian churches mix Psalms and formal hymns with choruses, suitable for children, and many churches now have praise bands with a variety of instruments, as well as the traditional organ.

Logo and motto

Burning Bush and motto

The motto of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is "Ardens sed Virens" – "burning but flourishing". It is usually seen alongside the Burning Bush, the church's symbol. A burning bush was included in the more modern logo (top).

Main article : Burning Bush

According to the Bible, in Exodus 3:2, Moses heard the voice of God coming from a burning bush that was not consumed by fire. This occurred after he had to flee Egypt, and was when he was called to go and demand the release of the Israelites.

Bodies to which the PCI is affiliated

See also

Other Presbyterian denominations in Ireland and/or Northern Ireland


  1. ^ "". 
  2. ^ "Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency". 
  3. ^ Confusion can arise from the fact that overall, the majority of the people of Northern Ireland are members of the various Protestant churches such as the Presbyterian Church, Church of Ireland, Methodist Church and several others. Therefore the Roman Catholic Church is smaller than the combined Protestant denominations in Northern Ireland.
  4. ^ S. J. Connolly ed., The Oxford Companion to Irish History (OUP, 1998), see also R. F. G. Holmes Our Irish Presbyterian Heritage (Belfast, 1985) and P. Brooke, Ulster Presbyterianism: the historical perspective (Dublin, 1987)
  5. ^ Ian McBride,Scripture Politics: Ulster Presbyterians and Irish Radicalism in the Late Eighteenth Century, (Oxford, 1998)
  6. ^ I. R. McBride, '"When Ulster Joined Ireland": Anti-Popery, Presbyterian Radicalism and Irish Republicanism in the 1790s', Past and Present 157(1997), pp.70–1
  7. ^ D. W. Miller, 'Did Ulster Presbyterians have a devotional revolution?' in J. H Murphy (ed.), Evangelicals and Catholics in Nineteenth Century Ireland (Dublin, 2005) pp52-4.
  8. ^ Presbyterian Church in Ireland Press Release, 2003 Presbyterian College Celebrates 150 Years. Retrieved on 8 March 2008.
  9. ^ Church's PMS report submitted to working group, 7 October, Belfast Newsletter

Further reading

  • Finlay Holmes The Presbyterian Church in Ireland: A Popular History. (Blackrock, Co. Dublin: The Columba Press, 2000) ISBN 1-85607-284-3
  • Laurence Kirkpatrick Presbyterians in Ireland: An Illustrated History. (Holywood, Co. Down: Booklink, 2006) ISBN 0-9554097-1-3
  • Ian McBride,Scripture Politics: Ulster Presbyterians and Irish Radicalism in the Late Eighteenth Century, (Oxford: Calrendon Press, 1998) ISBN 0-19-820642-9

External links

  • Presbyterian Church in Ireland
  • The Presbyterian Herald Online – Church Newspaper
  • – Website of the PCI Board of Youth & Children's Ministry
  • [1] – Mission in Ireland department online
  • Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland
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