By Joe Boyd
HAPPY memories were shared during a special event to mark the retirement of Rev. Maurice Barr as Minister of Ballyweany Presbyterian Church last Friday night.
Coincidently, Maurice's retirement occurred just after the 21st anniversary of his installation as Minister of the Ballymoney congregation in September 1986.
Having been born and raised in Ballymena, it's true to say that Maurice grew up not far from his long-time congregation.
His early years were spent in the Dunfane area before he moved with his family to Doury Road.
The retiring Minister recounts a childhood which was followed by a period of secular employment, firstly with the Post Office and then the Northern Ireland Electricity Board, where he was based in the Survey Department.
It was during this time that he set about gaining the necessary qualifications to enter University with a view to the Presbyterian ministry.
In spiritual terms, Maurice pays tribute to his parents and also his home congregation at High Kirk. He benefited from the ministry of Rev. L.S.D McCaughey in his teenage years and gave his life to the Lord at the age of 16.
Humanly speaking, Maurice credits friends such as James and Arthur Clarke, (who also became Ministers) for setting him on the path to the pulpit.
Academically, this began with a General Studies degree which was undertaken at Magee College and Trinity College, Dublin.
Reflecting on his spell in Belfast during the late 1970s, Maurice said: "At that time, St. Enoch's was situated at Carlisle Circus, a large church building with a great history but it was demolished some years ago and don't exist any more."
"I remember that 'the troubles' were at their height at that time; Belfast was a very unsettled city, a very dangerous place in which to be. 'the troubles' influenced everything", he added.
A spell on borders followed when Maurice took charge of three small congregations; two in Co Monaghan and in South Armagh.
Overall, his memories of pasturing people there are good. He says: "Again, 'the troubles' were quite bad but they wouldn't have affected me as much as they did in Belfast. The area wasn't as dangerous or troublesome as the media would have led people to believe. Local people went about their daily lives as normal and an occasional incident brought the area to public view but generally life was fairly quiet and peaceful."
Maurice and his family spent over 7 years in South Armagh before answering the call to Ballyweany.
There, God has blessed his ministry in countless practical and spiritual ways.
He states: "We have seen massive strides forward with regard to property improvement, which has included a building extension and major refurbishment. This was completed in 2004 and we have also seen other improvements to the property."
"We have also seen the introduction of more modern styles of worship, for example, power-point and modern music. I have gone with these ideas because I think that the Church has to be contemporary. We have done our best to be as contemporary as is reasonable without offending a generation which is more comfortable with the traditional ways”, adds Maurice.
Rev. Barr continues: “Hopefully the spiritual life of the congregation has deepened; people have been instructed and there has been a gentle movement in their hearts. They have become more sympathetic, supportive and involved in the work and witness of the church and contributions to missionary work has increased. We are seeing this without anything very dramatic or sudden happening, it has been gradual process but that’s what it’s all about”, he continues.
During Mr. Barr’s ministry, Ballyweaney has produced two Presbyterian Ministers and one PCI Missionary.
Brothers, Gary and Chris Aitcheson are minister in Kilcooley, Bangor and Casterock respectively while a younger brother, Darren, along with his wife, Nichola, is engaged in Missionary work in Romania.
Since moving to Ballyweaney Maurice has made every effort to encourage community relations and sees this as an important aspect of his work as a Minister.
Throughout his entire ministry, Maurice has benefited from the constant love and support of his wife, Marie. She has fulfilled many duties including that of organist in both ‘charges.’
They will certainly miss everyone but are looking forward to a long and happy retirement in their new home in Coleraine.
Smiles Maurice: “I’m afraid I don’t have any definite plans as yet. Our bungalow has a very big garden which I intend to use but it will take a lot of time and energy to get it into shape. I think I will content myself with that in the meantime.”