Berry Street Presbyterian Church (1859)




"This place of worship has been virtually the centre of the present religious movement in Belfast. On Wednesday evening a meeting was held by a number of gentlemen who have been deeply impressed by the Spirit, through the present awakening. One of the brethren from Ballymena spoke, who has been largely blessed by being made the instrument of the awakening to many souls in his own town and neighbourhood. At the meeting a very decided manifestation, such as that observed in other parts of the county, was visible. One female, unable to restrain her feelings, screamed out and, shortly afterwards, several people, men and women, were similarly affected — about twenty.

"These people were all visited on the following day by many clergymen and others, all of whom speak of the decided change which has been wrought in their character and whole feelings. On Thursday evening another meeting was held in Berry Street Church, which was so largely attended that many hundreds were unable to get admittance; indeed, the doors had to be shut to prevent the enormous pressure from without the building. As on the previous evening, the meeting was conducted by a brother from Ballymena with one of those, we believe, affected by the previous evening, one or two clergymen and others.

"The manifestations at this meeting were somewhat the same as on Wednesday evening, except that the number of those awakened was much larger. At one time the cries from both males and females were so great that the person offering up prayer had to cease and give out a Psalm which, to some extent, soothed their feelings. Several of those awakened were taken home, while others were slowly awakened by their mental agony as to be unfit to be removed 'til a late hour of the night. We have heard of a number of females who had attended the Wednesday evening meeting, having become affected the next day, during their working hours.

"Yesterday evening the excitement and anxiety to be present during the religious worship were almost indescribable. Half past seven was the hour appointed for the opening of the church, but long before that time, the entire neighbourhood was so densely thronged that the streets became almost impassable. The building would not have untamed one-fifth of the number who sought admittance and, when completely filled, it was necessary, for purposes of safety alone, to close the doors. A strong body of the local police was stationed in the vicinity to prevent disorder and annoyance, hut very little occurred of this sort. Many of the persons who waited in the street had come there without going home after leaving work.

On the shutting of the doors the crowd divided into three sections, determined to hold meetings in other churches; these were — May Street, Eglinton Street, and in the Wesleyan Chapel, Donegal Place. Inc religious services in Berry Street were conducted by the Rev. Hugh Hanna, the Rev. James Wilson and several lay brethren. While they were proceeding, a large number were struck down prostrate, while a great many others were manifestly labouring under it strong conviction of sin. It is worthy of special remark that a majority of those who had been thus impressed since the commencement of these meetings had found hope and peace in Christ, and are now devoting themselves, with extraordinary zeal, to the exhortation of their friends and neighbours to flee to the Saviour.

Many of them depicting in language, remarkable for its appropriateness, the evil and dangers of sin, as well as the preciousness of Christ, and the attractions and glory of Heaven. On each evening the people have concluded and could scarcely be got to separate, even at a late hour. When the congregation had been dismissed, numbers of them still continued praying on the stairs and in the grounds. Not a few who attended the meetings were overtaken by conviction in their homes and at their employment on the following day. Some of the persons who became affected in the church were carried into the Sexton's house and into the adjacent grounds, where people affectionately prayed over them.

"After the conclusion of the meeting last night the Rev. Messrs. Hanna and Wilson proceeded to visit some of the cases at Ewarts Row and other localities. Rev. Hanna considers that a work, equal in importance to that of a sanctuary, remains to be done in the homes of the people — as an instance of which he mentions that, while he was praying for one, another was struck down. These events have originated a general feeling of seriousness among the mass of the Protestant people of Belfast and belief that we are on the eve of a great outpouring of the Spirit. We shall perhaps be able in our next paper to detail some of the more striking instances in connection with the awakenings in Rev. Hanna's church."

"The Banner of Ulster" Saturday, 4th June 1859

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