Page 5 - Moravian Messenger January 2019
P. 5

© Sr Sarah Groves
© Chris Nealy
Gracehill Village Tour Guides at the talk on the Friday night at the Braid
Cennick 300 Weekend
The Cennick Minibus tour at Ballinderry
Although the actual dates of the 'Cennick 300 Weekend' were from 2nd until 4th November, planning began well in advance. We are indebted to Elaine Hill, the Heritage Development Officer for Mid & East Antrim Museum and Heritage Service who helped with so much of the basic details, planning and publicity, and also to Mid & East Antrim Borough Council for helping to fund the weekend as part of the 2018 European Year of Culture.
I was involved in planning the Cennick Minibus tour and Sarah Groves and I spent hours pouring over old maps of the area: with help from the local history librarian in Ballymena. It goes without saying that because roads had changed so much over the past 300 years it was really no surprise when a plaintive message went out from Sarah: 'Anyone free on Monday to plan out the final coach route for the weekend?' You guessed - I volunteered!
We headed out at 10am and returned home at 5pm after what can only be described as an informative, fun-filled day. Just as Cennick must have done on his travels we met and were welcomed by so many people. To mention just a few: the two men at Gloonan who were able to show us Cennick's Well and remembered the original house on the site and then the man from Gracehill who bought us our lunch in Randalstown after we invited him to join us. We stopped for so many photos of people's houses and I sneaked down so many lanes that I'm surprised the police weren't called. Can you imagine the headlines in the local press 'Gracehill minister and colleague arrested for snooping!' It really doesn't bear thinking about. After a quick stop off at Ballinderry I was informed that we had very little time left. Two minutes away was the site of Portmore House where, encountering a man at the door of his bungalow, we asked if we could park the minibus near his house. Over an hour later, after afternoon coffee and biscuits with him and his wife, we finally headed for home - with a few more stops on the way!
The weekend itself was definitely a great
success. Friday night saw us in the Braid (Ballymena Town Hall) where, after refreshments, we had a really interesting talk by Gary Best for the launch of his book: 'John Cennick - The Forgotten Evangelist'. Gary Best is a well-known Methodist historian who has written a number of books including a few unusual detective stories. At present he is Warden of the New Room, the oldest Methodist building in the world, in Bristol. Gary is an excellent speaker, even if he does pronounce Cennick with a 'K' at the start and held his audience enthralled until the end when there was a rush to buy his book. Amongst those present it was good to see Cllr Ruth Wilson representing Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Lorraine Parsons, Archivist at Moravian Church House, Rev Dr Livingstone Thompson, representing the Provincial Board of the Moravian Church, Dr David Johnston OBE, local GP and chair of Ulster Architectural Heritage Society and Rev Dr Bob Cotter, who is doing PhD research on John Cennick's theology.
Saturday morning arrived cold and wet with the coach tour group meeting at Ballymena Town Hall. We had a short, interesting talk about where Cennick first preached and the reception that he received: not very friendly and so unlike the usual Ballymena welcome!
Here is a quick resumé of our trip: a visit to Crebilly where, in 1748, Cennick leased a house and a large barn for worship, then on to Gloonan about two miles from Gracehill, where he settled in 1749. Unfortunately nothing remains of Cennick's home there but the well bearing his name can still just be made out at the side of the road.
From here we made our way to O'Rawke's Fort, an ancient rath surrounded by countryside where you could imagine people sitting along the top ridge listening attentively to the words of the preacher. At least this time, knowing Sarah's past record of trespassing, entry had been legal!
Next stop was Lower Ballinderry Moravian Church where we had a short talk about
John Cennick in Ballinderry and Portmore. Although the rain had stopped it was lovely to be welcomed with hot drinks and biscuits here by the ladies of the church.
At this stage we abandoned our visit to Portmore House as access was not suitable for the minibus. All that remains of the stables where Cennick preached are a few briar covered bits of wall. Nothing is left of Portmore House except stories of opulence and hidden tunnels.
During the trip we also passed through Grange, Groggan and Glenavy. It took us a day in a comfortable coach to visit many of the places where Cennick preached. At one stage we met a man driving a horse and cart and we imagined the distances Cennick travelled on horseback, in a cart and especially on foot. It is a measure of the man that he never faltered.
Back in Gracehill we were treated to coffee and scones in the church and given a sneak preview of the amazing plan of God's Acre completed by Anderson Weir. This is a real work of love and is dedicated to his wife, Sr Sally, who died recently.
Saturday's events were not finished, however, and we were soon back in Ballymena Town Hall for an excellent talk, given by the Rev Dr Bob Cotter, on the role John Cennick played in the eighteenth- century evangelical revival.
end ended with Gracehill Church's Anniversary Service taken by Sarah and Gary Best and a lunch in the Church Hall.
In conclusion it must be said that a great time was had by all and we were brought a good bit closer to 'the Forgotten Evangelist' who was John Cennick.
Sr Jackie Neil
Jackie on the Cennick planning trip
© Sr Sarah Groves

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