Synods in Cullybackey, 1811-2011

The Reformed Presbyterian Synod has convened on five occasions in Cullybackey: 1811, 1837, 1911, 1961, 1989 and 2011.

In November 1810 the Reformed Presbytery meeting at Maghera decided to restructure itself into four regional presbyteries under the authority of a synod. The first Synod was held in Cullybackey on 1 May 1811. It had been agreed beforehand that Rev. William Stavely, minister of the then united congregations of Cullybackey and Kellswater, and the longest-serving Covenanter minister, would act as moderator. In his sermon to Synod, Mr Stavely chose as his text Hebrews 3 v. 6:

 “But Christ as a son over His own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”


The court having been constituted, Rev. William Gamble of Ballygey and Letterkenny was appointed moderator for the remainder of the proceedings. The first clerk of Synod was Mr Stavely’s son, Rev. William John Stavely of Kilraughts and Dervock. A more detailed historical account of the 1811 synod is available here.

The Cullybackey meeting house in 1858 looking much as it would have at the first Synod in 1811


 List of ministers and elders at the constitution of the first Synod in Cullybackey on 1 May 1811


Northern Presbytery


Ministers Elders Congregations
William Stavely Robert Sloan Cullybackey and Kellswater
Joseph Orr James Armstrong Knockcloughrim and Ballylaggan
Wm John Stavely Abraham Young Dervock and Kilraughts

Ballyrashane and Dunboe


Western Presbytery


Ministers Elders Congregations
William Gamble Robert Stevenson Ballygey and Letterkenny
John Alexander Andrew Stevenson Faughan
Matthew Smith


Bready, Limavady


Southern Presbytery


Ministers Elders Congregations
Hans Boggs William Harrison Rathfriland and Ballylane
Thomas Cathcart

Creevagh and Muckney
John Stewart (without charge)

Grange, Gillhall, Drummillar


Eastern Presbytery


Ministers Elders Congregations
Hutchison McFadden Edward O’Neill Newtownards
John Paul Robert Owens Loughmourne and Carnmoney
Josias Alexander Samuel Carlisle Knockbracken and Belfast

Bailiesmills and Magheragall


In 1837, Synod met for a second time in Cullybackey during what was a very difficult time for the denomination as a whole. A controversy over the authority of the civil magistrate had resulted in considerable debate and eventually led to the Eastern Presbytery rejecting the authority of Synod and forming its own denomination. Some years previously, Cullybackey had been placed in the Eastern Presbytery and so it too withdrew from the Synod. The separation lasted for over 60 years until, in 1905, Cullybackey was accepted back into the Reformed Presbyterian Church.


Synods in Cullybackey, 1911-2011



To celebrate the centenary of the first Synod, the Cullybackey congregation invited Synod to gather in its meeting house in 1911. Synod was constituted by Rev. R. J. McIlmoyle of Dervock. The proceedings of Synod lasted six days and were well attended by Covenanters and those of other denominations.

Photo of 1911 Synod





In 1961 Synod was once again held in Cullybackey, 150 years after the inaugural meeting. Remarkably, Rev. R. J. McIlmoyle of Dervock, who had constituted the centenary Synod in 1911, was again in office to preach and constitute the Court.

Photo of 1961 Synod

Photograph taken at the 1961 Synod of men with Cullybackey connections who were serving the Reformed Presbyterian Church as ministers and elders


Standing: Mr James Hilton, Rev. S. M. Calderwood, , Dr J. Renwick Wright, Rev. A. R. Wright, Rev. Hugh Wright, Mr A. B. McCarroll, Mr J. A. L. Wright, Mr J. A. McCarroll

Seated: Mr John McKelvey, Mr Hugh Reid, Dr David Calderwood, Rev. J. R. Wright, Rev. James Campbell, Rev. J. W. Calderwood, Dr John McKelvey



In 1989 Cullybackey once again had the honour of hosting Synod. This Synod was held on the eve of the tercentenary of the existence of the Covenanting Church as a separate denomination. Among the items discussed was the renewal of the Covenants planned for 1990.


Photo of 1989 Synod



Photo of synod 2011