First Presbyterian Church Cookstown.
(Founded 1646)
Dr.Isaac Thompson was called to Cookstown in 1994. He has been Minister at First Cookstown in an era when innovation and change in all aspects of life have occurred at an unprecedented rate. He has led his congregation wisely, with dedication, enthusiasm and good humour throughout this time, guiding renovations to buildings,technological improvements within the Church, and promotion of happy Church fellowship. His contributions to Cookstown district in the wider context are also well known. He and Anne brought up a family of three boys who have now all flown the nest............perhaps a time for reflection. It’s very difficult to highlight my most memorable occasions in First! Difficult, because of the great danger of offending someone whose occasion I have omitted-but to whom it was and still is very important. So let me say right away that all of the 265 funerals in First in the last twenty years are special, and many families are still filled with pain and sorrow because a loved one has been taken from this earthly scene. Similarly, although in a different way, all 72 weddings and 148 Baptisms have been special! Congregations don’t really seem to have “characters” any longer. By that I mean people who are loved by everyone and whose foibles are overlooked or even admired. When we arrived in Cookstown , a wee dark man would be seen out in the garden attending the roses. Soon I learned that this was “wee Bob Anderson” and at first I thought he was a bit of a tramp! How wrong I was! I discovered that he was a prosperous farmer and a “character”! Bob would arrive at the back door of the Manse most Saturdays with fresh milk, eggs and potatoes for the Manse family! And he always had plenty of craic. Sadly Bob died, after a long illness, in 2000 at 87 years. Bob’s “deliveries” were taken over by another stalwart of First in the person of Albert Bownes who is still very much alive and well: a cardboard box of greens and fruit would arrive at the Manse faithfully every Saturday. We were only in Cookstown a couple of months when Linda, John (jun) and Emma Torney were shot dead in their home at Lomond Heights on 20 September 1994. Overnight the Manse was inundated with phone calls and door knocks from press and television personnel and in the end I agreed to be interviewed by Ivan Little of UTV who then distributed the recording to other media. It was a very stressful time so early in my ministry. John (sen) was arrested and even though he was tried and found guilty of the triple murder, he maintained his innocence and eventually died in prison. For much of my ministry, I conduct funerals of people who are older than I am. It is always difficult to conduct a funeral of a younger person, and in First there have been a few: John (13) and Emma (11) Torney 1994; Raymond Donaghy (20 yrs) 1999; Gareth Gourley (18 yrs) 1999; Brian Reid (25 yrs) 2000; Curtis Steadman (infant) 2002; and Trevor Purvis (32 yrs) 2002. Thankfully most funerals have been of people who had reached their “three score years and ten” and indeed there have been a few who reached 100 years: David McKay (100), 1994; his wife, Mary McKay (102) 1999, and Ruby Parke (100) 2010, and quite a number who almost reached the century. On a happier note let me highlight 1996. This was the 350 th anniversary of the congregation. There was an evangelistic mission conducted by Revd James Hagan and what a joy to see people who came to faith then and who are still serving in First. The year also included a flower festival, a musical extravaganza and a pilgrimage to Israel! 2005 was quite a stressful family time in that in September the first of the boys , Lloyd went off to study medicine in Edinburgh. It took until Christmas to get used to his absence in the Manse. By the time Neil came to depart to Edinburgh in 2007, it was a little easier since Lloyd was already there. But, in 2009 when the youngest, Reuel , went off to Dundee, Anne and I were left with an empty house, and I came to realise how many families in my 30+ years of ministry must have “suffered quietly” as children left the nest. I had little concept of how difficult it really was. But we have to get used to the empty house and see our home as extending to Scotland, New Zealand and England! Buildings have never really been my interest, so I have been content in my leadership in First to leave all of that side of church to a number of dedicated people who have worked hard so that today we are trying to keep our buildings in a state of repair and renovation to meet the demands of the 21 st century ministry and mission. The “carbuncle” at the halls was demolished and a new toilet suite installed. We have had the long dreary draining saga of “arguing” with statutory agencies about the listed building status of the church. Then one Monday morning Anne looked out the upstairs north facing window of the Manse and saw a huge boulder lying at the front of the church. Obviously it had fallen from the front of the church during the night; the day before, Sunday 31 July 2011, we had the very large funeral of Joy Glasgow. Imagine what the story would have been had that large boulder fallen on top of someone. Immediately action was taken to make the building safe and to cut a long story short, the front neo-classical façade has been wonderfully renovated, walls tied with stainless steel rods; the front of church redesigned and a large portion of the north-west corner dug out and dry rot removed! The 1910 extension with its “dangerous” roof has been repaired and a wonderful “Casement Suite” now occupies the space above the Morrison and Minister’s Rooms with a new office and newly furbished Loft with a delightful view of Slieve Gallion. Double glazing will soon be complete for all the stained glass windows. Computer recorded entry to the buildings (now by fobs) has been working well. Ducting and cabling for the wi-fi and other media systems has been completed, dug-up grounds are getting back into shape and the new steps are being admired from the main street. I’m sure there have been other building matters but these are the ones I remember. As I look back over twenty years, I have to admit ministry has not become any easier; the demands of a 24/7 “job” one gets used to, but as I get older I realise that it’s tough at times. I suspect that in the next few years, more “team ministry” will become the norm with clergy in clusters and people getting the weekly time off that their bodies and minds require. It is such an encouragement to know that many pray for me and the ministry of First, and indeed put their hand to the plough and walk beside me. Many associate a minister with the pulpit, a small yet very important part of his role which never gets any easier. Kenny Rollins, my very faithful sexton, as he comes in to carry in the Bible, catches me many a Sunday, walking up and down in my room, tense and sometimes nervous, as I think of the enormous feat the Lord calls to me to do. I mount the pulpit steps and wonder if I have prepared adequately, but then I am comforted by the fact that I am only a channel. I am not in First because I really want to be here. I am here because sitting in my home congregation near Coleraine , way back in December 1979, after years of nudging, God clearly called me from being a school teacher to being a minister of Word and Sacrament: it came as my dear friend and mentor, Revd John Williamson, read the Scriptures that morning. Acts 26:16, “….I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister…..and….I will appear unto thee”. Over the years I have tried to tune my will to His will as He has continued to “appear unto” me, so that I know I am where He wants me to be.
1961-62, Ringsend PS. Can you spot Dr Isaac.  Mr Robin McCully (Principal) is still alive; was lecturer in Stranmillis College after leaving Ringsend.  Late Miss Mary Logan, aunt of Wm Logan FRCS, former chief ophthalmic surgeon NI. 2010 – Ruby Parke 100th birthday The late Bob Anderson.