Spiritualism in Northern Ireland started amid the furore of religious and political activity surrounding the covenant of 1912.Although war was brewing in Europe, a few people in Belfast were quietly but earnestly seeking another very important aspect of human expression much frowned upon, especially in the intense atmosphere that prevailed in a country of such deep religious feelings.
In the area of the Custom House steps, renowned for many years as the Speakers Corner of Belfast, various people gathered to discuss almost every subject under the sun, those few initial pioneers of the Spiritualist movement - Mr Morrison, Mr Moore, Mr McCormick and Mr Skelton got together to discuss the many aspects surrounding psychic matters.
They eventually rented a room in Victoria Street to study, practice and investigate psychic phenomena, thus the Spiritualist movement was born in Belfast and Ireland. Their little gatherings continued to grow as they merged with similar groups to become known as the Belfast Spiritualist Alliance, holding regular Sunday meetings as well as mid-week activities in a top floor room at 39 High Street.
As interest in Spiritualism spread, they moved first to Chichester Street and then to Central Hall in Rosemary Street where the group flourished until the property was bombed in the Easter Monday air raid in 1941.
The Alliance then accepted an invitation from a group meeting at 45 May Street which was functioning well under the leadership of a truly excellent Medium of high spiritual character, Sarah Graham.
Between the wars, many famous Mediums were brought to Belfast by the Alliance and the
amalgamation continued successfully with the help of such people as Gladys Gamble
whose husband David helped organise development circles.
Under the Leadership of Joseph Curphy they returned to High Street, this time to St Georges Hall.
Jack Atkinson and Violet Winters added to the strong team of platform workers supported by regular
Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to raise funds, in June 1953 it was
proposed the windows of the Church overlooking High Street be made available to members
during the Queens visit. Of course a collection was also proposed to aid the building fund.
On the 12th June 1963 Harry Ryding received his MSNU Diploma, this was a great honour for Belfast as he was the first person to be ordained as a Spiritualist Minister in Ireland.
A letter arrived from the Spiritualists National Union (SNU) on 28th July 1964 which was read to the congregation the following Sunday. It informed them that the beautiful estate known as Stansted Hall near London had been bequeathed to the SNU by Arthur Findlay.
He expressed that he would like Stansted Hall to become a College devoted to the advancement of Psychic Science.
With a strong and active membership plus additional accomplished workers
like Bob and Cicely Moore, the Spiritualist movement in Belfast grew stronger by the year,
until an enthusiastic lady member, Mrs Margaret McRoberts brought along a small and insignificant
advert offering a building in Malone Avenue for sale.
This was the start of the most hectic and important phase in the life of the Church.
On Sunday 4th May 1969 the Belfast Church of Psychic Science opened its doors for the first Services of a new era. Two weeks later on the 14th May, Mr Charles Quastel, President of the SNU performed the dedication Service along with international mediums Albert Best and Jessie Nason.
A few months later Spiritualism in Northern Ireland had its first fully established Church when recognition was granted by the Registrar Office and the Church was Solemnised as a place of worship in which marriages could take place.
Since 1969 the Church has gone from strength to strength, numerous marriage ceremonies, as well as naming, burial and cremation services have taken place.
At the AGM on 28th February 1976 the name of the Church was changed to its present form - Belfast Spiritualist Church.
1979 saw an extension being built to the Church. After continual problems finding accommodation for visiting mediums, a self-contained apartment was added to the side of the Church for their use.
Disaster struck in 1982 when we almost lost the lot. A fire broke out in the kitchen which nearly ended in the complete loss of the Church but for the alertness of a neighbour who contacted the fire brigade.
In 1992 the Church organised a coach trip to Dublin for an evening with our brothers and sisters in the Spiritualist group there. An enjoyable evening was had by all but many were surprised to learn of their adverse working conditions. It is against the antiquated, religiously influenced laws in the South of Ireland for them to say prayers or sing hymns.
Spiritualism is not recognised in the Republic of Ireland.
To be continued......
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