Rev James Frazer

1961 – 2000

Thirteenth Minister of Ballywillan Presbyterian Church

In April 1961 the Rev Lynas resigned, having received a call to the congregation of Dunmurry. In June of that year a call was made out to James Frazer, BSc.BD, who was then Assistant Minister to the Rev John T Carson of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Bangor .

The Rev Frazer’s parents, William and Evelyn lived near Whiteabbey.  His father was a plumber in Harland and Wolff’s shipyard and worked on the Titanic, sailing on its Trials on Belfast Lough before it headed for Southampton and its tragic maiden voyage.  The family worshipped in Whiteabbey Presbyterian Church, but on the formation of Abbotscross Presbyterian as a Church Extension, he was appointed as organist at the age of 16 in 1949.

Rev Frazer studied at Grosvenor High School in Belfast , gaining a scholarship to study Civil Engineering at Queens University .  Shortly after his father’s death in 1952 he experienced a call to ministry in the church, and after completing his degree in engineering, began his theological studies in Assembly’s College in 1955.

After one year there in 1955-56, he obtained a scholarship for one year to Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey in the United States . At the end of this year, the scholarship was extended for another 2 years to allow him to complete his studies for his B.D.

While there he was assistant to the Rev Dr Donald Gard in First Trenton Presbyterian Church in New Jersey , and in his final year he was assistant to the Rev Andrew McElwee in Rockaway Presbyterian Church, N.J.

After his graduation from Princeton, he returned home and was invited to be assistant to the Rev John T Carson in Trinity Church in Bangor , where he served for two years until his call to Ballywillan Presbyterian Church in 1961.

In the June before his Ordination and Installation in Ballywillan in September 1961, Jim married Lynne Brennan, a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Bangor, where he had been the Assistant Minister. On October 21st.,1962, their son, Andrew James was born.  It was shortly after this,  in March 1963, that Lynne left with her son.  A divorce was obtained in 1967. Subsequently a Commission of the Coleraine Presbytery met with members of the Congregation, and with their recommendation Mr Frazer was permitted to continue in ministry in the church.

On the 18th of June 1970, with the permission of Church House, Mr Frazer married Miss Maureen Beattie.  She lived in Lurgan, and was a member of First Lurgan Presbyterian Church.  She had obtained a B.Sc. in Physics at Queens University in 1970, and subsequently taught in Dalriada School in Ballymoney.  Over the years they laboured in ministry together, and many of the initiatives they introduced developed through their shared thinking. 

The Frazers have a family of four.  The eldest, James Patrick, obtained a degree in Civil Engineering in Dundee and is now a Chartered Water Engineer.  Evanne Claire studied Art in Manchester , then graduated in Ceramics at Edinburgh College of Art after which she spent a gap year teaching in Nepal and Malawi. Their second daughter, Janice Elizabeth completed a degree in Primary Teaching in Lancaster and taught in N.I.  Jonathan William, the youngest, graduated in Civil Engineering in Heriot Watt University , Edinburgh is now at Union College Belfast training for the Ministry.

Over the years of Mr Frazer’s ministry, the congregation grew in numbers from 180 to 450 families.  Two Sunday morning services of modern and traditional worship were introduced. During this period also, extensive renovations were undertaken in the church.

The following work was instigated:

Minor Hall

New stage

Renovations of the sanctuary with gallery and new pipe organ installed

Litch Gate

The link, new kitchen, children’s room, office accommodation

The octagon

New access provided from the main Coleraine Road

Additional parking space

Over this period, under the auspices of the organist Mr Adrian Anderson from Portstewart, a series of Summer Recitals of Church Music were instigated, with guest soloists, instrumentalists, and choirs from Ireland, England, and overseas.  These were very popular and well attended, and continued for over 25 years, until 2001.

In 1973, the congregation requested, and gained permission from the Presbyterian General Assembly, to allow Mr Frazer to move from the manse on Magherabouy Road , to his own home on the Gateside Road . Over a number of years he had worked on building this house for retirement, doing all the woodwork, electrics, and plumbing himself. At this time the old manse was sold, the money invested, and on the minister’s retirement would enable the church to purchase a new manse at 3 Magheraboy Drive .

In 1979, Mr Frazer requested, and was granted a six-month sabbatical.  He and his wife and children travelled to Lawrenceville, near Princeton , New Jersey , where he had studied. The Seminary there allowed him also free access to use any facilities any of their facilities to further his studies, and arranged an exchange with the Rev Floyd Fletcher from nearby Slackwood Presbyterian Church.  Floyd, along with his wife Jan, and their two daughters, Mary and Adrienne, came to Ballywillan and ministered very acceptably for the ensuing 6 months.  It was during this period of sabbatical study at Princeton that fresh thinking about ministry was undertaken, and they returned with a number of ideas, and with session support, several changes  were successively introduced to the life of the church. It was from this point on that a renewed vitality was evident in the congregation.

Also during this period, the congregation were regularly invited to broadcast the worship on BBC Radio Ulster , also nationwide on Radio 4 and the World Service. Later UTV broadcast their last outside Sunday morning TV Worship Service from Ballywillan, in 1992.  Later, RTE invited minister and choir to broadcast the Sunday TV Morning Service on RTE.  After retiring, a number of Sunday morning services and “Thought for the Day” have been broadcast on Radio Ulster from the studio in Belfast .

On the retirement of the Rev Frazer in 2000, the congregation held a Service of Thanksgiving for his ministry in the Diamond at the University at Coleraine. This was filled to capacity, and after a programme telling the story of his life, a cheque was presented to him on acknowledgement of his ministry among them of 39 years.

Degree of Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa)

awarded by Union Theological College

The following year, Union Theological College , in Belfast , awarded him the honorary degree of D.D. with the citation:

Citation for the Degree of Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa) 18th May 2001 by WPA.

Ballywillan, like many Presbyterian churches in Ireland, is situated in a field; a field overlooking Portrush, and the North Atlantic . To this congregation came our graduand to be ordained to the Christian ministry in September 1961. At that time, in the Presbytery of Coleraine, Ballywillan was, in terms of families, the 10th biggest congregation, and in terms of financial giving, the 6th biggest. Today it finds itself in first position on both counts. To cope with a growth from 168 to 460+ families the church has added a gallery to the worship area, and now has two morning services throughout the year. In the summer, because of the influx of visitors, one of the morning services requires video-linked overflow facilities in three other parts of the complex, while the other morning service needs only overflow room!

In the last 40 years the North Antrim Coast in general and the Coleraine triangle area in particular has experienced remarkable population growth. This has been due mainly to the development of the University of Ulster Campus and to the increase in the number of second homes and holiday caravans in the area.

During this time some churches have grown but few if any to the same degree as Ballywillan. Clearly its pastor for the past 40 years is remarkable man. And we honour him this evening.

But what has been his secret? What wonderful gifts did he bring to his task?

Jim Frazer is a quiet, almost shy man, somewhat embarrassed by his success, and certainly not out of the 'do what I do and success is guaranteed' school of church leadership.

He took a degree in civil engineering at Queen's, before studying theology for one year at Assembly's College and then for three years at Princeton . In 1970 he had the good sense to marry Maureen, a 1st Lurgan girl.

I have known him since I went to my first charge in Coleraine in 1968. I think of him as a builder.

A Builder of Cars

In his early days he had a passion for MGBs. I say 'MGBs' in the plural because often more than one of these low slung, two-seater beauties was to be found around the manse, one of them usually being in assorted bits. I confess that I sometimes fantasized on how, if I could get the use of one, it would greatly improve my romantic prospects. Unfortunately it was but a dream!

A Builder of a House

He decided to buy a plot and build a house by direct labour. At first his plans were turned down but he showed his doggedness by taking an amended plan personally around the members of the planning committee and gained approval. He was a full time minister, so he devoted the two hours between 7 and 9 in the morning to supervising the work before he turned to his normal duties.

A Builder of Bridges

He was concerned to reach those outside the church and he began a series of Summer Recitals. These were monthly musical events held after the Sunday evening service and open to all. Assorted singers and instrumentalists were invited, and the style was a kind of sanctified Classic FM with a little bit of Radio 2. Initially some eyebrows were raised. Presbyterians, by breeding and teaching, are not meant to enjoy anything on a Sabbath evening, despite the answer to the first question of the Shorter Catechism. And was secular music being performed at these evenings? At this point the confusion became greater because how can you tell if the music is secular if it is being sung in Italian? But the message was loud and plain. Here was a church open, welcoming to all, ready to go to the community at large with a warm open and evangelical message.

A Builder of the Church

In 1979 he was granted a six-month sabbatical in Princeton . He had access to all classes and the whole continuing education programme of the Seminary. This experience proved invaluable and resulted in a reappraisal by the session of all congregational life and ministry. Today Sunday worship is in a 'seeker friendly' format with visitors in mind. His 9 minute sermon in the

morning is balanced with a stronger teaching emphasis in the evening service, and a small group teaching ministry through house groups. Small groups have also been used for outreach through an adapted version of Alpha, followed by the Contagious Christian and Network programmes, both from Willow Creek.

This successful ministry is all the more remarkable since, at its start, he faced a major crisis in his domestic life. One which, had he been a lesser man, or had Ballywillan been a lesser congregation, or had the grace of God not been sufficient for all our needs, might have destroyed his ministry before it really got going.

Thanks be to God! That did not happen and Reverend Principal, I have the privilege to present to you, for the conferment of the degree of Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa), James Frazer

Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Divinity

WP Addley