Rev William Holmes Hutchinson
1932 – 1953
Eleventh Minister of Ballywillan Presbyterian Church
Born in Dublin in 1882, Mr Hutchinson received his early education there. Moving to Belfast he had a business career for some years in the firm of Gregg and Phoenix . Having experienced the Divine Call to the Ministry, he entered Queen’s College, Belfast where he graduated with a B.A. in 1904. He took his divinity course at Assembly’s College, Belfast . Mr Hutchinson was licensed by the Belfast Presbytery on 26th May 1908 and was for some time assistant to Rev Dr Charles Davy in Fisherwick Presbyterian Church.
In 1910, he was ordained as minister of Cunningham Memorial Church , Cullybackey, and in 1932 he accepted a call to Ballywillan. Mr Hutchinson was Moderator of the Synod of Ballymena and Coleraine in 1914.
In 1915, at the beginning of the First World War, Mr Hutchinson enlisted as a private and served as a dispatch rider with the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. In 1917 he received his commission as a chaplain and in that capacity continued his work in the same battalion. During his service he was gassed and wounded. In 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross. The official citation records his devoted service to the wounded.
At the conclusion of the war, Mr Hutchinson returned to Cullybackey, where he completed a ministry of 22 years, before accepting a call to Ballywillan.
The Presbytery of Coleraine installed Mr Hutchinson on 26th May 1932. During his speech at the installation lunch, as reported in the Chronicle, Mr Hutchinson said that Cullybackey was one of the best of churches and he had been as happy there as a man could be. He had had no desire to change but had been impelled by the fear that his health now was not such as would enable him in the future to minister satisfactorily to the large congregation of 350 families. He thanked Ballywillan for their kindness to him and their willingness to receive him, and said that he could only promise to do his very best. He hoped that he would never be a burden to Ballywillan. “I hope you will like me”, he concluded, “that is perhaps the best I can say – the best I can give and the best I can do will be yours”.
A Memorial Tribute published in the Chronicle in 1953 gives a picture of Mr Hutchinson and his ministry at Ballywillan. In appearance he had what is known as a military bearing – upright figure, squared shoulders, head held erect, resolute step and swinging walk, but this was not something acquired in his army career. His contemporaries remember him thus in his student years. This bearing gave embodiment, as it were, to the thought of the Church Militant, engaged in a spiritual warfare.
The Memorial Tribute goes on to say that Mr Hutchinson had a manner of his own, which might be described as a ‘grand manner’. It was apparent in his diction, and there was a courtliness about him, something of a ministerial dignity, that seemed in him to find a perpetuation from a bygone time. On taking leave he would say, perhaps, ‘May the blessing of God attend you upon your way’. When addressing the Presbytery he was always careful to call it ‘this Reverend Court ’. In Mr Hutchinson this manner of speaking came forth as the sincere expression of a native dignity that was his.
Under his leadership, a fine church hall was erected in 1934. He had a dominant enthusiasm for the world enterprise of the Church. For many years he was the Presbytery’s agent for the Foreign Mission, and he was also a member of the Assembly’s Mission Board. Through his keen interest in this work, his own congregation became infused with a strong missionary enthusiasm, and by his example in generous giving, he provoked the zeal of many in this sphere of the Church’s work.
Foreign fields were not his only interest. The social and spiritual tasks of the Church at home were given his keen advocacy and service. It was his firm conviction that the work of evangelism among our people should be conducted not by those from inside, but by those appointed thereto within our own communion. He was not one of those who considered the shorter catechism outmoded. He cited it, and commended the use of it, and contributed a commentary to it in the Church’s magazine ‘Daybreak’.
Information from older members of the congregation adds to this picture of Mr Hutchinson. He was described as being an effervescent gentleman of medium build and height, who loved music and who had a certain twinkle in his smile.
In April 1957 the Presbyterian Herald mentions that the portrait of the late Mr Hutchinson which now hangs in the Octagon was unveiled at Ballywillan. The portrait was the work of Mr Frank McKelvey R.A. and members of the congregation have commented that the twinkle in his smile has been captured here.
He had a good voice, and loved to quote poetry in the pulpit. His sermons were long, and could go on for ¾ of an hour. He was a very popular person, and travelled his parish on a bicycle for many years. One member of the congregation commented that the Rev Hutchinson’s bicycle didn’t have a bell, but he would warn pedestrians of his approach by shouting ‘Cuckoo, cuckoo’ and wave his arms. Before his marriage, he would call on his parishioners at the oddest times, often when they had retired to bed.
On the 20th July 1938 Rev Hutchinson married Dr Isobel Alexander, eldest daughter of Mr & Mrs Robert Alexander, of Crossreagh House, Portrush. Dr Alexander had been an elder of Ballywillan Presbyterian Church for some years, and is described as having been a very witty person with beautiful red hair. Dr Alexander was Schools Medical Officer for North Antrim at the time of her marriage. As an active member of the congregation, Mrs Hutchinson was able to assist her husband greatly, and they were a very popular couple. Mrs Hutchinson set an enthusiastic example in all church activities, especially in the work of the Women’s Missionary Association, of which she was president for many years. Much of her time was spent visiting the sick. She took an active interest in the work of the joiner organisations, including the Girls’ Auxiliary, and they benefited from her leadership and advice.
On Sunday mornings, the Rev Hutchinson would walk up to the Sunday School, wearing a frock coat and top hat. Mrs Hutchinson would drive up later in the car. In Sunday School the Rev Hutchinson loved to sing the childrens’ chorus, starting before the piano, stamping his feet and singing away.
During the Second World War when servicemen came home on leave, the Rev and Mrs Hutchinson invited them to the manse for supper. Having served during the First World War, Rev Hutchinson would have been aware of the many problems which men had to face.
During his latter years, Mr Hutchinson suffered periods of illness, severe enough to have justified retirement from the active duties of the ministry, but he continued in his service to the Church at Ballywillan to the very end. In the month of May 1953 both he and his devoted wife were seriously ill in hospital. Both recovered enough to return to the manse, and immediately Mr Hutchinson resumed his duties. On Sunday 23rd August 1953, he had officiated at three services, and died on 24th August, in the 72nd year of his age, and the 44th year of his ministry. Mrs Hutchinson died four years later, on 26th July 1957, after a prolonged illness. Both Mr and Mrs Hutchinson were buried at Islandmagee.
This information compiled from:
Coleraine Chronicle and Constitution archive, Irish Library, County Hall, Coleraine.
Library of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Church House, Belfast
Ballywillan Kirk Session Minute Book.
Notes by Mrs S. Johnston on conversations with members of the congregation.
History of Congregations, - Presbyterian Historical Society.