In the 18th century William Pitt and John Wesley were trying to raise Hanoverian England from moral apathy - an apathy which was almost the norm in these islands.
In Derry, spiritual levels were no higher than elsewhere, and so the teachings and disciplines of the Secession movement made an impact in this area - the Secession movement being basically a demand for higher standards.
Origins: The First Derry Secession congregation - now known as 2nd Derry or Strand - was formed in 1780. It was closely allied to another Secession congregation - Crossroads Church. The first small church - the Seceeding Meeting-House - was built in an entry off Fountain Street. In these unpretentious surroundings the congregation worshipped for some 65 years; both congregations initially being supplied by casual preachers from Scotland. Rev. Waiter Galbraith was ordained on the 17th December 1782 preaching on alternate Sundays in Crossroads and Derry. Rev. W Galbraith died on 30th April 1810 at 45 years of age and was buried in the Cathedral burying ground.
In 1840 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church came into being through the Union of the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod, and at this stage the First Derry Secession congregation became Second Derry.
During the ministry of the Rev. James Crawford, who had been ordained in 1811, the Honourable the Irish Society gave a liberal subscription and site for building a larger church, with a manse. The foundation stone of the new church was laid on 3rd September 1846 by the Deputy Governor of the Society, James Anderson. The site lay between the then St. Patrick's Street and Ponsonby Street, looking towards William Coppen's Shipyard and the river. William Simpson in "The Annals of Derry" (1847) claimed "that the site is very low being on reclaimed ground off the Strand Road leading to the Pennyburn." The Sentinel reported that on the day in question 'the Deputation of the Honourable the Irish Society, the Presbyterian Ministers of this city and a large concourse of our fellow-citizens assembled on the ground' including, it may be noted, the Rev. Mr. Gray of Burt.
The new building which cost £1450 was opened for worship on 12th March 1848 by the Rev. Dr. Henry Cooke. The architect was Mr. Stewart Gordon. It is a hall-type church. NeoGothic in design. Over the entrance is an octagonal tower culminating in pinnacles and constructed in sandstone. The remainder of the building is in whinstone. Although numerically strong, the church like many Seceder causes, was not rich and the debt incurred was to remain a burden for many years. Mr. Crawford had been twice Moderator of the Secession Synod, an indication of his worth. The Rev. Matthew Wilson married a daughter of the Rev. James Crawford and was installed in Strand on the 18th December 1849. Following a father-in-law who had ministered in the congregation for some fifty-seven years, he served thirty-three years; in his time a school was erected. The tablet in the vestibule bears witness to the qualities he brought to his ministry.
In 1882 the Rev. Professor J. Edgar Henry came to Strand from Canterbury. Internal renovations and the addition of a gallery (1885) mark this as a period of growth and consolidation. In 1890 Mr. Henry was elected to the Chair of Church History and Pastoral Theology in Magee College and in 1902-03 he was to be Moderator of the General Assembly.
His successor in Strand, the Rev. W.J. Lowe, L.L.D., D.D. also came to Derry from an English congregation - that of Islington, London - in 1891. An author, an authority on Baptism, Clerk of Assembly and the first General Secretary of our church, he moved from Strand to assume these wider responsibilities in 1909. He was Moderator of the General Assembly in 1921.
The Rev. James Pyper was minister for just a few years - November 1909 to April 1912. The Rev. John Carson Greer was installed later that year and was to remain in the charge throughout the entire inter-war period. He saw many of the congregation rally to the Colours in 1914 and sadly sixteen of that number were not to return. It was during this ministry that a new organ was installed. His sudden death on 1st December, 1940 came in the year which had seen the German onslaught in the West, the evacuation from Dunkirk, a year in which yet again he had seen young men from his congregation 'marching as to war.' The memorial windows behind the pulpit bear testimony to the respect and affection in which he was held.
Mr. Greer was followed by the Rev. W.A. Montgomery who came to Strand in 1941 after a successful ministry in Killinchy. His abilities were recognized by his membership of important assembly committees, by being chosen to represent his church abroad and elected Moderator of the General Assembly.
A new church hall (named in 1986 as the Montgomery Hall) was built in 1963, one of the improvements to church and surroundings at that time. Dr. Montgomery retired from the active duties of the ministry on 31st December, 1967.
Rev. Maurice Bolton of Mountnorris and Tullyallen was installed at Strand on 19th June, 1968. To use his own words, 'I was the proud inheritor of a great tradition and the minister of a congregation financially and numerically strong. For a few short years we built upon that foundation, but the time given to us was short.' Too soon the city and province were to be engulfed in 'The Conflict'. Strand, like many churches and parishes, suffered a substantial loss of numbers due to population movement as great numbers of Presbyterians relocated to the Waterside and beyond as a consequence of attacks on property and lives described by some as ethnic cleansing. The courageous leadership shown by the Rev. Bolton in this situation was reflected in a congregational morale which remained buoyant throughout the ongoing unrest and civil disturbance, which included bomb damage to the church and the murder of a police officer as he left morning worship. Strand at that time retained an active presence on the West Bank with particular emphasis on youth activities. Improvements to property included the creation of the Jubilee Room, a welcome addition to the facilities.
In the early 70s links were established between Second Derry and Inch congregation, together with Buncrana in County Donegal, and from 1975 Rev. Bolton became stated supply of Buncrana and Inch. In 1988 Buncrana, having become too small to continue as a separate charge, joined with Second Derry. In 1993 the congregations of Strand, Buncrana and Inch joined to pay tribute to the Rev. Bolton, his wife and family in a celebration to mark his twenty-five years of endeavour in Strand, and he was praised for his services to the wider church, to youth work and to the whole community of Londonderry. His active ministry concluded on 31st December, 1995. Additionally, the Rev. Bolton has served as a chaplain with Territorial Army and Army Cadet Units, and holds the M.B.E. and Territorial Decoration awards.
The cross border link was strengthened by a union with the congregation of Burt. Rev. J.K. McCormick, B.D. came from Trinity, Letterkenny and Trentagh congregations, and was installed as Minister of Second Derry (Strand & Buncrana) and Burt on 17th June, 1997. 1998 witnessed the 150th anniversary of the opening of Strand church and a time of celebration was held.
At a very difficult time the Rev J.K. McCormick took up the reins and reached out into the community, especially in his work in the White Oaks Rehabilitation centre, in the local university and hospice. A combination of difficulties - an aging congregation as the number of young Presbyterian families in the parish area dwindled, congregational finance problems due to the Presbyterian Mutual Society going into administration and the need to carry out extensive and expensive repairs to church property resulted in the congregational committee asking that an amalgamation with another congregation be pursued. At a congregational meeting on the 8th September 2009 this heart-breaking but courageous recommendation was approved. The General Assembly adopted a resolution at its meeting the following June to this effect and at meetings in June and July 2010 the terms of amalgamation with Carlisle Road to form Carlisle Road (incorporating Strand & Buncrana) were agreed by the congregations. To facilitate this process the Rev. J.K. McCormick retired on the 31st August 2010, the Union with Burt was dissolved and Rev J.K. McCormick was appointed by Presbytery as Stated Supply in Burt. At its meeting on the 14th September 2010 the Presbytery of Derry & Donegal agreed the amalgamation would proceed on the 10th October 2010.