It was in stunning spring sunshine in April 1988 that Rev. David Latimer and his family left behind the relatively peaceful rural setting of County Down - where they had been for four years - for something completely different in Derry.
The vacant churches of Monreagh, close to the village of Carrigans in County Donegal, and First Derry, in Upper Magazine Street in the heart of Derry’s city centre, had just been united by the former Presbytery of Derry to form a new joint charge and David Latimer, a former systems analyst with the Northern Ireland Electricity Service, was the man to accept the “call” to be its first minister.
Rev. Latimer - who this weekend celebrates 25 years of ministry in the Derry area - recalls saying to his wife, Margaret, as they made their way across the Glenshane Pass behind the removal van carrying their furniture, ‘this is the beginning of something new.’
The Presbyterian minister says the contrast between where they’d been and where they were going to could not have been sharper.
“Nevertheless, aware to some limited extent of Derry’s pain and turbulence, we were persuaded that ministry at Monreagh and First Derry was right for us. And, so, we arrived in a city in a distressed state and to a church on the walls wrapped in a web of tight security.”
David, his wife and three daughters, Joanne, Jessica and Susannah, quickly settled into their new environment to “engage in what has been a thoroughly enjoyable period of our lives.”
Rev. Latimer takes up the story: “Twenty five years ago, the congregation of First Derry more or less parachuted into their heavily protected church for an hourly Sunday service and then retreated to the Waterside, where most of the congregation lived, until the following Sunday.
“How very different church life is today for the city’s oldest Presbyterian Church.”
Located on the historic City Walls overlooking the Bogside, First Derry has become a place where both traditions happily meet and mix and where two different communities can begin to “hear each others stories, understand each other better and learn to live together.”
Rev. Latimer adds: “To have lived and worked in a city that has been transformed during the last quarter of a century is nothing short of being a privilege.”
Rev. Latimer’s other congregation is located six miles on the other side of the Derry/Donegal border at Monreagh, established in 1644.
“The combination of a city and a rural congregation could not have been more perfect,” he says.
“Monreagh, which has remained largely unaffected by the Troubles, is a reminder of the landscape and scenery that both Margaret and I were accustomed to growing up around Dromore and Banbridge respectively.
“Across the last twenty five years, numbers in both churches have increased and, within both congregations, there is evidence of people who are anxious to love God and live at peace with their neighbours.”
Special services to mark the Latimers’ 25th anniversary will be held at Monreagh on Sunday, April 14 at 3 pm and at First Derry on Sunday, April 21 at 11.30 am.