In the seventeenth century Scottish settlers brought their faith – Presbyterianism – to Ireland. The churches they built were generally in keeping with the style of the Scottish Presbyterian churches.
Presbyterian churches were traditionally plain in design and referred to as ‘meeting houses', which reflects the Presbyterian belief that the building is simply the place where people meet to worship.
Many Presbyterian churches were originally barn style – a plain rectangular building with very little decoration. However, through time these buildings have been altered and adapted to suit changing needs. Some Presbyterian churches now include an upstairs gallery to increase the seating area inside.
The following features can be found in Presbytherian churches:
Pulpit - The pulpit is the most important piece of furniture in a Presbyterian Church. This is where the minister preaches the word of God. It is a large wooden structure which is positioned at the front of the church, either in the middle or slightly to one side. It is raised above the level of the congregation. This is because Presbyterians meet to worship under the authority of the word of God. Some Presbyterian services begin with an elder carrying in the Bible and placing it on the pulpit. This is again symbolic, showing that the word of God is central to worship. Hanging from the pulpit is a piece of material called the pulpit fall. A picture of the burning bush, the symbol of Presbyterianism, is embroidered on the pulpit fall along with the words ‘ardens sed virens’, which means ‘burning but not consumed’. The burning bush represents the presence of God, just as God was present on Mount Sinai when he spoke to Moses.
Communion table - The function of the communion table is to hold the bread and wine when Holy Communion is being celebrated. In a Presbyterian church, the communion table is positioned at the front of the building on the platform. This is to show its importance. However, it is placed below the raised pulpit. This is because God’s word is of utmost importance to Presbyterians, who believe that the sacrament of communion comes from the word of God. The communion table is made of wood and the phrase ‘This do in remembrance of me’ is carved along the front. These are the words of Paul writing in the New Testament, where he gives instructions concerning the Lord’s Supper. The fact that the communion table is close to the people and is not surrounded by a rail reflects the idea that nobody in the Presbyterian Church has more authority than another. Elders – elected by the congregation – help to distribute the bread and wine during Holy Communion.
Font - In a Presbyterian Church, the baptismal font is positioned at the front of the church to the right hand side. It is usually made of wood and holds a small silver coloured bowl which is used to hold water for the baptism of infants.
Reading desk - This is also called a lectern. It is positioned at the front of the church, usually on the opposite side to the font. The reading desk is used for Bible readings (perhaps by a member of the congregation) or for announcements (perhaps at the start of the service). It may also be used by the minister to give the children’s address.
Aisles - Many Presbyterian churches do not have a central aisle, instead the seats are divided by two aisles. This is because clerical processions do not from part of the worship in a Presbyterian service.
Visual aids - Some Presbyterian churches have stained glass windows, but as a general rule Presbyterian buildings are fairly plain. Other visual aids may include a large cross, perhaps on the wall at the front of the church, or banners showing a Bible text or reminding the congregation of a particular festival. Some churches use computers to create visual aids.