Sam Hanna Bell Samuel Beckett John Hewitt Bernard (Barney) Hughes James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker William Carleton Rosamond Praegar

Rev John McLachlan (1908 - 2007):
Theologian, historian, minister of religion, college administrator

Herbert John McLachlan had a lifelong calling and commitment to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland - and his was a long life. His academic calling was reflected in his numerous publications and his rôle as a College administrator; his pastoral work and energetic practical abilities were well illustrated during his Ministry in the First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast. The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland is so named as it does not subscribe (that is, does not agree with) to the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647, the reason being that the Non-Subscribers regard this Confession as a human document, whereas they regard the Bible as the only authority over private judgement.  

The son of the Rev Herbert McLachlan, Principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester from 1921 to 1944, John McLachlan ministered in Sheffield, where his son Peter was born, and Halifax before commencing studies at the University of Oxford, where he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) for a thesis, published in 1951 by Oxford University Press, on Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England. During this time he was tutor and warden, and ultimately acting Principal of Manchester College. He also studied in Heidelberg, where he was able to witness the belligerent policies and their effects of the 1930s German government, notably the huge refugee and asylum problems arising from them. He became actively involved in support organisations for these victims, a practical interest which he maintained after the Second World War, wherever he found himself in Europe.

In 1952 he accepted a call to First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast. Apart from discharging his pastoral duties with dedication and compassion, he served as Moderator of the General Synod from 1962 to 1964 and continued to publish on the history and life of the Church, including articles in the local press, notably the Belfast Telegraph. He had to supervise the rebuilding of the Church's Central Hall, which had been destroyed in the air raids of 1941. He helped found a local branch of the Lions Club, the global organisation dedicated to voluntary community and humanitarian service; he was involved in the establishment of the United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Belfast after the lapse of the League of Nations Union, and served as Regional Director for three years; he was one of the founders of the Northern Ireland branch of Amnesty International. He also took part in the more private intellectual life of the city as member of the Belfast Literary Society, where he displayed the breadth of his learning by delivering a paper to the Society entitled "Friedrich Nietzsche and the spiritual vacuum of our time".

He diligently recorded the history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, not least through numerous articles he published in the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, which he edited for fourteen years. He maintained cordial relations with other Liberal churches throughout Europe and was officially invited to Czechoslovakia to represent the Church at the quatercentenary celebrations of the Moravian Church, founded as the Bohemian Brethren, or Čeští bratři, in Kunvald, Bohemia, in 1457. One Moravian congregation in Belfast, located on University Road, has a set of coins, which was presented to Rev McLachlan on the occasion of his visit to Bohemia and which Rev McLachan gifted to the congregation.

In 1967, John McLachlan left Ulster to accept a call in Cambridge, but he maintained close links with the Church and the province generally; his son Peter was prominent in, especially, the charitable and voluntary life of the province, to which he contributed immeasurably before predeceasing his father, John, who himself died not quite two years short of his centenary.

Born: 7 July 1908
Died: 28 January 2007
Richard Froggatt

Rev Dr David Steers; Wesley McCann


The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian, March 2007 (obituary by Rev Dr David Steers)