The Evangelical Book Shop of Belfast
For years before the Second World War and for another 15 years afterwards the one shop in the United Kingdom which stocked and distributed Reformed literature from the USA was the Evangelical Book Shop of Belfast. This was through the energy and vision of W. J. Grier, that holy happy pastor and one of the first trustees of the Banner of Truth.
The shop is still doing its great work and on January 29 its trustees and staff met and made a presentation to W. J. Grier’s son, John, to mark the completion of twenty-five years service as manager. They gratefully acknowledged John’s willingness to leave his career in taxation to take up the work in 1974, his leading the shop through the terrorist years–the shop was damaged severely in 1971, 1974 and 1981–and his expertise in the field of Christian books. They paid tribute also to the staff, and to Julia, who have supported him faithfully in the work.
John Grier replied that working at the shop had been his privilege as well as calling over all these years. Very few people have had the opportunity to do something that they enjoy, surrounded by choice Christian customers and colleagues. The Lord has been gracious in so many ways.
Rev. Joseph McCracken, missionary in South Africa, was asked, in 1986, to write about the early days of the shop. He wrote as follows:
The shop was started under the auspices of the Presbyterian Bible Standards League, formed to combat the modernistic teaching of the Assembly’s College, Belfast. The League conducted campaigns all over Ulster, seeking to arouse Presbyterians to the danger of modernism. Its office was at 15 College Square East and here the book shop had its birth and where the Evangelical Book Shop is today. It had a very modest beginning, two or three trestle tables with the ‘Ulster Pamphlets’ for sale at two pence each. We also used the pavement to advertise the pamphlets and sold hundreds of them.
Rev. James Hunter, and others, brought charges of heresy against Prof. Davey of Assembly’s College, and when the trial was in session a number of us met in the book shop and prayed. When the verdict was given in favour of the Professor, and Rev. James Hunter, with others, resigned from the Presbyterian Church, the members of the League were divided. Those who had left the Presbyterian Church or were contemplating it, wanted to widen the basis of the League so that they could continue in membership. A meeting was called in the YMCA Minor Hall to decide the matter but opponents of the change got their support out and the motion was defeated.
Rev W J Grier
The future of the book shop hung in the balance. Mr Snoddy, secretary of the League, asked me if I would be willing to stay on in the shop. I told him that my sympathies lay with the Rev James Hunter and Rev. W. J. Grier, and thus it was that the book shop at 15 College Square East and the associated bank overdraft became our possession. Here began my close association with the Rev. W. J. Grier who became manager of the shop, and I his assistant. We had two large windows for display, and I knew nothing about window dressing, so I made my way to the City Hall and learned from the book shops there how to do it! Our bookshelves, (prior to the 1974 bomb) were all put together by Thomas Swann, a Deacon in the Botanic Avenue congregation.
Our first job was to weed out of our small stock books that were not in keeping with our evangelical position. Progressively we adopted an exclusively reformed stance, and whenever a customer requested a Scofield Bible we handed out a leaflet explaining our reasons for no longer stocking it. We stocked Sunday School books, and many Sunday School teachers ordered their prizes year after year. Bibles were on sale from a few shillings to many pounds. Christmas was the time for the shop. We always had a wonderful variety of cards with Scripture greetings as well as birthday and sympathy cards.
Source of Blessing
The book shop has been a source of blessing to many who made a point of consulting Mr. Grier on different things. His book, The Momentous Event, has been reprinted seven times and been translated into a number of languages. (Published in 1945 it still sells about a thousand copies a year in the Banner of Truth edition.) I can recall the day when I said to Mr Grier ‘We need a magazine.’ He heartily agreed, and so was born The Irish Evangelical (later renamed Evangelical Presbyterian).
Reprinted from The Evangelical Presbyterian Magazine, May-June 2001 with permission.
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