Rev. Eric Borland, minister emeritus of Burnside Presbyterian Church in Portstewart, was licensed in his Londonderry home congregation, Great James Street in June 1940. That Sunday thousands of soldiers in the British Expeditionary Force and French army were still being evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk. In 1941 Mr. Borland was ordained in Downpatrick Presbyterian aged 24.
Looking back at those times, Mr. Borland described them as ‘very difficult’, “I spent sometime in Westbourne on the Newtownards Road during the Belfast Blitz of 1941. It was a very difficult time, with stiff restrictions and half the city evacuated each night. Hundreds of people just left the Newtownards Road and other parts of the city, heading to the hills to avoid the bombs. They watched the raids there, hoping their house would still be there in the morning.
“I couldn’t leave. I had to stay in the church, in case it caught fire. Fortunately they missed the church, but hit the hall, which was destroyed.
“Many were killed at the time. One of my duties was to go around the public mortuaries to see if any people belonging to Westbourne were there. It was a very difficult time.”
The Blitz delayed his starting in Downpatrick by about a week, where he was also chaplain to the local workhouse. He ministered in the County Down town for five years, often cycling to the city when he needed to visit Belfast.
He was called to Hamilton Road Presbyterian, Bangor in 1946, Rosemary, in north Belfast in 1955 where he stayed for 23 years, and finally Burnside Church Extension in Portstewart in 1978. He remained on the north coast until retiring in 1983.
“I always felt called to the ministry,” Mr. Borland explained. “We lived just a few doors down from the church in Great James Street and all seven of us attended as a family. Home had a big influence on me. Both my parents were good churchgoers and in those days it was expected that church became a part of your life. My father, a Donegal man, was in the choir and taught in Sunday school. He was a strong Presbyterian and was asked to be an elder.”
Mr. Borland made his profession of faith when he was 14, saying that T.S Mooney of the Belfast Savings Bank, who founded the Crusaders in Londonderry, had been a big influence on his life, along with his parents.
“As I have become older I think my faith has deepened. What I still love about the Church is hearing God’s Word preached. Even after all of these years I like to hear it expounded and explained and I often say to myself, ‘I never thought of it like that’.”
Asked if there was any significant achievement that stood out, looking back on his long life, he said, “Seeing young people make a profession of their faith. It always made me feel very humble that I should be used in this way. But very happy about it too.”
Father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Mr. Borland celebrated his 100th birthday on Saturday. Married to Muriel for 69 years, they live together in a retirement home in Belfast.
You can read Eric Borland’s ‘Life Lessons’ in May’s edition of the Presbyterian Herald.