Rev. John McCleery ministered at First Dunmurry NS Presbyterian Church from 1941 until his sudden death in 1969. His first sermon was preached to a small handful of men and women following a night of terror when Belfast suffered its most horrible blitz. The theme of that sermon ‘Be of good courage,’ was recalled in many of the hundreds of letters, which followed the news of his death. Indeed it is not too much to say that it was his courageous determination which rebuilt this congregation from a small number of families to more than three hundred; which caused him, despite illhealth, to add to this charge that of Crumlin and later, Moira, when it seemed that without ministerial leadership those historic Meeting Houses would become relics of the past. Within five years of his ordination he was appointed Moderator of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster and three years later, at the height of the war, he was elected to the highest office in the Church; the youngest Moderator in the history of the denomination.
Rev. John McCleery was described by his congregation as:
“Predominantly warm hearted and sympathetic, his sparking sense of humour and generosity of spirit brought joy with him into every household and any company. There were few aspects of public and social life with which he was not concerned. A prodigious worker he was never content simply to give leadership or advice. John McCleery was a man of infectious enthusiasm, one who mastered the art of living in its fullest and most cheerful Christian sense.”
Following Rev. John McCleery’s death a Memorial Service was held on the afternoon of 30th November 1969. A very large and representative congregation drawn from many parts of the Province filled the Meeting House to capacity. Those taking part in the service were Rev, R.J.H Williamson, Moderator of the Presbytery of Antrim; Mr H.R. Hicks, Church Secretary; Rev W.C Lynas, Minister of the Presbyterian Church, Dunmurry; N. Novesy, Church Treasurer; and the Right Rev. William McMillan M.A., Moderator of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
John McCleery was greatly loved by his congregation and wanted to perpetuate his memory. He himself had set his heart on a Church Hall which would serve, not only congregational and denominational needs, but if desired the needs of those organisations that were so dear to him and so, the Reverend John McCleery Memorial Fund commenced.
Less than three years later, and thanks to the labour of the men of the congregation, on 20th May 1973 a Service of Thanksgiving was held to mark the opening of ‘The John McCleery Memorial Hall’ by his excellency The Lord Grey of Nauton, Governor of Northern Ireland. Nearly 50 years on, The McCleery Hall has witnessed countless congregational events, groups, teas, weddings, breakfasts and concerts and is still to this day used by the wider community of Dunmurry.