Our story begins in 1803 when settlers were brought from Scotland by Thomas Douglas, the fifth Earl of Selkirk. Some came from the Shires of Ross, Argyle, and Selkirk, a few from the Isle of Uist and Mull, but the vast majority came from the Isle of Skye. The leader of the emigration was Dr. Angus MacAulay, who was both a medical doctor and a British Army Chaplain. He acted as family physician and minister to the settlers for the next twenty years. Dr. MacAulay conducted worship in a small log chapel which he had built on his own property.
In 1822 the Rev. John MacLennan was sent out by the Church of Scotland to become the first full-time minister and work began on the construction of a new church. The site for the building was a hill overlooking much of the surrounding area and was donated by Lord Selkirk.
Robert Jones directed the construction of the building. He had lived in London, England, and was heavily influenced by the architecture of Sir. Christopher Wren. The exterior has changed very little over the years, except that a vestry with Sunday School rooms, choir room, kitchen, washrooms, and furnace room was added years later. Later still, a third floor was built above this addition.
In 2002 the addition was removed and a modern wing was built in its place.This was kept as much as possible in the style of the original structure. The new addition provides modern classrooms, meeting rooms, fellowship areas, and administrative offices. At this time an elevator was installed to make the building accessible to everyone.
Until 1910, a service was held in Gaelic each Sunday at 10:00am. It was immediately followed by an English service which lasted until 12:30 or later. The format for the services was very simple. The congregation stood for prayer and remained seated for singing. The music was led by a precentor, as there was no organ or choir. An organ was first used in 1892, and some time later the original box pews were removed and the high pulpit was taken down.
During its years of existence, the congregation has seen many challenges and changes. The present pastor, Rev. Roger MacPhee, arrived in September 1987 and has continued the tradition of outreach, spiritual growth and encouragement which has always been part of the ministry of St. John’s Belfast.