Parishioners of the award winning St Columba’s, Ballymena, have been reflecting on more than three decades of worship since the Doury Road building was officially opened on June 25, 1975.
As the anniversary passed, six of the church’s original foundation members – Renee Douglas, Tillie Fleming, Moira Heaton, Dave Heaton, Marie Telford and Margaret Telford – gathered to look back on the life and times of the church.
“It has always had a very relaxed, family orientated and welcoming atmosphere – informal would probably be the best way to describe it,” said Dave. “As well as that, it has never been scared to embrace change. Different curates have brought their own individual ideas to it and everyone has probably benefited from that.”
Marie explained: “When this church opened, some of us already went to St Patrick’s which is in the same parish, and we were asked to support this new church as we were living in the area. We’ve been here ever since which says a lot about the friendships we have made at St Columba’s.”
One of the key ingredients in St Columbas’ continued success is the work put in by the parishioners themselves. Prior to the appointment of a caretaker, members of the congregation took it in turns to clean the church and prepare the building for services, and afterwards leave it ready for use by its various organisations during the week.
Other members were involved in tasks as diverse as preparing the floral displays to sewing curtains to tending the grounds outside. The efforts of two other men, John Mawhinney and Harry Johnston, were particularly appreciated for their expertise in a number of ways, not least the installation of a new kitchen and ensuring that the building as a whole complies with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act.
It was that teamwork ethos and attention to detail which were instrumental in one of St Columbas’ most recent and biggest successes, when the church was recognised in a prestigious awards scheme last December. St Columba’s won the ‘Places of Worship built in 1900-1975’ section of the Ulster Historic Churches Trust Awards for Well Maintained Places of Worship.
Parishioner Christie Colhoun, who co-ordinated the church’s successful application, said: “Preparing the church to enter that award really illustrated a lot about how things work at St Columba’s. People worked hard and they worked together and they put a lot of effort into ensuring that the church and its grounds were in tip-top condition. When that envelope was opened at the awards ceremony and our name read out, it was a lovely feeling.”
Moira Heaton added: “We were absolutely thrilled and everyone was pleased for everyone else that the work that had been put in in so many different ways by different people had been recognised as a whole.”
And parishioners at St Columba’s are already looking to the future on both a short-term and longer-term scale.
“Like many churches we are looking at an ageing population,” said Christie. “We are dependent upon small numbers of people who have been associated with this church for a long number of years and we would all like to see more younger people coming through to carry on that work – the next generation as it were.”
Dave added: “The youth organisations within the church are flourishing, but different people grow up and maybe move away through work and other reasons and are lost to the church that they maybe grew up with and have been associated with all their lives – that’s a concern among churches right across Northern Ireland.”
Nevertheless, the spirit of togetherness that exists within St Columba’s is likely to ensure that the Doury Road church continues to thrive – a point not lost on the Rev Derek Dunn, who has occupied the pulpit for the past two years.
“This is a wonderful family which provides a tremendous atmosphere within the church. If you wanted something done, these people would do their utmost to help – that’s the type of people they are,” he said.
Article reproduced by kind permission of the Ballymena Times.