St Luke’s Church in the parish of Lower Falls, which closed for worship on January 1 2006, is to re-open as a centre for cross community use.
The small but dedicated select vestry took the courageous decision to close the church after numbers declined. Members now worship at St Stephen’s in Millfield.
But the Rev Edith Quirey felt God wanted her to keep St Luke’s going, and the Representative Church Body (RCB) of the Church of Ireland has agreed to allow Edith to pursue plans to turn it into a building for the entire community.
Edith was appointed Bishop’s Curate at St Luke’s just six months before it closed. “It was such a part of the community and closure was a tough decision for the parishioners,” she said. “But since then I have really had time to think and pray about it and I felt God was telling me to keep St Luke’s open. I knew it would not be as a church on a Sunday but I saw in my mind’s eye how it could be used.”
Edith has the support of a committee formed of members of the two select vestries.
The new centre will be called ‘The Open Hands Centre’ and this has now been constituted as a charity.
“If God wants it to happen he will make it happen,” said Edith. “We have had architects out and we know it is going to take a lot of money to do it.”
The plan is to use the building for cross community activities including the after school club which is currently in St Stephen’s Hall, but has no outdoor play facilities. These would be included on the St Luke’s site.
It could also house the Contact Centre for separated families, also currently in St Stephen’s Hall. There are plans for a café and office space for organisations such as a suicide awareness and support group.
The centre would also offer training facilities for young people, a library, and activities for young men to help them improve their self worth.
And the Open Hands Centre will include a quiet place for worship as few churches in the area are open during the day.
“There is so much possibility in a big open space like St Luke’s,” said Edith. “I want to have somewhere for young unmarried mothers to come to learn new skills.
“A lot of the men in the Shankill because of the Troubles are in limbo and don’t have any self worth.”
A survey has been carried out on the Falls Road, and people there say they would support cross community activities in St Luke’s which is very close to the peaceline.
Edith is no blow-in to the area. “I know what it was like to grow up in the Troubles and to lose things,” she said. “I lived in Lanark Street off the Springfield Road. We were put out on internment day. Mum, dad and six children put out before the house was burned to the ground.
“I had grown up with Catholic friends and never had a problem. We need to let the next generation see that we are no different to each other.”
Edith said the Shankill and Falls suffered from high unemployment and social deprivation. “There is so much we can do for the community. People are in need and it is going to get worse not better because of the economic situation,” she said.
Despite its closure St Luke’s has not yet been de-consecrated. “I prayed for God’s protection when it closed and it has never been vandalised. It has also not been de-consecrated,” Edith added.
Fundraising is now underway to raise the £1m plus needed to see the project to fruition. Ideas include wash a brick for £1 and a 70s night in September.
When the centre opens it will be managed by the community as a business. Donations to the project can be made to ‘The Open Hand Centre’ at the Ulster Bank, Shankill Road branch.