St Thomas’ Parish Church on Belfast’s Lisburn Road was officially reopened on Friday September 19 at a Service of Thanksgiving.
The service was conducted by the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, and the Rector of St Thomas’, the Rev Canon Walter Lewis. The preacher was the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd Alan Harper OBE, whose sermon can be downloaded here. The re-opening followed an extensive year-long restoration and re-ordering of the Church for the purposes of worship and flexible parish and community use.
Built in 1870 and designed by renowned Belfast architects Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, the church is a gem of ecclesiastical architecture. The restoration has brought the building back to life and has included cleaning the stone work and stained glass windows as well as the laying of an attractive new floor throughout the building. New lighting has been carefully located to accent the striking stone work and vaulted roof. The rear of the church has been opened up to allow for a range of extra parish activities.
Canon Walter Lewis said: “St Thomas is now a truly beautiful, inspirational and attractive building – a shining example of the very best that can be achieved in the work of restoration and re-ordering. The work carried out has tremendously enhanced this exquisite building for use in the 21st Century’.
Bishop Alan Abernethy further commended the work at St Thomas, saying: “This demonstrates a most creative way of using a church building to enable worship and also to be a facility for the local community.”
The Service of Thanksgiving was attended by a congregation of around 500– including distinguished guests, civic dignitaries and elected representatives – and 40 clergy from across Ireland and further afield.
The Archbishop of Armagh and Bishop of Connor were joined by the Bishop of Down and Dromore; the Bishop of Clogher; the Bishop of Linköping, Connor’s link Diocese in Sweden; and former Bishops of Limerick and Down and Dromore.
The restoration work was carried our by Consarc Conservation Architects under the guidance of Dawson Stelfox and Robert Miles, and has benefited from grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (formerly Environment and Heritage Service).
This re-opening was the first in a series of events planned for the next nine months in the church. Between now and June 2009, St Thomas will host more than 40 special celebratory services and events, on top the normal weekly worship services. These will include services with distinguished preachers, family services with students and teachers from local schools and universities, and a series of concerts featuring many well known choirs and ensembles from across the country.
St Thomas will also host a series of ‘clinic’ seminar evenings, with leading experts speaking and offering advice on key issues which affect us all in modern-day society such as parenting, stress and health.