Vision realised with opening of new Parish Centre in Portglenone

Wednesday November 18th 2009

The Rev Mark Loney, rector of Portglenone, with the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, and Miss Olga Fleming who officially opened the new Parish Centre.A large crowd assembled in the new Portglenone Church of Ireland Parish Centre for the official opening and dedication on Monday November 2.

The centre, which was completed in February, was declared open by Miss Olga Fleming, a lifelong member of the parish and an enthusiastic fundraiser. Olga has been involved in many aspects of church life over many decades.  In her short address she remarked that the previous parochial hall on the same site had been acquired in 1961 and had served the parish well, but she recognised that the future generation must take on the baton and see that the Lord’s work is continued in facilities appropriate to the mission we now embrace.

Joined by the rector, the Rev Mark Loney, the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, and members of the Portglenone Select Vestry, Miss Fleming unveiled a commemorative plaque located in the entrance foyer of the new centre.

A service took place in the main hall of the new centre, conducted by the rector, during which Bishop Abernethy dedicated the new building. It was a service filled with celebration, relaxed yet appropriate in giving thanks to God and praying for the future ministry at the new centre.

The Church KidZone (Sunday school) sang ‘The wise man built his house upon the rock’ with great gusto, and the Bishop addressed the children in mime, emphasising the need to build their lives on the solid rock that is Jesus.

The parish was pleased to welcome the Rev Kevin Brew, Mr Loney’s predecessor as rector of Portglenone. A major catalyst in the project’s early stages, Mr Brew reflected on his own experience of the planning and preparation for the new centre, which was not without its hurdles. He also read the lesson from 1 Peter chapter 2 v 4-10.

Local Presbyterian and Elim ministers were also present and at the invitation of the rector offered words of encouragement, reflecting on the good fellowship and oneness of purpose in the gospel that already exists amongst the clergy in the village.

Hymns sung during the service were, Praise my soul the King of Heaven, Be still for the presence of the Lord and There is a redeemer, accompanied very ably by brother and sister Robin and Sarah Crockett on stage piano and guitar.

The opening and dedication evening was concluded with a sumptuous supper and celebratory cake organised by the ladies of the parish. This provided opportunity for further fellowship and renewing of relationships.

The new parish centre cost just over £300,000.  The rector said: “From a parish of only 65 families this is an immense undertaking. A pulling together of inherited resources and some forward planning made the vision a financial reality. There is still a long way to go, donations are always most welcome!”

He added: “Portglenone parishioners continue to give faithfully to the building fund, despite testing economic times, and the church has known great support for its fundraising ventures from all sections of the community.” 

The new centre has been in the discussion and planning stages for more than a decade. At the church’s Easter Vestry in 2007 there was a unanimous decision from the 60 folk who attended to forge ahead with the project. The parish is indebted to the Architect, John McKeown (Belfast), for his skill in maximising the use of space given the small ‘footprint’ of the split level site. Indeed at the opening night John noted this as one of his most challenging enterprises from a planning perspective and wished the parishioners well in this new base for outreach to the community.

The centre operates on two levels at the front and three at the rear. A lettable unit exists at the front at ground level on Main Street, currently occupied by Peekaboo Boutique.  The centre also has a lift servicing all three floors, comprising an entrance foyer, a minor hall, upper room coffee bar, a main hall with store rooms for larger functions, a vestry room, an office, kitchen and requisite toilet facilities. The building is fully accessible to people with disabilities.

Work commenced in September 2007 and finished in January 2009. Mr George Robinson, whose construction firm built the centre, noted during the opening night that it was perhaps one of the ‘tightest spaces’ he has known for manoeuvring machinery, added to that the frontage onto a main public thoroughfare. All who have viewed the centre to date have remarked on the excellent craftsmanship of George Robinson’s team of builders, and his sub-contractors. They are to be commended on a superb end product.

In his reflections for the future the rector said: “We are absolutely delighted by the new centre, which stands beside the pedestrian crossing in Portglenone village. As the church of Jesus Christ we are about inviting people to cross from darkness to light, from a lost eternity to an eternity with Christ, and in the here and now to enjoy life in all its fullness.

“It is the hope and prayer of myself and many in Portglenone Church that the new centre will be a place where church and community meet, where the church gets back into the middle of ministering to the busyness and bustle of everyday things rather than sitting on the fringes expecting folk to come to us.”

He went on: “To be located on the main artery of Portglenone is a blessing. Already the centre has been host to an eight week CARE Parenting course, regular parish events, a packed gospel concert (the next one being at the end of November), Ulster Scots events and Weightwatchers amongst others. More recently we have set in place on Tuesdays at 12 noon a weekly outreach lunch for senior citizens, organised by Mrs Beth Colvin from the church. All are welcome!

“We occasionally hold some of our services in the centre to give us more freedom and do ‘church’ a bit differently. We have certainly recognised a growing interest in the use of our facilities, even during the opening and dedication evening. We plan to shortly relaunch our parishes youth fellowship which will be based at the centre. I believe the church must be a body that is open to reshaping its outlook to meet the opportunities for sharing Jesus in the present day.”

Mr Loney concluded: “Unquestionably, thanks must go the Portglenone select vestry for being united in the fulfilment of this vision, for the prayer that so many have richly invested, the goodwill and encouragement of fellow clergy in the village and their congregations.”


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