The dedication of a brand new church building in Whiterock on Monday January 17 marked the start of a new era of Church of Ireland ministry in this part of west Belfast.
St Columba’s Worship Centre was dedicated by the Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Rt Rev Harold Miller. The Archdeacon of Connor, the Ven Dr Stephen McBride, represented the Bishop of Connor. The 200 guests included those who had brought this forward-looking project to fruition and members of the community in whose midst the new church sits.
A 64-bed nursing home has been built next to St Columba’s. The two buildings are the result of an innovative partnership between the Diocese of Connor, E&B Services, Prime Care, and the parishioners of St Columba’s Parish.
To make way for the project, the old St Columba’s Church, built in 1962, was demolished last year. Part of the land it stood on has been leased to the developer, who in return built the new multi-purpose church building.
The organisations and ministries associated with St Columba’s will continue in the new church, but priest-in-charge, the Rev Dr Chris Easton, said he hoped St Columba’s would be able to provide a variety of additional resources and ministries that will benefit the entire community.
The new church has a large hall on the ground floor which will be used not only for services but will be available for other activities. The church has full disabled access, and the first floor boasts a modern cafe, a variety of rooms, additional toilets and shower, and an office. There is a large storeroom on the second floor.
Some items from the old St Columba’s, including a large wooden cross and an impressive stained glass window, have been incorporated into the new building.
Dr Easton has been involved in this ground-breaking project since its inception. “This is an innovative approach to try and rejuvenate a church. It is a wonderful opportunity to make a fresh start and my role now is to encourage people to make the most of that. This is an opportunity to re-establish a worshipping community here in Whiterock, serving the Highfield and Springmartin housing estates.”
He said the project had already generated considerable interest. “There is an air of anticipation in the area. People are keen to see what we are going to be doing. We want people to know that we are part of the community, not just somewhere to come on Sundays.”
Dr Easton said the cafe was an integral part of the project and was something the community had asked for.
“It will give us the opportunity to bring more people into the building. Although it looks like a church outside it is not like a regular church building inside. Church here will also be different to many people’s perception. There will be a fresh expression of worship. It will be very relaxed which will make it easier for people to come through the doors.”
Parishioner Margaret Johnston was married in the old St Columba’s. “The old church was beautiful with its stained glass windows and pews, but this new building is still a church, and it is one that will be more open to the community,” she said.
Seventy seven-year-old Eddie Stone, a parishioner since 1948, acknowledged that change had to happen in Whiterock. “The new building is a great facility for residents and we are hopeful that it will increase the numbers in the church,” he said.
For the duration of the project, the congregation of St Columba’s worshipped in the neighbouring Springhill Primary School, so it was fitting that the primary school was the venue for the early part of the Service of Dedication.
Here Mr Eddie Weir of ADP Architectural Design Partnership gave a presentation on the project. Mr Gilbert Yates of Prime Care also addressed the guests before presenting the plans and the keys to the Archdeacon of Connor, who in turn presented these to Dr Easton. .
The congregation then crossed the road to the new church where the Bishop’s Commissary invited the faithful to enter, and the doors were opened by Dr Easton. Diocesan Registrar the Rev William Taggart read the Deed and the new church was then dedicated by Bishop Miller.
Following the service guests enjoyed refreshments in the upstairs hall. St Columba’s continues its celebrations with a Thanksgiving Service on Sunday January 23 at 11.30am a mini-mission featuring the Walk of 1000 Men from January 27-30, a youth evening on January 28, a family fun open day on January 29 and an Invitation Service on January 30.