Connect Base, the Diocese of Connor / Church Army North Belfast Centre of Mission in Shankill Road, was officially launched on Wednesday February 8.
Mr Des Scott, Deputy Chief Executive of the Church Army, travelled from Sheffield for the opening. He said the Church Army was delighted to be part of the vision the diocese has for the area.
The opening was attended by the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, clergy from the Mid Belfast Rural Deanery, diocesan staff, and other representatives of the Church Army.
Connect Base moved into two units in the Spectrum Centre last September, and is the working base for Church Army Evangelists Karen Webb and Stephen Whitten, along with Connor Children’s Officer Jill Hamilton.
The premises have a comfortable sitting area, a multi-purpose space with a large table which can be used for meetings, homework clubs and round-table chats, a kitchen, office space, and a relaxing prayer room. There is a pool table and games consuls which are proving popular with young people who have been taking advantage of the drop-in nature of Connect Base.
Guests were welcomed to the launch by Lead Pioneer Evangelist Karen Webb who thanked clergy for attending open evenings held at Connect Base, and related stories demonstrating how the new centre is already impacting on lives of people living in the area.
She explained how, in response to an identified need and working on referrals from health professions, Children’s Officer Jill was now providing ‘Baby Basics’ for young mothers. Essential items for mum and new baby, donated by parishes in the rural deanery, are collected in a Moses basket and given to a young mother to help her and the baby.
“We have been encouraged by our churches and our clergy who are so supportive and wanting to get on board with this project,” Karen said.
She introduced Mr Scott who described Karen and Stephen as ‘a breath of fresh air.’
“Thirty years ago I was working in this area. People were trapped in their homes as it was a no go area. Tennent Street and Shankill Road are very different today with all the shops and new houses,” he said.
“But there is still a sense of hopelessness, people are trapped by circumstances and sometimes they feel they want to give up. Hopelessness creeps into our churches, and often we look at the things we can’t do rather than the things we can.
“Karen and Stephen can be a catalyst, they can help you to build up your people.”
He added: “Church Army sees the vision the diocese has for this area, and we are delighted to be part of it.
“Please pray and support Karen and Stephen to reach the hurting, the broken and the hopeless, the people who have got nothing but want something we have. Through a shop window like this we show we are here to help. I am really glad the Bishop has chosen this place as a Centre of Mission.”
Bishop Alan told guests that this Centre of Mission was about partnership. “We are stronger together than we are alone,” he said. “I am grateful to the clergy for buying into this and to the Church Army. It is a great joy for me to say Connor is one of these first partnerships.”
The Bishop thanks Diocesan Council, the Connor team and particularly Diocesan Development Officer Trevor Douglas for sourcing funding for this new venture.
“This is a journey. I am not sure where it is going to lead but I have a profound sense that God is in this and that is all that matters, and God will bring His blessing,” Bishop Alan said.
After prayers led by the Bishop, guests had an opportunity to see the items collected for the Baby Basics project, and to take a good look around the Connect Base.