Churchgoers heartbroken as congregation prepares for final service

Members of Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church in north Belfast say they are heartbroken that the historic church is to close next weekend.

Saturday, 6th October 2018, 8:31 am

The final service at the 133-year-old church on the Antrim Road is due to take place on Sunday, October 14 at 11am.

Originally called Fortwilliam Park Presbyterian, the church amalgamated with Macrory Memorial in nearby Duncairn Gardens in 2005.

But attendances have dwindled in recent years to the point where it is no longer viable to keep the church open.

Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church.

Rev Jim Stothers, deputy clerk of the General Assembly, said the closure of the church has come about “due primarily to exceptional demographic change in the area over the last 40 to 50 years” – change that has also seen several other Presbyterian churches in the area shut their doors.

The landmark building at the junction of Fortwilliam Park is to be put up for sale, with proceeds going towards “mission purposes” within the North Belfast Presbytery and throughout Ireland.

Life-long member of the Fortwilliam congregation Pat Martin MBE, 80, has been attending the church since she was three years old. An elder for more than 25 years, she described its pending closure as “heartbreaking.”

“I still sit in the same pew my father did all those years ago and I am absolutely heartbroken that the church is closing,” she said.

The church has a number of beautiful stained glass windows.

“Macrory Memorial merged with us in 2005 and we were hoping the extra numbers would have kept us going, but sadly not.

“I’ll be very sad to see it close.”

Also expressing sadness at the situation facing the congregation, Robert Briscoe, church elder and former musical director, said Fortwilliam and Macrory has not only been a place of worship but “an important community resource.”

“The church was seen as a genuine safe place and shared space within north Belfast with the building being used by many community groups. The congregation was always very welcoming, hosting events such as the annual Carols for All service. I have fond memories of these special services which brought the entire community together,” he said.

The inside of Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church.

“I will miss the people greatly. The fact we were a small congregation meant you got to know everyone so well and make the most wonderful friends.

“I would hope that the building will continue to find a use as a community resource in some way.”

Stressing that he appreciates “the deep sadness felt by those who have worshiped faithfully at Fortwilliam and Macrory for many years and the upset that this brings”, Rev Stothers added: “In the Old Testament, the writer of Ecclesiastes says that ‘there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens’. I want therefore to give thanks for the life and witness of Fortwilliam and Macrory, for the lives changed through the preaching of the gospel there and the impact it has had on the area and on so many people over the past 133 years.”

The congregation of Fortwilliam and Macrory will be amalgamated with Whitehouse Presbyterian Church a few miles away at Shore Road, Newtownabbey.

• Ulster Architectural Heritage (UAH) has said it hopes to see Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church put back into use as soon as possible.

“The building is B+ listed in recognition of its architectural and historical significance, and gives it legislative protection against demolition and inappropriate or unsympathetic alteration,” a UAH spokesperson explained.

“We hope the building is quickly acquired by an owner whose vision will see it put back into use as soon as possible. With new use, the building has potential to breathe new life into the local community.”