Loughside church with heart that beats for the community

Whiteabbey Methodist Church
Whiteabbey Methodist Church

Whiteabbey Methodist Church sits on the Shore Road, overlooking Belfast Lough, and just before the entrance to the village of Whiteabbey.

There were many distinct villages in this area in the past, places like Carmoney, Glengormley, Jordanstown, Monkstown, Whitehouse, Whitewell and Whiteabbey. Today these settlements have merged into one but each still have their own distinct history.

Whiteabbey derives its name from a Premonstratensian Abbey which existed here in the 12th century.

In Ireland they were known as the White Canons because unlike the vast majority they wore white habits.

Their formal title was The Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré which was founded by Saint Norbert at Prémontré near Laon (Picardy) in 1120.

The Norbertine Order was very unique in regarding women and men as equals with women being known as canonesses.

The order lived in high austerity and ministered within the local community. One of most important features at Whiteabbey is the White House, the ruins of which have now been restored as an interpretation centre. The building is referenced on a map of 1570 as one of only four buildings that existed between Belfast and Carrickfergus. The others were Belfast Castle, Lugg Castle and Carrickfergus Castle. It is 300 years older than the oldest building in Belfast.

The old quay at Whitehouse served as a landing and shipping point for the developing settlement of Belfast. It was also where the troops of William III landed in 1690. King William himself landed at Carrickfergus and rode to meet General Schomberg at the White House before the campaign started.

Today the White House has an exhibition space which not only tells its own illustrious history but also that of the Williamite war in Ireland and its relationship to Europe. The exhibits include artefacts and clothing from the period.

Evidence of a community of Methodists in Whiteabbey go back to the late 18th and early 19th century, but it was not until 1901 that the Reverend William Maguire, superintendent minister of the North Belfast Mission, organised the purchase of a piece of land in Jordanstown, on which a wooden hall was built.

This served as a worshipping community of around 100 at a sunday afternoon service, 50 at a midweek service, and around 100 children in the Sunday School.

For over 30 years Whiteabbey was an outpost of the North Belfast Mission with no permanent church building. In 1935 the Rev JW Stutt, who succeeded the Rev W Maguire, began to plan for a more permanent centre in Whiteabbey. And so in 1936 the present church was built, at a cost of £3,300.

In 1968, a new hall was opened, replacing the Nissen hut which had served well. Over the years there had been problems with damp at the front wall of the church due to its exposure to the elements of Belfast Lough. So in 1992 a new front was added to the church to solve this problem, enhancing its appearance. Then in 2010 a new modern suite of halls were opened, which meant Whiteabbey Methodist Church now had the facilities needed to carry on its work and witness in a modern world.