St Patrick’s Parish Church, Coleraine, along with its daughter church St Andrew’s, Ballysally, is the largest parish in the Church of Ireland.
Ancient records tell stories of visitations from both St Columba - to the then Bishop of Coleraine - and from St Patrick. In fact, Christians have been worshipping in and around this site for more than 1,400 years
The present church building dates back to the 1500s. It was rebuilt in 1614 by the Hon the Irish Society. During the rebellion of 1641, St Patrick’s was the only shelter for refugees from surrounding areas.
They lived in the church and its grounds for months, with the rector and hundreds of others dying of wounds, disease and starvation.
By the 1880s the church was in such bad repair it was decided to rebuild, and the new church was rededicated on April 28, 1885. New stained glass windows and a peal of eight bells have been added, and an organ installed in 1902. The first Communion Service broadcast on television from an Irish church came from St Patrick’s in 1962.The rector of St Patrick’s is the Rev Roger Cooke. His team includes office administrator Laverne Fillis, office manager Marlene Rajan, children and family worker Alice McAlary, youth worker Ryan Galway, organist and choirmaster Tony Morrison, worship coordinator Stuart Reid and student intern Michael Sloan. Services are held at 9am (Holy Communion) 10am (Daybreak), 11am (Parish Praise) and at 6pm (Evening Worship). The services are quite diverse - Daybreak is informal, the 11am service in the church much more traditional. Daybreak is somewhere the whole family - from grannies to great grandchildren - can be at church and not be totally frazzled!
Under the banner ‘Worship for every age and stage,’ Daybreak is held in the spacious Parish Centre which is more user-friendly for many, perhaps because they find the formality of ‘the big church up the hill’ a bit too much!
It begins with breakfast at 9.30am, followed by the service at 10am featuring a kid’s slot, after which the children head off for a separate teaching time, while the adults stay on. Alice McAlary said: “Most weeks we have about 200-300 at Daybreak. Sunday School numbers are up and creche is bursting at the seams.
‘‘One of the exciting offspins is that our children and young people are really enjoying eating breakfast together before heading off to Pathfinders - they now enjoy each week as opposed to being dragged along and they encourage their parents to attend!”
Alice added: “We’re enjoying getting to know lots of new families better - the earlier time, more relaxed format, the focus on the family, clear emphasis on relevant Bible teaching and more contemporary worship seem to be helping new folk engage in all sorts of ways.
“It has been so much more than we could have ever imagined. The church is growing and developing in all directions - truth be told - we don’t all fit!”
Daybreak meets during term time only and will return on Sunday September 14.
With continuing growth, St Patrick’s is now looking to the future. Soon after he arrived in the parish, Roger received the amazing news that a benefactor had bequeathed a very substantial and generous legacy. In the past year the church has used some of this money to buy some shop units on the High Street and a big car park - all right next to the church
Roger said: “The congregation had been keen to try and acquire property next to the church for quite some time. We were thrilled when we heard that our offer had been accepted on Christmas Eve.
“Since then, we’ve undertaken a congregation-wide audit to get a feel for what the church family hopes to do with the site.
“Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be going door-to-door and be out on the streets, asking about 500 folk in the community where they think the church can be doing something to help [“Seeking the welfare of the city” - from Jeremiah 29].
“Over the summer, we will meet key stakeholders - everyone from politicians, to leaders of voluntary organisations, to local shopkeepers - asking them the same thing.”
Roger added: “The congregation is praying and we are ‘out there’ genuinely trying to engage with the community and do something that blesses them! Whatever we do next, we hope we’ll be doing it in partnership.”
As has become tradition, St Patrick’s will once again reach out into the community this summer with a series of music recitals featuring local, national and international artists. This year’s recitals get underway on July 3 with a performance by David McCann on cello, and continue every Thursday at 12.30pm through the summer.
Other performers include: Derek Collins, organ; Eva Richards, cello; Emma Gibbons and Janine Burnside, organ and vocal; Michael McHale, piano; David Gibson, piano; Paul Berry, Gillian McCutcheon and Mark McGrath, clarinets; Pupils of Peter Wilson and finally, on August 28, Ian Mills on organ. Admission to all recitals is free.
Today, Saturday June 21, St Patrick’s hosts A Day of Private Reflection from 10.30am – 3pm. People are welcome to come and go. Roger said: “This is an opportunity to take a few minutes to acknowledge the deep hurt and pain caused by the conflict in Northern Ireland, to reflect on our own attitudes, on what more we might have done or might still do, and to make a personal commitment that such loss should never be allowed to happen again.”
St Patrick’s, Coleraine, is a parish which offers different ministries to appeal to everyone, from traditional worship in the church to the lively Daybreak service in the Parish centre.
It is a vibrant church, celebrating the talents of those within its parish, and reaching out to the community around it. Says Roger: “This is a parish at the heart of the community, with the community on our hearts.”
It is a parish which is excited about the future and looking forward to where the Lord is leading it, at the same time ever respectful of its historic past.