Passion to create a family church for all ages with respect and acceptance

The church choir
The church choir

This week Church Focus visits West Presbyterian Church, Ballymena, an open-minded and welcoming congregation with a vision to be a vibrant, praying church

This spiritual revival was one of the most exciting and dramatic periods in Irish religious history.

There was spiritual and moral reclamation on a grand scale as an estimated 100,000 souls were converted in the whole of Ulster, 60,000 of whom were reckoned to be Presbyterians.

This is the spiritual DNA of West Church, Ballymena, which was formed as a direct result of this massive intervention from God, with the first service of worship at the church being held on the first Sunday of the New Year in 1863.

A fabulous stained glass window in the west gable wall of the church building commemorates this exhilarating genesis.

Sadly an extensive fire caused serious damage to the original church building in 1926.

Old photographs show a burned out shell, with nothing but the four walls remaining. Thankfully the church was rebuilt with vision and vigour, with the addition of new halls, and reopened in 1928.  

The year 2013 to 2014 was therefore a year of 150th anniversary celebrations! A congregational weekend was enjoyed with the Rev Dave and Mrs Heather Male from Cambridge, a congregational mission was held with the Rev Dominic Smart from Aberdeen, and the actual date of the anniversary itself was celebrated with a visit from the Moderator of the General Assembly and a congregational meal shared together.

Throughout the year we celebrated the festivals and feasts of the Jewish calendar with Dessie Maxwell.

The anniversary celebrations culminated with a hugely successful flower festival and art exhibition through which we “Heralded our Heritage” with stunning floral displays, art work and the production of a banner.

A book charting our history written by two of our elders, Jennifer McLernon and Maurice Livingstone, is available for purchase at The Kiosk, Ballymena Translink Bus & Rail station, Montgomerys Restaurant, Ballymoney Street, Ballymena and James McNeill’s Spar and Hardware shop, Broughshane. 

West Church is certainly not stuck in the past, but rather we seek to offer culturally relevant and engaging preaching and worship services that help us all become more like Jesus every day. This approach honours the past by learning from it and moving confidently into the future.

Today, we would describe ourselves as an open-minded and welcoming congregation with a vision to be a vibrant, praying church, in which people of all ages are coming to faith in Jesus Christ, growing in Him and reaching out in His love to our community and beyond.  

I am a son of North Antrim, being schooled at Armoy Primary School and Ballycastle High School, before studying at QUB and Aberdeen University.

Coming to Ballymena in February 2000 was more of a home-coming after 12 years of ministry in First Killyleagh, Co Down. 

My passion is to create a family Church where people of all ages are valued in an intergenerational atmosphere of mutual respect and acceptance.

This important value is demonstrated through the employment of Phyllis Linton as our deaconess who has a vital and strategic ministry to families, particularly those in crisis.

Our women’s ministry has a multi-dimensional appeal in terms of craft mornings, a book club and speaker-led evening meetings.

A children and family worker, Tania Martins dosSantos, was appointed in 2012 to strengthen this aspect of ministry.

Youth Ministry is also important as we seek to be an inclusive community where our young people are integrated and nurtured through various youth organisations, and through the appointment of youth ministry personnel.

Currently our assistant minister, Philip Kerr, has a specific brief in this area.

The more senior members receive regular pastoral visitation from our pastoral assistant, the Rev Elwyn Jones, who brings a gracious godliness and years of experience to this important work.

Bowling Fellowship, Men United and the Friendship Circle also provide opportunities for fellowship and friendship.