An historic church that has been an imposing landmark in north Belfast for more than 130 years is to close down later this month.
The final service at Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church will take place on Sunday, October 14 at 11am.
The 133-year-old building on the Antrim Road, at the junction of Fortwilliam Park, is to be put up for sale, with the proceeds going towards “mission purposes” in the North Belfast Presbytery and around Ireland.
The congregation will be amalgamated with Whitehouse Presbyterian Church at Shore Road, Newtownabbey.
Rev Jim Stothers, deputy clerk of the general assembly, said the “exceptional demographic change” in the area over the last 40 or 50 years meant the congregation has dwindled to the point where it is “no longer viable”.
Attendances at the once thriving church have dropped to a few dozen each Sunday, with only 80 people contributing to the weekly offering, meaning the income cannot sustain the congregation.
“While many of our congregations are growing and attracting new families, it is a sad reality that in some areas, parts of north Belfast in particular, some congregations have experienced the opposite,” Rev Stothers said.
Other Presbyterian churches in the area that have closed over the past few decades include Duncairn, Clifton Street United, St Enoch’s, Oldpark and Macrory Memorial.
“This isn’t the first time we have had to take a decision like this in this part of the city,” Rev Stothers continued. “In 1963 there were 26 congregations made up of around 18,000 families. Today there are 22 congregations, including Fortwilliam and Macrory, with 6,000 families.
“I can appreciate the deep sadness felt by those who have worshiped faithfully at Fortwilliam and Macrory for many years and the upset that this brings,” he added.
Fortwilliam Park Presbyterian Church was founded in 1885 to cater for the expanding population of north Belfast.
Two ministers of the church – Rev James Breakey (1955) and Rev John Thompson (1986) – served as moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The Antrim Road church amalgamated with nearby Macrory Memorial Presbyterian Church in July 2005 to form Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church.
Former minister, Rev Lesley Carroll, stepped aside from her church ministry in 2016 as she made a failed bid to secure an Assembly seat for the UUP.
Following the church’s closure later this month, Fortwilliam and Macrory will amalgamate with Whitehouse Presbyterian Church – a decision agreed by both the kirk session of Fortwilliam and Macrory and the Presbyterian Church centrally.
The Shore Road church’s name will not change.