I wonder have you ever thought about how a church comes into existence?
Well, the Gilnahirk story is a truly fascinating one. In some ways it’s so simple, but in another it’s such a clear example of the wonder of our God.
We’re hugely indebted to Paul Doherty, who’s parents were founding members of the church, and who has compiled a wonderful history of the church, which is where we have received the majority of this information, as well as the photos you can see.
A family, the Doherty’s move into Gilnahirk, just a couple of doors down from where we now sit. But of course, Gilnahirk was a very different place then. Listen to how Raymond Doherty, father in the family, describes the area at the time:
‘Gilnahirk … had, in 1954, a quiet, country village atmosphere. Like other areas on the periphery of the city, it was in the chrysalis stage — land was being bought, houses were being built, new families were moving in. The scene was rapidly changing, an agricultural landscape was being transformed into a modern suburban development.’
The Doherty’s were members of East End Baptist church and so they got the bus on a Sunday morning to go to church. One autumn morning in 1954 Mrs Mary Doherty was waiting with one of her sons, Paul, to get the bus to church. But the bus didn’t show up. However, also waiting for the bus were newly-wed couple John and Hettie McMillan, who were on their way to Great Victoria Street Baptist Church. When the bus didn’t appear, the families gathered back in the Doherty’s home and Raymond shared his desire to see a Baptist work in the Gilnahirk area. The McMillans agreed, and with the help of a number of other couples, they began to meet fortnightly for prayer at the end of 1954.
In the September of 1955, the group asked the Baptist Union of Ireland for use of the Forbes Hall, which they could use to meet in. This hall was lent by the Home Mission, but of course the Gilnahirk group would need a site to put it on. So after a little bit of searching, they approached Mr Brown, the farmer who owned the land we’re currently sitting on, and they bought it from them for £400.
This money had come from the sacrificial giving of those involved in the group, as well as huge support from East End Baptist, and a bank loan, and the debt for the land was cleared within a year.
Work began on the site, and after a couple of years of growing cabbages in it to sell on for some income, on the 2 Nov 1957 the opening service was held. 150 people piled into that hall!
From then, Sunday school was held, services and special missions, until it came to 2 June 1959 when the church officially was formed, with a total of 15 signing the minute book of the meeting. And Gilnahirk Baptist Church was formed.
The meeting place of the church has taken on a number of physical forms, although always based on the current site at the junction of the Lower and Middle Braniel roads. Initially, the Forbes hall was used until the hall at the top of the site was erected. In 1986, a new building in the middle of the site was built, with the existing hall continuing to be used as the ‘church hall’.