A Larne church has officially opened its new premises, thanks to the efforts of a small group of tenacious local Christians.
Larne Evangelical Church was formed about 10 years ago, with a membership of 22 people. For the past decade, the independent church has used Moyle Hospital as a place of worship.
But through sheer determination, the congregation has successfully breathed new life into a formerly derelict property on Laharna Avenue. The site, once earmarked for redevelopment into apartments, has now been transformed from a dilapidated shell into the church’s new home.
Pastor Mervyn Darragh of Larne Evangelical Church told the Times: “The building was erected in the late 1950s and was once the home of Larne Elim Church.
“But it lay abandoned for a number of years and fell into a state of disrepair. It was a real blight on the area and a hot spot for antisocial behaviour.
“We purchased the premises in December, 2013 and set about giving it a new lease of life.
“It was completely trashed and overgrown when we took ownership of it, but through a lot of hard work we have managed to transform the building over the past 15 months. We are delighted with the outcome and feel it has enhanced the area.”
The Ballymena man, who has served as a Baptist pastor in locations such as Scotland and Co Tyrone over the past four decades, thanked the local community for being “hugely supportive” throughout this project.
“People have been offering us their encouragement since we embarked on this journey and we are very thankful for that,” he added.
“I also want to say a big thank you to my wife Glyn for all her help and support, as I could not have done this without her.”
The move to the Laharna Avenue premises ushers in a new era for the church, which was formally constituted last year.
There are currently seven members of the church, but Pastor Darragh is hoping that number will steadily increase over time.
He added: “Our new building can comfortably seat about 100 people, and at a push can hold about 130. We are a community-based church and we will be reaching out to local people.”
A thanksgiving service took place on Friday to celebrate the official opening of the building, with Larne man Pastor Richard Rennie of East End Baptist Church in Belfast as the special guest preacher. Meanwhile, the first open service was held on Sunday.
Sunday services will take place at 11.15am and 6.30pm, and Pastor Darragh said all are welcome to attend.
“We are open to everyone and will turn no one away, and we would particularly welcome those who are interested in the reformed faith,” he concluded.