Special service marks reopening of church damaged in arson attack

Pastor Ian Wilson welcomes firefighter Samuel Heenan and firefighter Derek Bell of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service along with PSNI Inspector Leslie Badger to the official reopening of Rathfriland Baptist Church. Photo by Gary Gardiner.  INBL WK 4616-509
Pastor Ian Wilson welcomes firefighter Samuel Heenan and firefighter Derek Bell of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service along with PSNI Inspector Leslie Badger to the official reopening of Rathfriland Baptist Church. Photo by Gary Gardiner. INBL WK 4616-509

Members and friends of Rathfriland Baptist Church came together recently for the official unveiling of the building’s new-look interior.

The Loughbrickland Road church was extensively damaged by fire earlier this year in what Pastor Ian Wilson described as “an attack on the Gospel by arsonists.”

Pastor Ian Wilson with the Deacons and Members of the Oversight of Rathfriland Baptist Church, who attended the official dedication and reopening of the church building. Photo by Gary Gardiner.  INBL WK 4316-507.

Pastor Ian Wilson with the Deacons and Members of the Oversight of Rathfriland Baptist Church, who attended the official dedication and reopening of the church building. Photo by Gary Gardiner. INBL WK 4316-507.

Among those who attended the service of thanksgiving to mark the reopening of the church were local politicians and Police and Fire Service representatives.

“What a transformation from the night of the 18th May 2016, when a arson attack took place, until the Lord’s Day morning of 16th October, when members and friends of Rathfriland Baptist Church gathered together for the first time in the new, bright interior of the church building,” a church spokesperson said.

“Thanks to the alertness of a local resident in raising the alarm, and the rapid response of the firefighters of Rathfriland Fire Station, Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, to whom we are indebted in preventing a more serious situation. Whilst it was devastating to see the building damaged, we are thankful to Almighty God that no one was injured.

“On the night, the firefighters of Rathfriland Fire Station did a tremendous job, assisted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who secured the church building until forensic officers had completed their task.”

Pastor Ian Wilson welcomed local councillors including Seamus Doyle, Alderman Elizabeth Ingram BEM, Junior McCrum and Deputy Mayor Paul Greenfield to the service to mark the official reopening of Rathfriland Baptist Church. Photo by Gary Gardiner.  INBL WK 4316-510

Pastor Ian Wilson welcomed local councillors including Seamus Doyle, Alderman Elizabeth Ingram BEM, Junior McCrum and Deputy Mayor Paul Greenfield to the service to mark the official reopening of Rathfriland Baptist Church. Photo by Gary Gardiner. INBL WK 4316-510

The spokesperson continued: “A temporary Place of Worship was required, and our thanks must go to Mrs Amanda McCullough, Principal of Rathfriland High School, Reverend Trevor Boyd, Chairman and Board of Governors, allowing the use of the school Assembly Hall. Every church in the area was very supportive, with access kindly granted to Second and Third Rathfriland Presbyterian Church Hall, Rathfriland Elim Church Hall and Edenagarry Mission Hall. Our Thanks are due to the Ministers and Oversight of each church for their help and assistance in our time of great need.

“In the midst of the crisis, it was very encouraging to have the support of the entire community, from far and wide, whose help was offered and financial support given, which greatly lifted our spirits.

“Our politicians were of one mind in their condemnation of the attack and supported us by their presence on site, with phone calls and letters of support by making themselves available to help if required.

“When work was eventually allowed to commence on the church building, painting, electrical, flooring and glazing contractors turned matters around quickly and we thank them for the excellent work carried out. Many members and friends worked tirelessly over many weeks, and we can see the results of their labour with the church building in such fine condition.

“The Baptist Church has been situated in Rathfriland for almost 50 years, and it has been our privilege to preach the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ over those years.”

Looking to the future, the church has something to offer people of all ages, including Sunday School, Good News Club, Young People’s Bible Class and CAST Youth Fellowship, as well as Ladies’ Meetings, Men’s Bible Study and Lord’s Day meetings at 11:30am and 6:30pm.