Prayers answered as east Belfast church is saved
An iconic east Belfast church has been saved from the wrecking ball after it was listed.
The congregation of Cregagh Presbyterian Church voted to knock down the church and rebuild it because of structural damage in June this year.
But the plan was opposed by Stewart Barbour, grandson of the church's founder, who told the Belfast Telegraph he would do anything he could to save the distinctive red brick building on Belfast's Cregagh Road.
Since he launched his Save Cregagh Church appeal on social media this summer, 1,081 people have signed an online petition calling for the church to become a listed building.
And on Christmas Eve, Stewart announced on Twitter that the campaign had been successful and Cregagh Presbyterian Church had been listed by Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
His grandfather, the Rev Dr David Stewart, founded the church in 1903 and the present building was built 25 years later.
Stewart's father, the Rev WAJ Barbour, took over leadership in 1944 and played a key role in refurbishing the church in 1963.
Since then, the structure of the building has deteriorated, with the iconic bell tower having been condemned and 90% of the bricks needing replaced, and it will cost an estimated £800,000 to bring it back up to standard.
Minister Rev Paul Dalzell said if the 1,000 people who had signed the online petition were each to donate £800, it would cover the cost of the restoration.
"We were in the process of choosing an architect to draw up plans, so the listing has saved us that cost," he said. "The vast majority of the congregation are happy with keeping the building. We've gone down that road, God closed it and we will look at it again in the New Year. We're in the job now of restoration."
The congregation had voted in favour of refurbishing the church in 2008, but its funds were frozen when the Presbyterian Mutual Society went into administration.
In June this year the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said the church was fast becoming not fit for purpose.
But, this week, the Save Cregagh Church campaign announced that the church had officially been made a listed building. The DoE listing said the church and its hall retained a wealth of original material.