Belfast Telegraph

Belfast church celebrates breaking down of walls at one interface community

By Lauren Harte

A church on a north Belfast peace line is hosting a cross-community street party to celebrate a wall that had blocked access for worshippers coming down.

Pastors Sharon Perry and her husband Paul, both originally from Newtownabbey, are the driving forces behind the Abundant Grace Christian Assembly.

The church is now a vibrant gathering of numerous nationalities from all over the world.

In 2006 the husband and wife team started working in Dublin.

But in 2015 Sharon said she felt the Lord urge her to "head northward" and extend the ministry into Northern Ireland.

That December they snapped up the former Macrory Memorial Presbyterian Church at Duncairn Gardens.

Founded in 1896, the building housed one of Belfast's oldest churches that just about survived - with a touch of rebuilding - the Belfast Blitz and the Troubles.

The former congregation was amalgamated with a nearby church in 2005 to form Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church, and the building fell into disuse.

Belfast City Council's planning committee had been considering an application for demolition to build apartments on the site, which was later withdrawn.

The purchase of the church by Abundant Grace saw the building transformed into a new place of worship in time for Easter 2016.

While the location of Macrory Memorial, straddling a notorious peace line, may have put others off, pastor Sharon saw it as an opportunity to promote harmony.

Having ministered in the north Belfast area for many years prior to moving to Dublin, she knew well the challenges of a divided community, the struggles of poverty and the violence of the past.

"Our congregation in Belfast is growing at a slow but steady rate," she explained.

'In Dublin we have many nationalities in our church representing every continent, because we have been established there longer.

"There was one particular Sunday when we were praying for every country represented at the service and there were 15 different countries there that morning."

Her long-term vision for Belfast was to have two doors, to welcome people from both sides of the community on the peace line.

The north door opens onto Duncairn Gardens.

The south door on Hillman Street, which leads directly into the New Lodge, had been bricked up by the neighbouring tenants.

The church has negotiated for the past two years to have the wall removed.

"For a time people who wanted to visit us from the New Lodge area had to go down onto North Queen Street, walk along and come down Duncairn Gardens," Sharon said.

We are a church with two front doors... there are no back doors in this church, which was always our vision.

"We want to be accessible to everyone, no matter what side they find themselves on.

"The peace line doesn't exist inside our four walls. It's a joy to have reached this point after waiting for so long".

The wall finally started to come down in June, just as Newington & Apex Housing finished a new development of around 60 houses in the area.

Sharon said the church is now ready to welcome locals, new and old. She said: "We have been in to meet some of the residents and presented them with welcome packs containing some practical bits and pieces needed when moving into a new house."

To celebrate the door opening, Abundant Grace is holding a beach-themed party on Hillman Street tomorrow night from 6-8pm. This will incorporate street vendors, a surf simulator, bouncy castle, bike stunts by World Downhill Mountain Bike Champion Colin Ross, as well as live music and games.

Belfast Telegraph

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