Church to reopen two years after fire attack
A south Belfast Presbyterian Church, which was badly damaged in an arson attack two years ago, will officially reopen tonight.
Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church sustained considerable damage after it suffered two devastating arson attacks in July 2016.
The news was met with widespread condemnation.
The church complex, which has a congregation of around 700 people and has been serving the community since it began in 1960, was forced to close due to the damage.
A special service of thanksgiving will be held this evening as churchgoers celebrate their newly renovated building.
The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Reverend Noble McNeely and representatives from neighbouring churches will be in attendance.
Reverend Alistair Bill, minister of Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church, said that due to the damage the congregation had to meet in other locations.
He said: "After the church was attacked, we were inundated with messages of support from across the community and offers of practical help, so many in fact we couldn't take them all up.
"We were really heartened to see that our congregation was seen as being at the heart of the local community.
"It has been a testing time and a time of renewal in many ways. Over the past 22 months we have been heartened on our journey by a piece of scripture found in Genesis 50 verse 20, where Joseph is saying to his brothers, 'You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good'.
"What happened that July night was harmful, but it didn't end in the destruction of our church and the scattering of God's people."
He added: "It was the start of a new journey, which is why we have called our service tonight Celebration of the Journey.
"I want to thank everyone who has helped us and supported us on that journey."
The fire and soot damage required the main church building to be stripped back to its core.
However, the team saw this as an opportunity to think more creatively about the church and they set about undertaking a radical change to the interior of the building, designing a space that was bright and modern.
"We decided to turn the inside of the church around 180 degrees.
"We removed the balcony making it fully accessible, a space that could be used for events by others within the community and not just for Sunday worship," Rev Bill added.
"We also put in a wider platform and upgraded the facilities, like our audio visual system.
"Not only have we designed a new church building to the glory of God, but a place to be used more and by the community.
"Part of this process of looking to the future has also enabled us see the need for a new member of staff to work with families in the area, something we are working towards."
Rev McNeely said: "I like the theme for the service, Celebration of the Journey, as it highlights and focuses on the fact that the church has had to recover from a setback.
"However, it has journeyed forward through a challenging time and continues to travel forward in anticipation of what is ahead."
The church also will hold a community fun day tomorrow from 11am to 3pm.