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End of an era as doors close for the last time at Windsor Presbyterian Church

Congregation moving to new home in Great Victoria Street

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New dawn: Young members of the congregation enjoy the final service at Belfast’s Windsor Presbyterian Church at the Lisburn Road church which first opened in 1887. Credit: Stephen Davison

New dawn: Young members of the congregation enjoy the final service at Belfast’s Windsor Presbyterian Church at the Lisburn Road church which first opened in 1887. Credit: Stephen Davison

Reverend Ivan Steen leads the final service. Credit: Stephen Davison

Reverend Ivan Steen leads the final service. Credit: Stephen Davison

Rev Steen and Presbyterian Moderator, Dr David Bruce. Credit: Stephen Davison

Rev Steen and Presbyterian Moderator, Dr David Bruce. Credit: Stephen Davison

Windsor Presbyterian Church dates back to 1887. Credit Stephen Davison

Windsor Presbyterian Church dates back to 1887. Credit Stephen Davison

Hassan Sabahi

Hassan Sabahi

Professor Norma Dawson

Professor Norma Dawson

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New dawn: Young members of the congregation enjoy the final service at Belfast’s Windsor Presbyterian Church at the Lisburn Road church which first opened in 1887. Credit: Stephen Davison

The congregation of Windsor Presbyterian walked in a pilgrimage after their final service on Sunday morning to their new home at Great Victoria Street. They did so with a mixture of sadness but also with hope that great things will develop in their Christian mission nearer the city centre.

The Windsor congregation has been forced to leave its beautiful late 19th century building on the Lisburn Road because it cannot pay for the expensive refurbishment of its stonework, dating from 1887. However, the building will be developed as an arts and drama centre by supporters aiming to raise the finance required.

The Windsor Church was virtually full for its last service and the large congregation included many current and former members, and former ministers and well-wishers from neighbouring churches.

The music was inspiring with much-loved hymns familiar to generations of worshippers, and some people wondered what will happen to the splendid organ which featured for the last time at Windsor in Presbyterian worship. Perhaps it will be used by the new artistic owners.

Father Eddie O’Donnell brought best wishes from St. Brigid’s Catholic Church at the other end of Derryvolgie Avenue, as did Mark Houston from the nearby Windsor Baptist Church which moved relatively recently into the old Majestic Cinema on the Lisburn Road.

He said “We know how you may be feeling. There will be challenges ahead, but God will be with you.”

The Windsor minister the Reverend Ivan Steen preached on the Gospel theme of “new wine in new wineskins”. He said: “The Christian Church and the people of God cannot stand still. Our departure from this building and our pilgrimage to Great Victoria Street is a visual representation of the Christian life on the move.”

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The Presbyterian Moderator, the Right Reverend Dr David Bruce said: “Places, including buildings, are important to us, because this is where memories are made. It is likely the things we remember best are connected with places, buildings, gardens and rooms.

“We are all on a journey and the landscape continually changes. For Windsor that landscape has changed and accelerated, but as you move on you are being a tutor to others throughout the Presbyterian Church who face the challenges of radical change.”

The service which ended with the familiar hymn “Be Thou My Vision” to the traditional Irish melody of Slane was also presented in sign language to cater for the Kinghan Mission for the Deaf which has close connections with the Windsor Church.

There were also translations in the Persian language by Hassan Sabahi, a chef who came to Belfast six years ago from Iran. He said: “I have felt at home in Windsor where I was given adult baptism. I am always very happy to help with the service in the Persian language. My fiancée Mina is still living in Iran but we are working to try to ensure that she will join me here within the next few months.”

The Windsor congregation includes a number of refugees and asylum seekers. A young Mongolian woman Demi Mijiddorj Tenuun was at Sunday’s service with her son Tumurchuder (5). She was a laboratory chemist in Mongolia and came to Belfast six years ago. She said: “When I came I spoke no English and had no family, but the people of Windsor Church became my wider family. If I had to leave this church on my own I would be sad, but I am leaving with my Windsor family and I am leaving with hope for the future.”

Norma Dawson, an Emeritus Professor at Queen’s University, has been a Windsor elder for over 15 years. She said: “Today is bittersweet. I am sad at leaving but I am also grateful that the people of Great Victoria Street Church are being so warm and welcoming to us.”

Cecil Graham, an elder for over 10 years, said: “I will also be sad at leaving but the move to Great Victoria Street will provide a greater base for outreach nearer the city centre”

The congregation included Tom Hartley, a former Sinn Fein Councillor and Lord Mayor of Belfast who has a special interest in Presbyterian Churches. It is estimated that 31 of these in Belfast have closed since 1964.

A former Presbyterian Moderator, the Very Reverend Dr John Dunlop who was also at the service, said: “It is a sad day because Windsor is closing. It is such a beautiful building on a great site, but it is also a positive move which will provide a place of worship and of meeting from many immigrants and asylum seekers from all parts of the city.”

The Reverend Steen added: “We are also near the Kinghan Mission in Botanic Avenue which is now the most international part of the city.”

At the Great Victoria Street Church later on there was joy and celebration as people from both congregations shared a barbecue and light refreshments,

The minister, the Reverend William Harkness, said: “I am very excited. This feels just right and we welcome the Windsor people with open arms, like two parts coming together.”


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