"According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder,
I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.
But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon."
1 Corinthians ch.3 v.10
On the evening of 4th May 1895, a meeting was held in the small Irish town of Athlone, on the banks of the River Shannon, was was to have a lasting impact on the lives of many hundreds of people on the Shankill Road in Belfast, all through the following century.
Why should the Irish Baptist community at the turn of the century have thought of Shankill as an area of great spiritual need? The answer lies in the fact that only a few decades previously, the town of Belfast was a much smaller place.
Much of the area now known as "The Shankill" was open countryside on the edge of town. Then came the mills, the factories and the shipyards and a maze of streets grew up in their shadow. Small houses had been built to lodge the workers needed to keep the wheels of industry turning. The Shankill was a relatively new and expanding community and it drew in workers from the Ulster countryside to a city way of life that was new and crowded and often harsh. The factories were places of incessant toil and the houses had few amenities. Above all, the people of 'The Shankill' lacked the traditional Christian witness that was an ever-present feature of life in the countryside. At this stage, many Shankill families had no connection with a Church. It was amongst such folk that the Irish Baptists, along with many other concerned nineteenth century Christians, felt a call to work.
April 1st, 1896, may be looked on as the day when Shankill BAptist Church was founded. Forty baptised believers began to meet in Hunter's school-room in Tennant Street, with Mr Eland in charge. Those who were there would later recallhow, despite the "poor" lighting and the "wretched" seating, the meetings were full of "freshness and power". The new pastor was known as a manof great earnestness, and one witnessfrom another church noted how
"He possesses the power of taking his congregation into his confidence and speaking to them as though he were talking to a single individual."
During 1896, the Shankill church was welcomed into the Baptist Union and the work grew. By the end of the year there were eighty members.
Within a few months, the pastorof the Lurgan church Pastor E. Bury MA, had been called to Shankill to replace Mr Reid. He was editor of the Irish Baptist Magazine. His background was a rural one - "from the shores of Lough Neagh".
However the most striking change of all was the erection, at last, of a Baptist Tabernacle on the nearby plot of ground, which had been purchased in 1897.
The Shankill Christians must have been delighted to see an attractive, bright, red-brick building rising in front of their eyes throughout 1905 and 1906.
Designed by James Hanna, who was also responsible for the Antrim Road and Cliftonpark Avenue buildings, the new church possessed a striking gable window of beautifully patterned glass and a tiny but distinctive steeple. The building was designed to seat 400 people, in comfort, and to provide additional vestry accommodation plus a permanebt baptistry.