The foundations for a new era in the life and ministry of Buckna Presbyterian Church in County Antrim took place on Saturday 1 October 2022, when the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, cut the first sod at a special Ground Breaking Service for the congregation’s new meetinghouse, which he described as “a very special moment.”
During Saturday afternoon’s service, which involved the singing of the hymns ‘Behold our God’ and ‘To God be the glory’, Dr Kirkpatrick was supported in the ceremonial sod-cutting by one of the oldest members of the congregation, Buckna’s Clerk of Session, John Robinson and one of its youngest, Eva Kennedy the daughter of the congregation’s minister, Rev Stephen Kennedy.
Speaking after the service, Dr Kirkpatrick said, “This was a very special moment. As Gospel hearted people, we are always seeking ways to demonstrate our faith and confidence in the promises of God. The building of a new meetinghouse here in Buckna, especially in these difficult economic times, is a clear expression of this.
“This afternoon we sang ‘To the Glory of God, words ’which will one day feature on a plaque placed somewhere in the final building on its official opening. To step out now is a clear way of glorifying Him as the one who will provide for His people. It is a very powerful way of saying that no present hardships diminish His great goodness and grace, as they are real and invite us all to trust Him in our own difficult times,” the Moderator said.
Presbyterians have worshipped in this part of County Antrim from before the current meetinghouse was built in 1756. But as Rev Stephen Kennedy explained, the church building is now too small. “We’re a growing congregation and very blessed to have a large number of young families connected to us, and while holding a significant place the heart of many, our old meetinghouse no longer meets our needs for mission and ministry.”
Mr Kennedy continued, “This is obviously a very exciting time for all of us. The congregation has been on a long journey with the project, but to see it finally starting is an answer to prayer. We are a vibrant evangelical church family that has a heart to reach those who don’t know the Lord Jesus.”
One example of this outreach involved Dr Kirkpatrick in the late 1990s, when he was asked to preach during a weeklong outreach mission organised under the ministry of Rev Leslie Addis. Sometime later Dr Kirkpatrick heard of one man coming to faith in Jesus as a result. That person, Andy Hamilton, was present on Saturday, and is a member of Buckna’s Building Project Sub-Committee.
Set in the heart of the Braid Valley, with Slemish Mountain just over a mile away from the current meeting house, the congregation with its 250 families, is four miles from Broughshane and around eight miles from Ballymena. Mr Kennedy, who was called to the congregation as its minister in 2018, explained that the current church hall, which was built in 1960, is also a quarter of a mile up the road from the meetinghouse, which was not ideal. The new church building will be opposite the hall on a greenfield site, which will also be close to the Manse.
Mr Kennedy said that plans were initially drawn up, and the project moved forward, during the ministry of his predecessor, Rev Mark Neilly, around the turn of the last decade, with the congregation raising in excess of £1 million for the Building Fund over the past 10 years. Having appointed Michael Whitley Architects in 2014, the church was in a position to tender for a contractor in March 2020. The Covid pandemic however delayed the project for nearly a year and half, when Martin and Hamilton were finally appointed in May of this year.
“We are delighted that we have been able to reach this point, and would like to thank the Moderator for cutting the first sod. Our new meetinghouse and halls complex will be built in two phases, opening, we hope in time for Christmas 2024, but no later than early 2025. By moving forward with this project we will be securing Gospel work in this area for generations to come,” Mr Kennedy said.
Reflecting on the day, he continued, “It has been a joy to see God’s hand at various points throughout the planning of the project to get us to this day. When thinking about it, one verse that we have returned to again and again has been is 2 Corinthians 8:9. It says ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.’
“It reminds us, that Jesus has given His all for us and no sacrifice that He calls us to can be too great. As we have looked at the project, humanly speaking it seems completely impossible – especially in light of current economic difficulties. However, we firmly believe that the Lord will provide,” concluded Mr Kennedy.
Find out more about the ministries at Buckna Presbyterian on their website