The foundation stone for the first Methodist Church at Knock was laid in August 1869 and the church building was opened for worship on 13th January 1870. An account of the opening ceremony in the Belfast Newsletter recorded that the entire cost of this building was £700. The report also complimented the church architecture on its ‘neat and tasteful style’ and described the gathering as a ‘very large and most respectable congregation.’
The site for the present church was obtained in 1882 – the foundation stone was laid 2nd October that year and dedicated on 13th June 1883. The church is built of Scrabo sandstone and has an imposing tower at the south-west corner. Initially the church had no gallery. As numbers increased a gallery was added in 1908, followed by the Transepts in 1925, along with choir stalls, a new organ, vestry and choir room.
Knock has a number of magnificent stained-glass windows and people visit the church for the first time (often for baptisms, weddings or funerals) they remark on the stained-glass windows. Notable amongst these are ‘imports’ from the former Donegall Square & Carlisle Circus Methodist Churches.
Construction of the manse then followed and it was completed and occupied in 1874. The first Minister was the Rev. Joseph McKay.
The original church building of 1870 became part of the old church centre. This church centre had served the church and the community until recently, when it was recognised that it had come to the end of its life. It was agreed that a new church centre which was fit for purpose was needed to be erected if the work of God in Knock was to develop and grow.
On 25th September 2011 our new Church Centre was dedicated to the glory of God and officially opened for public use. In the planning of this building our aim was to create a flexible space that would be suitable for church and community activities. In the past 18 months or so, the congregation and community have been using the Church Centre to great effect. Established church activities have grown in numbers and we have been able to begin some new activities.
One of the strengths of Methodism is that we are connected with other Methodist Churches which is why we refer to the Methodist ‘Connexion’ when we talk about the Methodist Church in Ireland. Our practices, emphases and ethos reflect those of John and Charles Wesley who lived in the 18th century. John Wesley is credited with being the founder of Methodism, though Methodism was never intended to become a separate denomination, but rather as a renewal movement within the Anglican Church.
Methodism has always emphasised the need for social justice in the world. That is why we in Knock partner with Christian Aid in seeking to tackle injustices around the world, and also with Storehouse Ministry in seeking to ensure that people in our city are fed. Our belief is simply that as every human is made in the image and likeness of God, so every human is loved by God. This forms our belief that God’s love and salvation in Christ is open to every person.
Another aspect of our ethos is celebrating our unity in Christ with Christians from other sister denominations. To that end Knock Methodist deeply values our friendly relationship with the neighbouring churches in our area, being part of the Belmont & District Council of Churches. Another sign of our unity is that we share Holy Week services with St. Columba’s Church of Ireland on the Kings Road. This tradition of worshipping together during Holy Week has developed over almost 30 years. We have always tried to live by Wesley’s mantra of being ‘the friends of all and the enemies of none.’
Learning to live by the way of Christ is challenging at times. We think that it is important to develop our understanding of the Bible and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the world today. So we have small groups in which we share our understanding of God. Currently we are following a reading plan set up by Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society), where we read through the whole of the New Testament, stopping along the way in our small groups to explore the text together and working out how it applies in our lives today.
Sharing the love and grace of God to all is central to who we are in Knock. We are glad to say that we are blessed with a healthy youth and children’s ministry; our weekly Luncheon Club feeds about 40 pensioners and our Parents & Toddlers group (Busy Bees) hosts between 50-70 children. These church activities, along with others, are our way of declaring to the world around us that God loves everyone and that everyone is therefore important to God.
In 1868, the correspondence columns of the papers were frequently featuring strong letters on the merits and even the correctness of organ music in churches. John Wesley’s brother Charles was a prolific hymn writer and Methodists are still well known for singing their faith. Music and hymn singing has always been an important feature in Knock and an organ was installed in 1887 to replace the original harmonium. Over subsequent years, improvements and modifications have been made to the organ and we now have a very fine three manual Smethurst pipe organ, which has been overhauled by Wells-Kennedy in recent years.
At a time when choirs are declining in numbers, our choir remains strong with about 30 members, ranging in age from teenagers to octogenarians. Just over a year ago the British Methodist Church released a new hymn book, which we adopted in Knock and began using – its title being ‘Singing the Faith.’ Using this new hymn book has encouraged us to continue singing those hymns which we cherish and value and also to learn some new material which is developing our worship to the Lord.
Knock is situated in a leafy suburb of east Belfast and the temptation is for us to feel comfortable and content in our familiar climate. However, we are well aware that there is an incredible amount of work to be done in regards to showing God’s love and grace to all those around us and further afield. So as a church family we want to reach out to others in love and friendship as we seek to serve Jesus our King in His strength and for His glory.