Cregagh Street Assembly, Belfast, N. Ireland
The origins of the Cregagh Street assembly are to be found in the burden of a number of believers, mostly associated with the Victoria Hall assembly, Belfast, to see the gospel brought to the Woodstock Road area of the city. A site was procured in Roslyn Street, and in 1918 a wooden hall was erected and the assembly commenced, with the full fellowship of other assemblies in the city.
Throughout the 1920’s’ the Lord’s blessing was experienced in abundant measure as the gospel was preached in and around Belfast. Many lives were changed as God’s Spirit worked powerfully. The Roslyn Street assembly shared in the blessing. Particularly memorable was a series of gospel meetings conducted by Mr. Frank Knox – his first series after his commendation to full-time gospel preaching.
By 1927 the assembly had outgrown the facilities of the Roslyn Street hall. The Lord had greatly blessed the work, and in 1927 the decision was taken to re-Iocate to a vacated National School, in Cregagh Street, less than one mile from the original wooden building. The former school-house in Cregagh Street now became known as Roslyn Gospel Hall, and remained so, until a new building was erected in 1938. At this point the decision was taken to call it ‘Cregagh Street Gospel Hall’. The period, 1927 to 1938, saw a steady growth in assembly numbers, with clear evidences of the Lord’s blessing in the salvation of sinners, and also in the gathering together of believers who were attracted by the scriptural principles being taught and practised.
The decision to re-build on the same site was made following fruitful gospel meetings conducted by Mr. John Hutchinson, first in the Gospel Hall, and then in a tent erected in the Loopland area of the Cregagh Road. In the early summer of 1938, the old school-house was demolished and by autumn of the same year a much larger building was ready for use. To God’s glory let it be recorded that it was opened free of all debt! The first public meetings were held on Lord’s Day, 6th November 1938.
During the years of the Second World War the assembly maintained its outreach to the surrounding area, and many series of gospel meetings took place. Open-air meetings and ‘marches’ around neighbouring streets to announce the indoor meetings were a regular feature. In addition, the entire district was systematically tracted. In those years, there was village work on both Wednesday and Saturday afternoons during the summer months; younger men cycled out to places like Ballygowan and Saintfield, a few miles outside Belfast, for tract distribution and open-air preaching.
During these years, two vacant shops were rented with a view to holding ‘cottage meetings’, as they were commonly called. In 1943, a small shop in Shamrock Street was used for children’s and adult meetings. This type of outreach gave opportunity to young men to get involved, and thus fellowship in serving the Lord was promoted.
The following year, a larger shop at the corner of London Road and Donard Street was rented. It had been unoccupied for some time and was in poor condition, but a team of willing workers soon had it ready for meetings. Thus began what became known as ‘The London Road Work’. It continued for about three years. During that period, two series of gospel meetings were held, one by Mr. Sam Thompson, Newtownards, and the other by Mr. Edward Fairfield who was home on furlough from Venezuela. Good interest was shown by the local residents and the Lord’s blessing was experienced, with ‘fruit’ remaining to the present day.
A feature of the Cregagh Street assembly from its inception has been its interest in missionary outreach. Amongst those who have gone overseas, with the commendation of the assembly are David Long, William Walker, Jack King, Kenneth Elliott, Jim Walmsley and Leonard Mullan. These devoted servants of Christ, along with their wives, have carried the gospel to many distant parts of the world. In addition to those mentioned above, two sisters, both qualified nurses, went to Central Africa – Miss Emily Wells and Miss Ina Esplin. In the 1930’s a sisters’ sewing class was formed. In its first years, it was largely a ‘Bandage Class’ where many hundreds of bandages were prepared for shipping to mission stations in Africa and India. As this work developed, many kinds of clothing were sewn, knitted or crocheted. In the 1950’s the emphasis was on making hand-stitched patch-work quilts, which eventually reached mission hospitals where they were highly appreciated!
During the war, hundreds of air-raid shelters had been built in the streets. One such large structure had been built directly outside the gate of Cregagh Street Hall and was still intact in April 1947, when Mr. Harold Paisley came to conduct his first series of gospel meetings in Belfast. The elders obtained permission to have a full-size announcement of the gospel meetings painted on the gable wall of the shelter where it was clearly visible from the Cregagh Road. The meetings continued for about seven weeks, with excellent attendances and many confessions of faith in the Lord Jesus. It was a time of outstanding blessings.
In drawing this record to a conclusion, it should be added that in the 1950’s two new assemblies were formed,,drawing their initial membership mainly from the Cregagh Street company. These two assemblies are known as ‘Castlereagh Gospel Hall’ and ‘Glenburn Gospel Hall‘. These advances were made with the wholehearted fellowship of the ‘parent’ assembly. All praise and glory go to Him who is ‘the Head of the Church’. The Cregagh Street assembly is now much depleted in numbers, but in spite of this, a vigorous outreach in the gospel is maintained, both in the hall and in the open-air. Interest in overseas work remains a marked feature of the assembly’s life.
It was a source of much joy when Paul McCauley expressed to the elders his exercise to devote himself to the preaching of the gospel and to the teaching of the word, in a full-time capacity. The elders and the entire assembly heartily endorse Paul’s step of faith. His commendation to ‘the grace of God for the work to which the Lord has called him’ was on 1st April, 2009.