1. Beginnings in Saintfield
2. The Tent Mission
3. House Meetings
4. The First Evening Service
5. The First Bible Study
6. The Next Step
7. The First Young Peoples Meeting
8. Praise Service
9. First Sunday Morning Service
10. Forming a Church
11. A Site
Beginnings in Saintfield
During the summer of 1987 Baptist Missions sent a team of workers into Saintfield to engage in evangelism with a view to planting a church. Pastor Jim Henry led the team which included Cecil Johnstone, Stanley Black, Evan Williams, Desmond Creelman, Alan Wilson and Sam Best. The gospel was well received in most homes during the first few weeks of door to door visitation and at this time the Baptist Mission team decided to call a meeting of all the people in the area who were interested in the formation of a Baptist Church.
On the 4th June 1987 after notifying all the local Baptist churches a meeting was held in the home of Wilfred and Margaret Reid to discuss the possibility of establishing a Baptist Church in Saintfield and to find out how many local Baptists were interested in the work. Pastor Derek Baxter spoke on the ‘Power of God’ after which those gathered had a time of prayer concentrating on the work in the Saintfield area, and for guidance and help in the planting of a new church.
The Baptist Mission team continued with their visitation in the town and for two weeks from July 26th to August 8th a mission was held in a tent on Listooder Road, in a field kindly granted by Mr Robert McBriar. Pastor Jim Henry was the speaker at the Gospel meetings while Pastor Jim Garrett took the Children’s Meetings each afternoon. Many people from local churches also helped in the mission by playing the organ, testifying and singing.
The meetings were well attended and at the end of the mission five people were known to be saved and one backslider restored.
As a follow up to the mission, meetings for Bible study and prayer were organised every Thursday night in the home of Billy and Dorothy Lawther. On most nights a group of about twenty met and heard Pastor Jim Henry speak on “The Greatness of Jesus” while the prayer theme again was the work in Saintfield.
On the 27th August, Pastor Derek Baxter and Pastor Jim Smyth attended the meeting to discuss the future of the work in Saintfield. Discussion took place on this topic after the prayer time, and it was then agreed by the Lawther and Reid families to take the step of faith and form a Baptist fellowship. Mr Wilfred Reid and Mr William Lawther agreed to work as treasurer and secretary respectively.
The first meeting of the Saintfield Baptist Fellowship was held on Sunday 6th September 1987 at 7.00pm in the local Orange Hall (kindly granted) and was taken by Pastor Jim Smyth. Andrea and Paula Shanks brought their messages in song and Mr Stanley Black led the meeting. Fifty eight people attended the service and this was a great encouragement to all concerned with the work.
The fellowship was given a set of ‘Redemption’ hymn books by Millisle Baptist Church and everyone was delighted with this gift as it was the first item that actually belonged to Saintfield Baptist Fellowship.
On Wednesday 9th September 1987 the fellowship held the first Bible Study and Prayer meeting at 8.00pm in the Orange Hall. Eighteen people attended this meeting which was taken by Pastor Derek Baxter who began a series on “Problems on the Christian Pathway” and dealt that week with the subject of “Doubt”.
The work took another step forward on Wednesday 7th October at a meeting held after the prayer meeting. On that night Mr Sam Dunn and Mr David Kennedy indicated that they and their wives were committing themselves to the fellowship. About fifteen other people attended the meeting and showed a keen interest in the work.
Pastor Baxter, much to the surprise and joy of those present, told them that Pastor Grant would be coming to visit the fellowship and would be bringing with him a cheque for £10,000 towards purchasing a site. This money was a gift from the Southern Baptist Convention Foreign Mission Board and was sent by Dr Isam Ballenger.
Everyone who was at the meeting that night felt a deeper assurance that the Lord was leading and guiding, not only by the financial support but also by those extra families who had committed themselves, and others who had expressed an interest in joining the fellowship.
The first youth fellowship meeting took place after the Sunday evening service in the Orange Hall on the 11th October.
Mr Stanley Black led the meeting to which thirteen young people attended. After some light refreshments they all joined in chorus singing which was followed by the showing of a video entitled “Consider it all Joy”. After some discussion it was agreed to continue with these meetings each fortnight.
As all meetings continued to be well attended and more families had joined the fellowship it was decided to have a morning meeting also on Sunday.
The first Sunday morning service was arranged for the 8th November but it was also decided to have a praise service to thank God for all that he had done for the fellowship. This was held on Friday 6th November at 8.00pm in the Orange Hall and over one hundred and forty people attended. Pastor Derek Baxter brought the message, while Pastor Jim Henry acted as chairman. Sandra Harpur, Ken Maxwell, Daybreak, Redemption Male Quartet and Stephen Corry all took part in the service praising God.
The first Sunday morning service was attended by over forty people and Pastor Henry was responsible for both services that day. The fellowship met round the Lord’s Table for the first time together, and used trays and plates supplied to them by the new Moira Church.
On Wednesday 2nd December 1987 and 16th December, meetings were held after the time of prayer to decide on a date to form a church and to draw up a constitution. Pastor Baxter chaired the meetings and guided and advised the fellowship on forming a church and to draw up a constitution. Pastor Baxter chaired the meetings and guided and advised the Fellowship on forming a church while help was also given by the rest of the Baptist Mission team. It was agreed by all to have the formation of the new church on Saturday 9th January at 7.30pm in the Orange Hall where Pastor Baxter would act as chairman and Pastor Henry would be the speaker.
Twenty five people stated that they wished to become members of the Saintfield Baptist Church.
They fell into three categories:
- Sixteen people who were members of other Baptist churches
- Six who were baptised but not members of a Baptist Church
- Three who were not baptised
The three people desiring to be baptised were baptised in Comber Baptist Church at the Watchnight Service where Pastor Baxter baptised them and Pastor Garett was the speaker.
Following a preliminary approach by Baptist Missions to Mr Reginald McClenaghan about buying some of his land for a site for a new church Mr David Kennedy, Mr Sam Dunn and Mr Billy Lawther made a second approach on Wednesday 30th December. After a short time it became very clear to the three men that the hand of God was at work when Mr McClenaghan and his wife indicated that they wanted the fellowship to buy the land. A verbal agreement was reached and when Mr Kennedy closed in prayer all were conscious of the Lord’s presence. The news of this was received by other members of the Fellowship with much joy and thanksgiving to God.