This splendid publication, with its attractively illustrated Cambridge blue cover and timed to coincide with the celebration of St. Columba’s 120th anniversary in June this year, offers readers a unique opportunity both to revisit the first one hundred years of the history of St. Columba’s Parish Church Knock, admirably penned by Betty Rainsford - as well as enjoy a recent account of the past 20 years thanks to an excellent update compiled by Organist Emeritus, Gerald Hill - all in one book!
Betty Rainsford’s story opens with the consecration of St. Columba’s Church on 13th June 1896 and closes a century later, just as the parish prepares to celebrate its centenary year in 1996. Gerald Hill follows on and completes the former’s original chapter 10 with an account of those centenary celebrations, and adds two further chapters of contemporary history of his own. The reader is assisted by the skilfully interspersed use of a distinctive font to identify the narrative of events from 1996 to the present time, including updates of the original chapters on memorials, parish organisations and the names of past clergy and parish officers.
Delightfully embellished with colour photographs, Gerald Hill portrays the life of a busy and thriving parish. It is interesting to note that a mere seven incumbents and eleven organists have served St. Columba’s throughout the 120 years of its history thus far, a remarkable tribute to ecclesiastical stamina and liturgical harmony! He describes the significant improvements to the fabric of the building – new interior lighting, boilers and heating, speaker systems as well as replacement windows and blinds in the church hall; and most striking of all, the recent major renovation of the West end of the church to provide parishioners with welcome space and facilities for refreshments and fellowship after morning service.
Such improvements have, of course, required continuous fundraising, with generous contributions both from parish organisations and individual parishioners, as well as the running of successful events such as the Patronal Flower Festival in 2010 and, two years later, the Dinner and Auction of Talents in the Stormont Hotel. Nothing, however, has been allowed to eclipse St. Columba’s commitment to outreach far beyond the parish boundaries. As well as a major mission team of experienced and younger parishioners to Zambia in 2012, there have been individual and group visits since 1996 to Ethiopia, Southern Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, Uganda, Serbia and Thailand, including regular support for a multitude of charities nearer home.
The author also tells of a pleasing growth in Sunday School attendance and youth groups, including the Crèche, and enthusiastic participation by young people in the monthly All Age Worship service. No less than 22 organisations currently offer opportunities for parishioners and visitors to meet, share interests and hobbies, and make new friends.
This is a book of meticulous research, packed with a depth of detail expertly gathered, and will be of immense interest to parishioners, family members and friends alike, well beyond these shores. A reference book to keep always to hand, it is more than just a history of a church or a parish. It is a history of people – many named, but even more unnamed - as they have lived and worshipped together during times of peace, strife, war, poverty and prosperity in East Belfast since the end of the 19th century to the present day. Above all, it is a powerful testament to 120 years of determination, faith, steadfastness, compassion and foresight, qualities that today show little sign of diminishing.