Brian Parker and Henry Jordan at the Ballinagh Mission Hall, located next to the garda station.

‘It’s not about a building, it’s about people’

Ballinagh Mission Hall is open and every Christian is welcome. That’s the message the Ballinagh Mission Hall’s congregation is eager to get across.

Conscious of the need to welcome new people into their fold, the group decided to make the building - a former Methodist church – a more welcoming venue. Renovation of the understated church, dating from 1881, was all the more needed after the pandemic led to an 18 month lay off. Over the last six months the old pews have been removed, stud walls have been installed to create a kitchenette and a new toilet. Plush new carpet has been laid, a donated electric organ has been gratefully received, and every surface has been given a lick of paint. It’s looking good.

The interior is no longer overtly like a church but yet, there’s no mistaking the Christian ethos underpinning the group. A large framed poster hangs from the wall which reads: ‘Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, the life. John 14:6’

Rather than a new facelift, what would really help to lift the hall however are new faces.

The group had previously been called Ballinagh Mission Church, but have rebranded to Ballinagh Mission Hall, to be more welcoming.

“We don’t take anyone away from their church,” Henry Jordan assures. “That’s one thing we emphasise here. ‘People say of if I go there I’ll have to leave my own church’. No, that is wrong.”

Accordingly all Christian faiths are welcome to join, with the regular congregation of up to 25 people including Catholics, Church of Ireland, Presbyterians and other denominations.

The Drung man is a Church of Ireland preacher, but he insists the mission – an interdenominational group - is separate to his day job. Henry has been attending the mission hall for the last 30 years or so and says the congregation has an older age profile.

“It’s the usual people who come every month more or less to support it,” Henry says. They would love to see more younger people and families join in.

“It’s hard to get new people in,” he laments. “I don’t know, maybe they think it’s a protestant church, or whatever, and just feel, ‘I’m not going in there’. It’s hard to break that barrier down. We want to make it more open.”

The Anglo-Celt notes there’s probably many people from the town who have never set foot in the hall.

“Absolutely,” agrees Henry. “I’ve heard the comment – ‘Oh that place is closed in years’. Just because they don’t see it open. We don’t have much activity unfortunately, we’d like to have more.”

The mistake is understandable as the activity is limited to just one hour long service a month – the second Sunday, at 8pm.

Brian and his wife Hazel Parker are eager to host new events at the hall. The couple relocated from County Antrim to Cootehill three years ago, and are busy running outreach events for the mission and kids’ clubs.

“Lockdown happened and that put the brakes on it for a while,” recalls Brian of his work. “But we were always keen to try to do a little bit to make it more appealing to bring folk into.”

Brian describes his daily work as: “A combination of evangelistic work – reaching out with the Good News of Jesus – and also getting alongside different churches and supporting them. Cavan is full of a lot of small churches so I try to help them, whether it is kids’ work or their outreach efforts or taking services on a Sunday.”

Ballinagh Mission Hall intend to up the number of events in September, but have not yet settled on what they will offer. However last Saturday’s event was a start on expanding the limited meetings. It was a thanks giving event for all who made the hall renovation a reality. While the materials had to be bought the work of the trades people was undertaken voluntarily by members of the congregation and Christians from elsewhere acting in support of the mission.

“We had a lot of retired tradesmen who came down and gave up Saturdays and evenings to come down and do a lot of this work for us and pushed it on,” says Brian who says the building is much more suitable for their needs.

The Celt mulls over the word mission and asks Henry what he takes from the word?

“The mission is to reach out to people. It’s not about a building, it’s about people - that they put their faith and trust in God in these days.”