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Antrim Baptist Church has had a presence in the Antrim since 1969, when Baptist evangelist Walter Entwistle came to Antrim for what was supposed to have been a three month placement. He ended up staying six years to oversee the growth of the young church and their move into the premises on Greystone Road where the members have met since 1973.
Their first meeting place, though, was the Royal British Legion Hall on the Lough Road, where Pastor Entwistle organised Sunday evening services for a group of around 20 people, in 1969. This included a dozen members from the Baptist churches in Ballymena and Ballyclare who attended to give their support.
“Antrim was reputed to be a difficult place to establish a Baptist church,” said Pastor Entwistle.
“I was single in those days and I used to knock on doors to invite people to send their children to our Sunday School. They were receptive and the Sunday School grew from three children to over 50 in just three months.
“Ten people were baptised in May 1970, and by that time we had 28 members and the church was formed. By the time the church moved to the Greystone Road there were around 70 people attending.”
Pastor Entwistle said the early 1970s was an interesting time for Antrim.
“It was an exciting time for the town – with people coming from Belfast to live there and the Enkalon factory providing work – but it made it difficult for the new church,” he said.
“Enkalon employees worked in four shifts and it was often impossible for people to attend Sunday services. There was also a great deal of population flux, with people coming to Antrim from Belfast, deciding they didn’t like it, and leaving.”
Charlie Smyth, the longest-standing member of the church, also has memories of the period.
“The British Legion Hall stank of cigarettes and alcohol after a Saturday night, so a team had to go in early and clean it thoroughly – not a pleasant job” – he recalled.
Over the past 43 years Antrim Baptist has only had three pastors – Gordon Elliot, Eddie Coughlan, and the current pastor Neil Watson who came in 2006, having previously served in Bloomfield Baptist, Belfast, for 10 years.
The church currently has around 120 people attending on a Sunday.