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When Kilkeel Baptist Tabernacle commenced in 1933 in its old building on the other side of the road from the new one being currently used it was not the first time a Baptist Church existed in Kilkeel.
Back in 1866 Kilkeel was designated a new station for the Baptist Irish Society and the committee at that time decided to send William Ramsey, who had just 3 years experience in a Baptist situation, to work in the town and the general neighbourhood.
First reports from the new work indicate opposition from the other local ministries. A further report indicates that in 1868 a large house had been acquired and altered to form a meeting place. This work continued through these early years with difficulty and opposition, although Pastor Ramsey was much encouraged when he saw two outstations of the Kilkeel Church opened - one at Newcastle and one at Warrenpoint. The Minutes of the Irish Baptist Association for 1867 as it met in Carrickfergus from 22 - 24 July records how the Kilkeel Church and its Pastor William Ramsey were received into membership of the Association.
The Church statistics for that time show how 5 people had been baptised during that year and the membership stood at 16 believers. The Sunday School had 15 pupils and was supported by 2 teachers. However, the 1871 minutes of the Association meeting show that Pastor Ramsey had been moved to Ballymoney, and the next statistic to appear in Association records was for the year 1877, and there is no mention of Kilkeel, and so it appears the Kilkeel Church ceased to exist around the year 1871 having had only a short life of some five years.
The second chapter of the history of the Baptist work in Kilkeel reopens after a silence that lasted over 60 years. Pastor James Shields of Milltown Baptist Church in Belfast caught the vision for the work in Kilkeel. A prominent site on the Newcastle Road was procured in 1932 and a plan for a new Church Building drawn up. The Kilkeel Church was to be known as Kilkeel Baptist Tabernacle.
On Easter Saturday 1933 at 4.00pm the doors of Kilkeel Baptist Tabernacle were opened. These opening services were held over the weekend, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The building of these premises was undertaken by Mr John Graham who became a foundation member of the Church. To all of this work at the start there was much opposition and many difficulties with little to encourage just as Pastor Ramsey had to encounter in the previous century.
The first Sunday School Excursion was held some weeks after the church started when they went to Derryogue Beach near Kilkeel, and in the years that followed they even went as far as Cranfield. In 1938 the Northern Baptist Association rented their portable hall for use in the Carginagh Area. This site was close to the Silent Valley gates where a weekly Open Air service was held. The Carginagh folk were indeed the main stay of the Kilkeel Baptist Work, so much so that many of them who attended were of the opinion that the Main Church should have been erected in Carginagh and not in Kilkeel town. In Carginagh there was a Tuesday evening weekly meeting and a Sunday afternoon Sunday School. All the meetings in Carginagh were very well attended and many who attended the Sunday School went on to become members of the church. After a few years the Northern Baptist Association decided that rent had been paid long enough and the hall was given to the church. Pastor Shields in these early days did all of the preaching himself except when relieved by a visiting preacher.
Saturday night was Open Air night at the "corner" in Kilkeel. There was a loud speaker used normally on top of George Annett's van and it was a great place to start your life as a preacher of the Word. In the early 50's the church bought a portion of ground on the Mill Road as a burial ground which belonged to George Annett who was Pastor Shields's son - in - law. The first organist in Kilkeel was the Pastor's daughter, Miss Martha Shields who played the Mason and Hamlyn organ.
During the closing time of Pastor Shields ministry Mr John McVicker came alongside to help while he was waiting for his visa to come through as he had prepared to go to Peru with Irish Baptist Foreign Mission. Mr McVicker was very much esteemed by the Kilkeel people and of a personality that suited the Mourne area.
During the late forties Mr Sam Sloan was awaiting clearance to move to Peru with Irish Baptist Foreign Mission and in that waiting period he spent much time covering the whole Mourne area on bicycle and generally talking to people about the Gospel.
After his retirement Pastor Shields was followed by Pastor John McCrea in 1950. He had been an evangelist with Irish Baptist Home Mission. It was understandably difficulty for Pastor Shields, who had devoted his long life to bring this work into being, to completely relinquish his contact with the pulpit and so this second pastorate was of short duration.
A young college student, Mr Bill Scott, was given a temporary assignment which lasted over one year. Mr Scott started a youth fellowship group during this time. As the church did not have a secretary up to this point it was found necessary to relieve the Pastor of some of his work load and appoint a secretary and so Mr H. A. Johnson from Newcastle was given this responsibility.
In 1955 a call was given to Mr Silas Henry to pastor the church, and this he accepted. He enjoyed 5 good years, and was to be followed by Pastor Victor McWilliams who was here for 15 years before going to Canada. In 1975 William John and Florence McConnell where the first couple to leave the church to be involved in missionary work, and since then many others have heard and obeyed the call of God upon their lives to serve Him in many other lands.
In 1972 the front of the church building received a face-lift. This was the first time since 1933 any work of major importance was carried out to the building. During Pastor McWilliams time he started an annual week of Missionary Convention which is still a major part of church life in the present day and will very soon be going for 50 years.
In 1976 Pastor Clifford Morrison commenced his pastorate of the church, and this lasted for 8 years. During his time an extension was put on the back of the building. Also, with increasing numbers it became necessary to make extra provision in the main church building and so a balcony was erected. During his time here the Adventurers, which is a work for children, commenced, as well as a Teens & Twenties meeting and the Ladies Meeting.
Pastor Morrison left in 1984 and it was 1987 that Pastor Geoffrey Ward commenced his pastorate, and this lasted until the end of 2000 when the Lord led him to Portrush Baptist Church. It was during this time that the building which we are now in was built and officially opened by Mrs Jeanette Heaney in 1997. Much of the work was carried out by many who attended the church.
Following a vacancy of more than 3 years the previous pastor, Alan Dundas, commenced in April 2004. Alan’s Pastoral ministry continued until June 2011 as the Lord called him then into another ministry called “Coaching for Christ”; a ministry that is being blessed by reaching children with the wonderful message of the Gospel through football. The Pastorate was vacant again from June 2011 to October 2012, when the Lord called George McConnell, an itinerant evangelist, who was involved in conducting Gospel Missions over the province. He and his wife Tracy were both welcomed into the membership of the Tabernacle at his induction service on Friday 19th October 2012.