127 Years of Faithful Service to God’s Work.
The Welcome’s story begins with the famous missionary Amy Carmichael from Millisle who is best known for her work in India founding the Dohnavur Fellowship.
In the mid 1880’s Amy started a Sunday morning class for the ‘Shawlies’, i.e. the mill girls who wore shawls instead of hats, in the church hall of Rosemary Street Presbyterian which proved to be very successful. Amy’s work among the shawlies grew and grew until they needed a hall to seat 500 people. At this time Amy saw an advertisement in The Christian by which an iron hall could be erected for £500 that would seat 500 people. A donation of £500 from Miss Kate Mitchell and a donation of a plot of land from one of the mill owners saw the erection of the first Welcome hall on the corner of Cambrai Street and Heather Street in 1887. Amy continued at the Welcome until she received a call to work among the mill girls of Manchester in 1889.
Unfortunately by 1926 much of the evangelistic out-reach of the Welcome had ceased. That is until Mr John Johnston was asked by a Church of Ireland Minister, Cannon Warren of St. Silas’ to use the Welcome to touch people in the area. Mr Johnston, who was known as a man of prayer, started in the small room in the back in which he ran a Faith Mission Prayer Union Meeting. He then proceeded to start a boy’s Bible class, then a girls, followed by Gospel services and finally a Breaking of Bread service on the Lord’s Day morning. Thus slowly the Welcome changed from a simple out-reach to mill girls, to a church with all its various services. Mr Johnston faithfully ministered to the Woodvale area for 40 years and had the joy of presiding over the opening of the current Welcome building which was erected in 1959.
The Welcome was then pastored for five years (1965-70) by Robert Mackey, under whose leadership the Welcome changed its name to the Welcome Evangelical Church. The next major pastor to minister to the Welcome was Mr Edward Young who had been a missionary in Senegal for 20 years, he was inducted in 1980. Pastor Young was to see the Welcome take another step forward with the installation of a Baptismal Tank in 1982.
Pastor Edward Young retired from full responsibility in 1997, and the services were carried on by many gifted speakers. The pastorate was later filled by two others who only stayed for a few years each. The congregation sought the Lord to send a man of His choice to take up the reins, and to carry the work forward. In the beginning of January 2006 Pastor Jonathan Clarke was brought to the attention of the Welcome, a young man with a wife and a son, who was born and reared in the area.
It so happened that in April 2006 Jonathan had left the Elim Church in Randalstown, where he had served as pastor for three years believing that his time there was at an end. The church oversight after having several discussions with Pastor Clarke decided to give Jonathan a call to the ministry in the Welcome, which he accepted. So on 28. May, 2006 Pastor Clarke took over the full responsibility of the Welcome Evangelical Church.