Chris Rolfe

The church redeeming land for God’s glory

Portadown Elim is in need of a new building.

With their charity that helps 10,000 local families each year, extensive community work and a congregation of 500 people, Portadown Elim has ambitious expansion plans.

Pastor Ross McBride is passionate about building a multipurpose church and community hub on a 4.3-acre site in the heart of Portadown.

“I became senior pastor here in 2014 and my first decision was to buy this land," he says. "The site came up for sale for £470,000 and buying it was a tough decision for the church, which only had £360,000 in the bank. But we managed to acquire the land outright, understanding the great potential it offered.

“The site has lain empty for 17 years and has been a place of anti-social behaviour, but we believe we can regenerate it. We feel it can be redeemed and used for God’s glory," says Ross.

For the past seven years, Ross and his team have prepared to begin building, creating ambitious plans for a £4m, 36,000 square foot building, with a 1,000-seat auditorium, sports hall, crèche and children’s rooms, which would double as a day nursery during the week.

In part, the building has been designed to create modern facilities for Portadown Elim, which celebrates its centenary this year, and last had an extension in 1985.

But the new plans are also designed to be a community hub.

“We have a charity attached to our church called Helping Hands – we run a food bank, give out furniture and clothes, provide debt advice and do lots of detached outreach.

“We also help people when they’re moving house and take referrals from the probation service, Mencap and other charities, so our church is very much involved in the community.

“We’d love this new place to be a base to draw people to and to run some of our charity’s services from.

“There is no other place in the town that can accommodate something of this size and we want our building to be used by the community."

The project has suffered many setbacks with local businesses and politicians opposing plans – even citing endangered bats on the site as a reason not to build, and so planning permission has yet to be granted. That said, Ross is confident it will be given this year and that building can begin.

As they wait, the church has been keen to put its land to good use.

“We asked, how can the Lord use this land right now, even though we can’t put our building on it yet? So we’ve decided to renovate a 40ft shipping container into a coffee shop on the site.

“There are 60-70 teenagers who meet close to the land to drink alcohol and take drugs, and we have an outreach team that works with them to keep them safe and offer tea, coffee and prayer. We’re putting the container on the land to draw them away from a dangerous part of town, and to help us to work more closely with them. 

“Our community work really excites us. Our focus has always been out there, and any time we’re not in the middle of the mess, helping broken lives, we feel we’ve missed our calling.”

With lockdown restricting church-based outreach, Portadown Elim has looked for ways to support vulnerable people at home too and has come up with inventive ideas to care for local pensioners.

A couple in the church cook for 25 pensioners and drop off freshly made three-course dinners to them every Monday. The church has also put together wellbeing packs containing tissues, word searches and food, to help them through the lockdown. 

“It’s a chance for us to be on the doorstep, at a distance, reminding people we’re there for them and praying for them,” says Ross.

Local teenagers are also benefiting from the team’s creativity.

“This week, we’re dropping off 25 cinema packs with popcorn, a big mug, a sachet of hot chocolate and a DVD – everything you need for a cinema night. We got funding for that too.”

Whether it’s through an ambitious building project or delivering help on doorsteps, Portadown Elim remains anchored to its mission to serve local people.

“That’s our calling and it’s where we want to be – helping the community around us. It’s been so exciting, and an incredible journey.”

Reaching those with a real need

“For the past six months, we’ve been doing our absolute best to find the people who are really in need in our area. We’ve felt it’s been more necessary in this season than throughout the whole of the pandemic,” says Ross.

"At the start of lockdown we gave out some £12,000 worth of food, but we had to try really hard to make sure it got to the people who needed it.

“We kept back a reserve, knowing that furlough wouldn’t go on forever and that there would be a second stage to the pandemic where funding might not be as freely available.

“A local factory laid off 800 people, for example. Instead of bringing one-off gifts, we’ve put hampers together containing enough food to help a family for a couple of weeks. We’ve also been in contact with a local butcher who gives us meat packs we can take out.

“Furlough will end and there will probably be more unemployment, so we’ll be actively looking again as to how we can help.”

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