Waterford Baptist Church is one of the oldest Baptist churches in Ireland, established in 1650, with the first known pastor being a Mr Foster. The church has fluctuated in membership over the years. During the ministry of Pastor Peter Brown (1746-1757) 115 names appeared on the church roll, but by 1805 this had been reduced to 38 names. On its tercentenary only a handful of people were attending, and it was thought by many that the church should be closed and the property sold. However the ‘handful’ looked for better days and continued to meet faithfully together. It is to these (humanly speaking), who continued ‘instant – out of season’ that we owe the comparative blessing of today.
On 9 April 1807 the following statement was unanimously adopted by the members of the church: ‘The church maintains the important doctrines of three equal persons in the Godhead, eternal and personal election, original sin, redemption through the blood of Christ, effectual calling, free justification by the righteousness of Christ imputed, the final perseverance of the saints, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgement. They believe that the moral law is a rule of life for the believers, and that the future misery of the wicked and the future happiness for the righteous will be eternal’. It is these central truths which form the basis of worship and evangelism of the present group of believers.
On my arrival there were only three people in membership, with a congregation of twelve. This grew to twenty-three in membership with a congregation of forty-five before emigration and schism over charismatic issues reduced attendance. There are now fourteen people in membership with about thirty people, including children, attending.
A recent feature of the morning service has been the introduction of particular teaching for the children. The weekly prayer meeting is well attended. Recently, seventeen people were present, and there is keen participation in prayer. The membership is made up of people both from Roman Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, and one rejoices in the unity and harmony of the fellowship. The present pastor, Roy Hamilton, is supported by the European Missionary Fellowship, while the membership contributes to his allowance. Their prayer is that one day the church will be self-supporting.
The new openness to the gospel that exists within the Republic has given many opportunities for witness. Tract distribution takes place every Friday evening, with a number of members taking part. Profitable conversations are held and there have been a few conversions through this witness. Door-to-door evangelism is carried on regularly and one lady and her two daughters came to faith last year as a result.
Another important sphere of evangelism is in visiting schools. This came about when ‘Comparative Religion’ became part of the school syllabus. Practically every school in Waterford and the surrounding towns has been pleased to welcome visitors from the Baptist church. One convent school takes the opportunity of bringing its sixth-formers to the church building on a yearly basis. Questions are asked by both pupils and teachers, one being ‘What did Martin Luther mean when he spoke of justification by faith alone in Christ alone?’
Another form of outreach is in writing articles for the local Waterford Today, an advertisement paper that is delivered free to every home in Waterford and its environs, with a potential readership of 50,000. The editor was approached and asked if he would accept a regular article from the church. This he agreed to do. So each home now receives Reflections or the equivalent of a gospel tract. No charge is made to the church and no editing takes place. People who read the article are encouraged to write with questions or comments, and some have shown interest.
Regarding the future, the church desires to see Reformed evangelical churches planted in Tramore (ten miles from Waterford) and New Ross (15 miles from Waterford). The church continues to pray that another full-time elder will be raised up by God, as it is impossible to take up the many opportunities that exist at the present time.