End of an era at Elim Church

Pastor William McCandless and his wife Margaret at their Dollingstown home. INLM2312-106gc
Pastor William McCandless and his wife Margaret at their Dollingstown home. INLM2312-106gc

PASTOR William McCandless was moved by the standing ovation he received after conducting his last service at Lurgan Elim Church.

The 62-year-old has decided to step down from the pulpit after 21 and a half years at the church due to health reasons.

When William and his wife Margaret arrived in Lurgan, the ‘MAIL’ did a feature on the family.

Nearly 22 years later the ‘MAIL’ caught up with the family again to talk about the end of an era at Lurgan Elim Church.

Interesting, on both occasions, William and Margaret were caught on camera by ‘MAIL’ photographer Geoffrey Cousins.

William was born in Belfast and went to Grosvenor Grammar School. After leaving school, he was invited to help out his former pastor Hugh McGowan at Elim churches in Armagh and Markethill.

William said: “I learnt a lot from him about preaching and pastoring then I went to Regents Theology College to study for ministry.

“My first church was Lisburn Elim, which is where I met Margaret. She was one of the congregation.”

After Lisburn, William was pastor in Antrim, Ballymena and Bristol before coming to Lurgan.

The couple recalled the first day they arrived at their new home, the Manse on Windsor Avenue, which had once belonged to the Mayor.

Margaret said: “We left Bristol on January 1, we arrived on January 2,” said Margaret.

“It was cold and frosty welcome. It was one of those really bad winters.

“I remember the first thing we had to get when we came to Lurgan was salt for the road and footpath.”

William added: “Dessie Fox the traffic warden came to help us bring the furniture into our new home, then the postman Dixie Heasley arrived to lend a hand. I remember saying, ‘All we need now is the milkman’. As fate would have it, Jim Law the milkman turned up five minutes later.”

He commented: “We’ve had blessings wherever we’ve been. Lurgan has been a particularly memorable time.

“We moved from an unsuitable location in Windsor Avenue into a modern venue on the Banbridge Road in September 2000.

“The congregation has in our period nearly quadrupled. It’s still growing.

“It’s an extremely busy church compared to what it used to be. The church building is used every day and we’ve got a second property for youth outreach on Malcolm Road.

“There has been a very heavy mission involvement in our time at the church.

“At the same time as we built the church, we were building another church in Arusha in Tanzania. I had the privilege of flying out and opening the church there.”

Of his time as pastor he said: “I’ve been with people for the highs and lows.

“It’s the sadder things that stand out. The pressures of life can be daunting and can have terrible effects on some people, but at the same time I admire the resilience I see in people.

“I see the grace of God at work in their lives as they battle through their strife.”

The family had troubles of their own when their house was badly damaged in the Lurgan bomb in 1991 and then ransacked years later.

It prompted a move to Dollingstown where they’ve lived ever since.

William and Margaret have two children - Paula (34) and Stephen (30). Both are married and Paula has two children - Joshua (10) and Chloe (6). Stephen and his wife are expecting their first child in June.

William described how he found his faith: “As a young boy of almost 12 years it was something I had been thinking about in Sunday school and church. I remember one night being asked the question ‘Are you a Christian? Have you been saved?’

“I realised I wasn’t and that triggered my decision. That night I gave my life to the Lord and lived with the assurance of Salvation ever since.”

In the past 10 years William has had three major operations to treat intestinal failure.

As a consequence of his ill health William was advised to take time off to rest.

Of his retirement he said: “I’m not a golfer and I’m not a gardener, my hobby is books, though I’ll probably end up doing a lot of child minding.

“I’ll be taking some time to recuperate as advised.”

Margaret, who was involved with the Ladies Fellowship and works part time in Houston’s, commented: “The church does fill your life, everything revolves around the church. The first Sunday when we’re not in Lurgan Elim Church will be very hard for us.”

William will be replaced at Lurgan Elim Church by Roy Johnston, formerly of the Elim church on the Beersbridge Road in Belfast.

Of his final two services William added: “It was very emotional for both us and the congregation, though they were both very upbeat services.

“The church was packed for both services with extra chairs in the aisles and at the back.

“When I finished my last service the congregation gave me a standing ovation.

“That touched me very deeply. I don’t think it was planned. It seemed to be spontaneous.”