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Life, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Life, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Independent neocharismatic. Part of the Abundant
They meet in a conference room in the Wellington Park Hotel.
The room is large and airy, and reminded me of an airport
lounge: cheap carpet, fake plants along the sides, high ceilings,
mostly white decor with some blue curtains covering the windows.
They made good use of light, however, and the room felt comfortable
Abundant Life Belfast is a satellite. In fact, they describe
themselves as "one church, three locations", the others being
based in Leeds and Bradford. They also aim to be "non-religious,
naturally supernatural and incredibly fun to be in." They
have an initiative titled "Love Belfast" which is
a practical outreach on the streets providing food and pastoral
support to passers-by and those in need. They also have active
youth ministries and groups that meet at members' houses to
discuss their faith and do work in the community. On a Sunday
the church holds two services: at 11.00am and 6.00pm.
A hive of student activity situated right in the middle of
the Queen's University area of the city. There are also tourist
attractions such as museums and the botanic gardens nearby.
There are two very popular pubs/nightclubs right on the doorstep,
and the Belfast Islamic Centre is a stone's throw away too.
The service was led entirely by young people whose names were
not published; most of them appeared to be teens. The sermon
was given by Steve Gambill, an American (not a teenager) who
founded the youth ministry.
The date & time:
Sunday, 13 February 2011, 6.00pm.
What was the name of
Sunday Evening Service.
How full was the building?
There were around 70 or so people, and there was plenty of
room for some more.
Did anyone welcome you
A girl greeted me near the entrance and offered to show me
to a place. Once inside, a guy named Trevor came over and
introduced himself, asking if I was a visitor. He said I was
Was your pew comfortable?
The seat was great almost too comfortable actually.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
The room was darkened somewhat and this made me feel there
was going to be a concert. I wasn't too wide of the mark.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Well, good evening, everyone, and welcome back to church."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
What musical instruments
There were an electric piano, three guitars, a drum kit, and
four vocalists. There was no stage area so the floor was strewn
with wires and large amps and other electrical gear.
Did anything distract
The music was incredibly loud and I couldn't help worrying
that some of the hotel guests might be annoyed at the racket.
Also, I noticed Steve's shoelace was loose and I thought he
might trip on it. There was a light coming from the projector
and it kept blinking at me throughout the evening.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The music was thumping. I didn't know any of the songs, but
right from the off people were literally jumping up and down,
waving their hands in the air, and clearly in a state of considerable
ecstasy. The singers at the front were very slick and professional,
and were obviously enjoying themselves tremendously. During
the offering two guitarists hammered out a deliciously bass-heavy
riff that would not be out of place at a rock concert. Every
time someone came forward to say or do something, a huge "Whoop"
went up from the crowd. It happened during the offering too.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
5 Steve spoke very quickly, paced a lot, and peppered
his remarks with buzzwords like "cool" and "awesome".
In fact, he reminded me of Bill and Ted of Excellent Adventure
fame but he bore more than a little resemblance to actor Bill
Pullman. His American accent was also a bit of a distraction.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
He made me dizzy looking up lots of different references but
his main theme, I think, was Romans 12:2 ("Do not conform
to the pattern of this world...").
It was basically a collection of pithy human-interest stories
with a spattering of comedy designed to encourage the people
to get out there and "love Belfast" and be "world-changers".
All of which is highly commendable, but his engagement with
the text lacked any kind of rigour or imagination.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Definitely that gorgeous music. However, looking back, I realise
that even though it was truly heavenly, for me it wasn't actually
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
When Steve, at the end, insisted on making us hold up our
hands and declare "I will be a transformer" and
"I will be a world-changer". Thank goodness no one
I know could see me!
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Despite the promising start, no one approached me when I left
my seat and hovered around the lobby/coffee area. I was left
to find my own way out.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
The coffee was served in china cups and saucers but came from
a dispenser, which means it had been in there quite a long
time. The biscuits were dry and unfortunately chocolate-free.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
5 I loved the music, really loved it, but I can't get
through the week on 45 minutes of interesting stories. I need
some serious engagement with the text.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
I was glad to be there but not in any spiritual sense.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The "whoops" from the crowd.
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