We’ve been stretching the church “wineskin”. Over a hundred of us travelled to Belfast for a Saturday city action day, march and evening celebration event. We spent Friday travelling over by coach and ferry, and all stayed overnight in a backpacker hostel. Then we came back overnight, in time for our customary Sunday events.
I have to confess that as a seasoned Multiply International traveller, the adventure was slightly less of a challenge to me than to others. But it was a pioneering move, and delivered impact that the Safe Haven church planting scene has needed.
It was a first, too for our Jesus Army Action eight-strong team, led by Nathan. They stayed in a different hostel rather than the customary campaign team accommodation at a community house. They had a great time mixing with the other residents as well as stirring up initiatives on the streets. This was a good springboard for when they come to Sheffield as part of the build-up to our October Praise Day.
And having use of the Berry Street Presbyterian Church premises was brilliant. In fact it has a remarkable history. The present building shares the site of one of the earliest independent churches established some centuries ago (the first was at Rosemary Street in 1644). Then the congregation would be largely immigrant Scots taking advantage of the growing trade in the Province. It sits right across the square next to St Mary’s Catholic Church: a microcosm of the local religious divide.
The building’s more recent claim to fame was the association with the 1857-59 Revival. Spurgeon, Grattan Guinness, Brownlow North and Berry Street’s own minister, “Roaring” Hugh Hanna, addressed crowd of up to 20,000, including gatherings in the Botanic Gardens. Later, in 1894, a statue of Rev Dr Hanna was erected, but it was damaged by the IRA in 1970 and removed.
Martyn Lloyd Jones ministered as pastor at Berry Street from 1959. It then seated 750, but the city’s troubles and city redevelopment (including nearby Royal Street) have reduced the average congregation to a vital and faithful few. They were magnificently generous in letting us have free use of the whole facilities. (And they have custody of an impressive reformed library.)
Friday night was a whirl of adjustment, staring with threading through the alleys and booking into the Linen House hostel to sort out bed spaces. Then onto the streets again. Here we discovered the centre was heaving with crowds as this was a Culture Event night. I thought St Patrick had kicked out the Celtic paganism. But, in the cracks between the divided churches, it’s re-emerged as the fringe spirituality of choice. There were vigorous drumming contests and fire dances, ending with burning a wicker man. Other revellers were happy to overflow the many nearby bars.
In the hostel my bunk was right next to the dormitory door and the toilet. The night was punctuated with comings and goings! (But at least we didn’t need precautions against mosquitoes.)
Mary and I took out an hour on Saturday morning to visit Safe Haven, just off Lisburn Road. Ruth was sorting out the Sunday dinner while Ray led a team in town. I hope the weekend has driven the scene from being a curious outpost right into the heart of the Church.
We particularly wanted the afternoon march to carry a spirit different from the similar public displays that the city witnesses. Our colourful flags, boisterous singing and warm greetings to bystanders were right on the mark. An encouraging number of folks turned up for the significant evening event. There were many brilliant testimonies. Catch some of it on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goiqxrfGs2o The Kingdom church was being displayed.
All too soon the techie team had the kit de-rigged and we filed back into our County Lion coach. Very few ventured out into the gathering mist as the Stena Superfast ferry crossed to Cairnryan. The outward voyage was bright and inviting. At 2.00am we headed back south, to Woodall Services, our minibus rendezvous point.
A memorable event, and worthy of the year of Courageous Faith and Action. Special thanks to the saints at Berry Street.