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Glengormley, Northern Ireland
Glengormley, Northern Ireland.
They meet at several different locations; they call their principal
location the Warehouse. It's just that – a converted warehouse,
basically a large shed. Inside is surprisingly roomy, with good
lighting and exposed brickwork and metal beams. At the back
there are designs on display showing off their proposed new
building project, which looks very swish indeed. Inside the
front entrance there is a welcome desk, and also a well presented
bookshelf with a variety of contemporary authors represented.
Among these are Eugene Petersen, the American pastor and scholar,
best known for his paraphrase of the Bible in contemporary language;
N T Wright, the retired bishop of Durham and controversial Biblical
scholar; and Rick Warren, the American evangelical minister
and author of The Purpose Driven Life. (In Northern
Ireland these authors would not go down well with many, but
I like 'em all!) There was also a book entitled Scars and
Stilettos by Harmony Dust, a former exotic dancer who,
after dedicating herself to God, devoted her life to helping
abused and dysfunctional people find healing and restoration.
Quoting from their website, Glenabbey claims to be "a spiritual
family made up of people from a wide variety of backgrounds
who are united by the fact that Jesus Christ has changed, and
continues to change, our lives." They are "committed
to working out what that means in our culture and context, then
living accordingly." To this end, they sponsor a wide variety
of spiritual and social activities all well described on their
Glengormley is a popular residential community about six miles
north of Belfast. Actor Stephen Boyd, best known for his role
in the film Ben-Hur, was born near Glengormley. Glenabbey's
Warehouse is just outside the town, nestled among a residential
housing estate. Kind of tucked away. No one is likely to find
it unless they set out looking for it.
The service was led by a group of six young staff members whose
names I didn't get. Gilbert Lennox, one of the church elders,
was the preacher.
The date & time:
Sunday, 6 June 2010, 11.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About 300 or so chairs had been set out, and more were brought
out later. The place was pretty well-packed, although there
were three empty spaces beside me and I noticed several people
standing at the back rather than sit down. It was predominantly
a white suburbanite crowd. I started to feel I was the smelly
guy no one wanted to sit beside on the bus!
Did anyone welcome you
The car park attendant flashed me a very warm good morning.
As I entered, a man (who turned out to be Gilbert Lennox, the
preacher) said hello. Little did I know at the time that that
was to be the limit of the conversation.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seats were standard-issue cushioned plastic. Not that comfy,
but the backrests were flexible, which was good as I like to
be able to lean back some.
How would you describe the pre-service
Quite noisy. An increasing number of people competed to be heard
in conversation. The big screen at the front flashed lots of
announcements. Among these were a notice to turn off mobile
phones; an advert for their new website; an invitation to stay
behind after for Starbucks coffee and/or Tazo tea; and the chance
to buy Glenabbey pens for only £1.50 and binders (to keep sermon
notes) for only £2.50.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning. Welcome." I couldn't hear any more
than that because the people behind me were talking so loudly.
As the music group started up, the young people at the back
began to talk even more loudly and continued to do so through
the first two songs.
What books did the congregation use during the
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, four guitars and a drum kit.
Did anything distract you?
Unfortunately, the building's acoustics seemed to amplify every
cough and squeak. There was the constant sound of people fidgeting
the whole time. Also at one point during the sermon, a message
flashed up on the screen: "Deborah Montgomery to Live the
Adventure please." I wondered just what adventure it was
that Deborah was expected to live – I learned later that Live
the Adventure is what they call their children's church. The
message remained in my mind for quite a while after. The worst
distraction, however, was when they did an informal interview
with the outgoing and new youth workers. One of the chaps sat
with his legs wide open the whole time. The position of the
seating and elevation was exactly right (wrong, actually) in
relation to the congregation. Very cringeworthy indeed!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The worship was fairly bland, to be honest, although it was
quite professionally done. The scheduled songs, in my opinion,
were more suitable as performance pieces rather than for congregational
singing. In any event, there didn't seem to be much feeling
invested in them. A few times it almost took off but never quite
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
7 Gilbert Lennox has an extensive repertoire of hand
gestures, not all of which worked. I found myself in agreement
with most of what he said, but I thought he laboured the point
a bit and that his sermon could have been shorter.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The reading was Genesis 4, the story of Cain and Abel. It was
basically about the wickedness of the human heart and how quickly
things degenerated after Adam and Eve's fall. Lack of trust
in God produces ruin for self and others. The remedy is found
in a posture of faith and repentance. Many, however, like Cain,
use religion as a cover, and so life becomes pointless. Come
clean! Stop playing religious games with God!
Which part of the service was like being in
No part of the service registered high enough on the scale.
It was mostly lukewarm.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The interview with the two youth workers was a good idea but
should have been more disciplined. The guys were given too much
time to speak and really indulged themselves to the extent that
it became quite boring. I'll bet money I'm not the only one
who thought that. The young people behind me clearly concurred,
as they started to talk again about halfway through.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
There were more than 300 people in this small building so I
was sure that someone would speak to me, but I was doomed to
be disappointed. There was plenty of eye contact and lots of
pushing past and banging elbows (very tightly packed), but not
a word of greeting, even though I stationed myself in three
separate places and allowed plenty of time at each. I stood
in line for the coffee, I hung around near the door, I even
stood beside the flipping welcome desk and leafed through the
visitor's pack. But nothing was enough to draw anyone into conversation.
I began to wonder if I really did smell after all!
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
The coffee was fair-trade genuine Starbucks, real good! But
they only half-filled the cup. This was wise, actually, as the
crowd crush would definitely have resulted in spillage.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 This church struck me as a cosy middle-class club that
would be great to be a part of, especially if you have kids.
But unfortunately they don't seem to be looking for new members.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Overall it failed to stir me.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That youth worker's crotch, dammit! It's gonna take a while
to erase that image from my mind.
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