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|2051: All Souls,
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Souls, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
A stone building dating from 1896 with nave and bell tower.
Set amid lots of greenery and partly covered in ivy, it looks
very pretty from the street. There is a short winding path leading
from the street to the entrance, which is below a wooden porch.
Inside there is a warm cosy feel provided by the abundance of
woodwork: wooden floors and dark wooden pews and ceiling panels.
There is soft lighting and the lights in the altar area are
red. There are plenty of windows in wrought-iron frames but
no stained glass. Overall, a very nice ambience indeed.
This is a non-creedal church, which means they allow people
to make up their own mind on the interpretation of scripture
and the nature of God. They claim that since they first opened
their doors, they have always been inclusive and welcome "all
sorts" in their church.
Elmwood Avenue is a broad tree-lined thoroughfare situated in
the heart of the university area of Belfast. The city hospital
is right across the road, and the student union building is
at the other end of the street. It is a bustling, cosmopolitan
area of town, with lots of trendy cafes and bars in every direction.
The Revd Chris Hudson, minister.
The date & time:
Sunday, 1 August 2010, 3.00pm.
What was the name of the
Belfast Pride Service – A Celebration of Diversity. Today
is a first for Northern Ireland: following the gay pride march
in the city the previous day, this service was arranged to accommodate
members of the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender faith community
How full was the building?
The two sides were practically empty, but there was a noticeable
bulge in the middle and it felt quite full. Around 100 people
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received a warm handshake and a "Lovely to see you." I was
told to take a stone from a bowl sitting near the entrance and
that the purpose would become clear during the service. I was
also given a flyer advertising a gay men's group named the Gathering,
which is dedicated to exploring spiritual issues. It is open
to Christian and non-Christian alike but only if you are gay,
Was your pew comfortable?
Given the flimsy nature of the cushioned strip lining the pews,
I was surprised to find that they were nevertheless not the
usual torture devices they were designed to be by the devil
How would you describe the pre-service
There was a reverent hush, some low voices, the sound of last
minute choir practice going on in a back room. Some people didn't
look entirely at home – clearly not used to being in a church,
I suspect. Immediately before the service began, the organist
started to play "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
What were the exact opening words of the
"Welcome. Welcome. A welcome for all to our service celebrating
diversity in Belfast."
What books did the congregation use during the
What musical instruments were played?
Mostly just the organ. There was a guy with a guitar but I don't
remember seeing it being played. There was also a choir of about
14 voices and two soloists.
Did anything distract you?
One of the men in the choir looked uncannily like ex-England
footballer Stuart Pearce. The more I looked, the more convinced
I was it might actually be him. Also, there was a fairly pretty
girl sitting near me who arrived with another girl, and I couldn't
help but wonder if she was, you know, "L" or maybe
even "B", but definitely not "T". In fact,
I spent a lot of the time wondering who was and who wasn't gay.
Some were "obvious", as they used to say, but others
just looked so "straight" (no offence intended; I
have lived a fairly cloistered existence thus far).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
I had fun on the way imagining what gay worship might be like.
I was hoping for some kind of disco beat with maybe a nod to
Jimmy Somerville, the Scottish pop singer with the falsetto
voice. As it turned out, the songs we sang were all well known
Christian choruses (not hymns) and fairly inoffensive. The choir,
who featured heavily in this service, were more risque; they
opened up with...wait for it...a rendition of "Love Changes
Everything" by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was admittedly
splendid! Every time they sang a piece, they received enthusiastic
applause. Also, a poem was recited about finding love in unsuspected
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
7 It was an appeal for love, inclusivity and celebration
of diversity of every kind, especially in sexual orientation.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Now is the time for the mainstream churches to make peace with
the LGBT community. Historically, the Bible has been used to
support slavery and apartheid. Just as such applications have
since been ruled out of court, it must also be acknowledged
that opposing LGBT Christians in the same manner is unbiblical.
Which part of the service was like being in
The attitude that came through loud and clear was that although
the LGBT Christian community in Belfast is small in number,
and despite the fact that they feel they have suffered much
at the hands of other Christians, they are resolved to adopt
a posture of peace and unconditional love toward those who persecute
them. This impressed me greatly despite my own unresolved tensions
concerning the LGBT issue.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Remember the stones we were given at the door? The minister
explained that everyone was expected to file to the front and
make a "friendship circle" with our individual stones. I felt
under serious pressure. I had previously noticed someone I knew,
and really didn't want them to see me. Either my Mystery Worshipper
mask would have slipped, or I would have been perceived as gay
when I wasn't sure I was ready to handle that! A real dilemma.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I felt too uncomfortable to hang around. The minister encouraged
everyone to exchange the peace with one another before leaving,
so I shook hands with a few people and made a quick getaway.
How would you describe the after-service
There wasn't any, which was a surprise, as I had spied a bench
at the back with a kettle and some biscuit tins. For me, the
term celebration conjures up ideas of eating, drinking and making
merry, so I think the service-naming committee messed up today.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I don't think I would have a problem attending here
again. As for worshipping with LGBT Christians, I don't think
I know enough to form a judgment. I didn't even realise they
existed until last week! I am certainly interested in spending
more time with these people and would like to understand their
faith more clearly.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
I actually felt slightly disoriented. Often it felt surreal,
like I was in an episode of Vicar of Dibley, but the
sheer normalcy of most of the proceedings was disarming and
has upset my fairly settled world view somewhat.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The incredibly camp rendition of "Love Changes Everything."
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