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|2024: The Last
Ever Hillsborough Bible Week, Hillsborough Elim,
The Last Ever Hillsborough Bible Week, Hillsborough
Elim Church, Hillsborough, Northern Ireland.
A large white marquee with four discernible sections: a back
entrance containing many stalls manned by mission agencies and
booksellers; the central section, including a stage draped entirely
in black fabric; and two sides to accommodate overflow, from
which it is easier to look at the big screens rather than try
to watch the action directly.
They have hosted this week-long event every summer for well
over a decade now. When I heard this year was to be the final
fling, I decided they must have a Mystery Worshipper to immortalise
them, so to speak. Many people come from all over Ireland and
from various denominations. Quite a number of families and groups
camp out in the field beside the big tent for the week also.
Hillsborough is a village in County Down, very near to Belfast.
It is sometimes called the birthplace of the United States,
as it was the site of a disastrous meeting between Benjamin
Franklin and Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies
from 1768 to 1772, from which Franklin went away convinced that
separation of the American colonies from England was inevitable.
Hillsborough Castle today is the official residence of Her Majesty
the Queen when visiting Northern Ireland. Elim Pentecostal Church
is located on a country road just outside town. There is a bed
and breakfast right next door, and a fruit farm nearby, but
apart from that the area is fairly remote.
Several guest speakers were scheduled for the week. On the evening
I attended, the Revd Alistair Ritchie, associate pastor, opened
the service in prayer; a young lady named Suzanne led the worship
team; and the Revd Glyn Barrett, senior pastor of Audacious
City Church, Manchester, was the principal speaker.
The date & time:
19 July 2010, 7.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Almost all the seats were taken and there were people standing at the back. Probably the best part of 1,000 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. The place was a hive of activity and excitement but they
didn't appear to have any welcoming committee.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not really. Metal-framed seats with blue plastic moulding, which
were stacked so closely together that contact with others was
unavoidable. It felt fairly cramped and hot.
How would you describe the pre-service
Restless. Lots of noise and constant movement, coming and going,
sitting down and standing up.
What were the exact opening words of the
"It's lovely to have you with us tonight. Will you please
turn and greet the person beside you."
What books did the congregation use during the
What musical instruments were played?
Two keyboards, violin, three guitars, saxophone, tin whistle
and drums. There were also six singers.
Did anything distract
The speaker's Bible had a Union Jack cover. Child no. 304, and
later child no. 115, somehow got lost or in trouble, and the
service was interrupted as their numbers flashed on the screen
with a message to their parents to come immediately.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
If I only had one word to describe it, that word would be "febrile."
It was like someone just flipped a switch and the whole place
started buzzing. An instant and infectious energy literally
swept through the tent. There were hands swaying in the air,
faces screwed up in ecstasy. The boards on the floor were vibrating,
and wave after wave of loud music cascaded over our heads continually.
Exactly how long was the
90 long minutes! The vast majority of the time was spent telling
stories and making jokes, which after a while became a little
tedious. Scientists who calculate that the average person can
retain only about 20 minutes worth of information aren't just
making that up, you know! Why have preachers not got the message
yet? Memo to preachers: We have our whole lives to listen to
you and change takes a long time, so lighten up!
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
7 Pastor Barrett spoke at a furious, almost breathless
pace throughout, and projected boundless energy and enthusiasm
for his message. He told a lot of stories and was very funny.
In fact, he came over more like a stand-up act than a preacher.
Not that I didn't appreciate his message, but in terms of content
it was light as air, like the froth on a cappuccino. It's the
kind of message that makes one feel good at the time and whips
up incredible passion and excitement, but will be totally forgotten
within 24 hours (guaranteed).
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Enthusiasm. Our English word "enthusiasm" comes from
the Greek "en theos" (in God). Enthusiasm
is equal to being "in God." The word formerly carried
a connotation of excessive religious zeal, of "going overboard."
Enthusiasm is a discipline, not a feeling. If people are enthusiastic
about God, others will notice and will want some of it too.
(I remain unconvinced, however.)
Which part of the service was like being in
After the initial worship section, a guy named Alex got up and
sang what was really quite a corny song, but he had such a powerful
voice and sang it so well that when he got to a certain part,
"after three days he rose", it was utterly climactic and I was
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
One of the songs was "Come, now is the time to worship."
I hate that song!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I left before the final song ended so didn't get to find out,
but there was so much buzz I doubt anyone would have noticed
How would you describe the after-service
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 I think I could go to a service like this occasionally
because everyone appreciates some candy-floss now and again.
But for week-to-week survival, something more substantial than
junk-food is required.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
In parts I was totally on-board but not yet ready to go "overboard"
with the rest of them, like one girl who jumped up and down
on her seat.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The ecstatic worship session.
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