[by Sandy McIntosh] For 30 years or more, from at least 1968 to 1998, Northern Ireland experienced “the Troubles.” I remember when the evening news always had two stories, violence in the Middle East, and violence in Ireland. For Christians like me, it was astounding that people who identified as Christian were so devoted to killing each other, in Ireland. All Christians were disgraced by the violence in Ireland.
The city of Glasgow, in Scotland, is known as the toughest and meanest industrial city in Britain, not a good place for a coward, or an argument. During “the Troubles” my friend Sandy traveled from Glasgow, with a friend, to see what was happening in Northern Ireland. Two tough guys from Glasgow got off the boat in Belfast, looked around briefly, and went right back to Glasgow.
They didn’t feel safe.
In 1957, ten people began a modest church planting effort in Belfast. They were identified with a Pentecostal denomination, so they generally focused on spiritual issues, and not on sectarian politics. I have an interest in planting new churches, but I don’t remember anyone suggesting a new church in Belfast during “the Troubles.” That would be spiritual mission impossible.
Somehow the church survived “the Troubles” and emerged with a large following. The group moved to a large new building in 1994. In 2005, Pastor James McConnell of this church, the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, preached to an audience of about 10,000 in a soccer stadium.
At that time the Irish peace process was falling apart and the night of the meeting was especially dangerous, now known as “the night from Hell.” Buses filled with worshipers were stoned and sensible people stayed home. But 10,000 people filled the stadium to hear a Christian preacher.
I don’t even try to understand politics mixed with religion in Ireland, but this church is shocking. It should not exist, but it is now the largest church in Britain.
I also know that every church has some controversy, so I looked up the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle on Yelp. No one can hide from the Yelp critics.
This is the most severe criticism I could find:
Love it or loathe it, you have to admit that the Tabernacle is totally breathtaking, and for me, it was incredibly overwhelming.
The visit was not a negative one, but I am absolutely certain I could not attend Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle every week. It is far too extensive and formidable for my liking. Beautiful church though, and an experience that I didn’t forget in a hurry, and one you should try.
The Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle is a lesson to us all. We should be busy and focused on success. Troubles are just a distraction.
Jesus said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18).
It took me many years to realize that the “gate” is not an offensive weapon used to hurt us. It’s a barrier to keep us out as we move forward.