Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Living Abroad Matters 18 - Hillsong London

Seasons of Change
The Dominion Theatre was where we found ourselves when we first arrived in London five months ago, seeing the sensational musical We Will Rock You, celebrating Andrew’s 50th birthday. So it is only fitting that we should find ourselves back at the Dominion, in a full circle, as we prepare to leave London. This time we are attending Hillsong Church which is a phenomenal Australian success story beyond imagination.

The church, held in the resplendent theatre in the heart of the city, is packed-out every Sunday with 2000 people in three services. I estimate that 70 per cent of the congregation is aged under 30, and made up of just about every nationality of the world. It is a dynamic church which is having incredible impact in young people’s lives, with brilliant praise and worship music, cutting edge media technology, hosting international speakers, running weekly connect groups held in hundreds of homes across London, publishing a high quality mainstream magazine, running an outreach program to homeless and troubled youth and partnering with global charities.

Aussies Gary and Cathy Clarke are the founding pastors of Hillsong London which now has expanded to have additional thriving churches in Surrey, Paris, Kiev and has just launched a church in Capetown. Hillsong also runs massive international conferences in Europe several times a year.

And it was all started by Sydney couple, Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston and their dedicated team. Brian and Bobbie moved to Sydney from New Zealand in 1978. After pioneering two churches they started Hills Christian Life Centre in 1983 with only 45 people and today the church has grown to be the largest church in Australian history, with 20,000 people attending on any given weekend.

Hillsong is literally taking the world by storm and joining with other churches in a sweep of evangelism that is seeing millions of people embrace the Christian faith and change their lives and experience healing and miracles. I admire and support the good work the church is doing in Africa through partnering with Compassion and Watoto, caring for thousands of children orphaned through AIDS, Vision Rescue in India, Mercy Missions as well as many local programs helping the disadvantaged.

On the day we attend the mid-day service, American author and renowned speaker, John Bevere is preaching on the concept of honour in the different relationships in our lives. He gives the young people a taste of traditional values that might have been missing in their upbringing. John’s wife Lisa Bevere is also an acclaimed speaker on the international conference circuit and I have heard her speak at the Women’s Colour Conference in Sydney and on the Sunshine Coast. The power couple is running a relationships seminar this week so we decide to go along to pick up some new clues.

It is easy to be cynical about a church operating at this mind-boggling scale and tempting to search for the fault lines. Many investigative journalists have relentless pursued any whiff of scandal and corruption beneath the glossy fa├žade. For some reason, people outside the church would like to see it as a sham and money-making scam. Perhaps it seems too good to be true.

Like any huge organisation made up of fallible human beings, I am sure that Hillsong has its share of internal problems and issues. However I can only see it as a positive force in our troubled world in desperate need of redemption and direction. It is doing good in countless lives; giving faith, hope and love, values, meaning and purpose.

It has been almost five years now since I became a Christian when I stumbled, a crumpled heap, into a church in Harlem, New York, shattered and heartbroken and crying out for a Saviour. I was embraced by my new black soul sisters and baptised in that church before I returned home to the Sunshine Coast to begin a journey repairing my marriage and family and finding a new sense of belonging in the Goodlife church and being graciously ministered to by Pastors Benny and Sharon.

My faith has brought a new dimension to my life. Andrew has found a faith in his own way. My mum, Val, has rediscovered her faith. And Justine’s life was changed dramatically in Year 12 at the age of 16 when she had a profound experience of the Spirit at a youth camp. She joined Kings Church and went to Bible College and now works as PA to the Youth Pastor and is part of a powerful youth ministry. Who would have thought our lives could be so radically changed?

For me my faith combines with my commitment to psychological healing and growth through therapy and as our journey continues in the States, we will be undertaking a number of personal growth courses. Through training with leading psychologists, I hope to be equipped to facilitate therapy groups in the future.

Today, as I write this, it is September the 1st; the start of a whole new season; spring in the southern hemisphere and autumn in the northern hemisphere. When I was young and energetic, spring was my favourite season, bringing the promise of wild new adventures. At this mellow age, autumn has become my favourite season.

I am looking forward to experiencing enchanting Vermont in the Fall and wading through carpets of crunchy gold, red and orange leaves in the vibrant forests of Sugar Maples and feeling the chill on my face. Perhaps we will even find an open fireplace in a cosy B&B somewhere.

Yes, middle-age is the autumn of life. It is the time for harvesting what has been sown from both the good and bad seeds planted earlier in life. But if we are really blessed we will be granted another spring and another new life cycle.

One thing I know for sure is that life is about constant change and if we are not growing we are stagnating and dying. The challenge is to wade through and shed the debris of the past and have the courage to grow. Who knows what blessings lay ahead when we venture into a new place and embrace a new season.

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