Disbanded congregation is reborn for pagan service

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The Independent Online
THE CONGREGATION of the Nine O'Clock Service, the Sheffield church disbanded after its leader admitted abusing female members, has been resurrected for pagan festivals held in an Anglican chapel.

Former members of the discredited rave church celebrated the pagan festival of Samhain earlier this month in a service that made no mention of God or Jesus. Worshippers were offered mulled wine on the way in, sang along to a Sinead O'Connor song inside and compiled a wish list, which they then burnt on a bonfire.

Christian groups are urging the Sheffield diocese to investigate these activities.

A spokesman for the Evangelical Alliance, which represents one million Christians from 30 different denominations, said: "The use of a church building for a pagan service is an offensive demonstration of the growing popularity of pick-and-mix religion."

Philip Hacking, chairman of the national evangelical campaigning network, Reform, and a member of the Sheffield diocese, said:

"I think it's tragic that the Nine O'Clock Service, having destroyed itself, should start up again. The immorality last time stemmed from the congregation getting away from biblical teaching and standards."

The Rev Chris Brain, the inspiration behind the Nine O'Clock Service, resigned as a Church of England priest three years ago after accusations that he had abused his position. No formal inquiry was carried out by the Church of England, but some members of the congregation were assigned their own chaplain to help them to resolve their pain. Afterwards a band of about 40 devotees wanted to keep alive the experimental spirit behind Mr Brain's multi-media "planetary masses".

The Rev Philip Allin, the Anglican priest who was appointed as their counsellor , renamed the church the Nine O'Clock Community. He said yesterday that he had not been present at the service at Hill Top Chapel, in Sheffield, on 1 November because he had been in bed with flu. But he said he was unconcerned about the absence of any Christian content in the service.

"We are trying to stay loyal to the idea of alternative worship that the Nine O'Clock Service itself was obviously so famous for," said Mr Allin.

"It doesn't concern me because I know the community and I know its search for God is through a creation-centred spirituality. I know some members have a strong commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and other members don't have such a strong commitment."

The Samhain service was attended by 20 adults and 10 children, and run by lay members of the church.