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East London evangelists plan celebration to dwarf the Dome

AT THE Kingsway International Christian Centre it is a great day - so great, in fact, that the telephone answering machine makes a point of telling you so. "Welcome to the Kingsway International Christian Centre," says the friendly voice. "It's a great day."

It may have a point. So many people are persuaded by the message offered by this east London church that it will be they - and not the organisers of the Dome - who will be hosting the biggest celebration on Millennium Eve.

While 10,000 are expected to visit the Dome on 31 December, up to 16,000 are likely to pack the nearby London Arena for a special evangelical service. KICC is even making contingency plans for an expected overflow.

"It's an honour and a privilege," smiled Matthew Ashimolowo, the senior pastor who established KICC seven years ago. "But this was organised in reaction to what is going on at the Dome. I felt that at the Dome they were having an event, whilst ignoring a person whose birth they were using as a date mark."

By contrast, KICC's Messiah's Millennium Celebration promises 10 hours of non-stop "celebration, rejoicing, worship and prayer".

The evangelical message and the idiosyncratic way in which Mr Ashimolowo delivers it is central to KICC's success. With 7,000 members, it is big business. As well as a range of videos and books (from Successful Marriage to Breaking the Bondage of Barrenness) his services are broadcast to up to 43 million viewers in 15 African nations. And the millennium event will likewise - he promises - be a big night. So big, perhaps, that the organisers at the Dome may just feel a little jealous.