Nine O'Clock church relaunches services

JOJO MOYES

The controversial Nine O'Clock Service group, which was rocked by a sex scandal last year, was relaunched quietly at a chapel in Sheffield yesterday.

The Easter service was moved from the city's Ponds Forge complex, where priest Chris Brain once orchestrated rock concert-style gatherings in a basement room.

It was staged instead in a simple chapel in the city, without the lasers and rave music popularised by Mr Brain. The Archdeacon of Sheffield, the Ven Stephen Lowe, conducted a "meditative service".

There were doubts about restarting the group eight months after the Church of England was rocked by scandal when Mr Brain was accused of sexually abusing more than 20 women members.

Yesterday's congregation was drawn from remnants of the Nine O'Clock Service which broke up after women complained about being assaulted by Brain.

Diocesan communications officer Canon Roy Arnold said: "I can confirm that former members of the Nine O'Clock Service met together in a Sheffield church for a celebration of the Holy Communion. It was a quiet, meditative service.

"Since the activities of the Nine O'Clock Service came to an end last August following the disclosures about their leader Chris Brain, a number of members have continued to meet together for worship and other matters.

"They now have an elected church council and the Diocese of Sheffield is at present in the process of appointing a chaplain for the group," he said.

Mr Arnold did not rule out the possibility that the rock-style services could be re-introduced. "The scandal was about Chris Brain and not about reaching out in a new and exciting way to a generation lost to the church," he said. Members of the Nine O'Clock Service have vowed to distance themselves from the controversy last year and have devised a new service.

Last month, alleged victims of Mr Brain held a bonfire ritual to help them overcome the trauma. They lit a fire in the middle of a church hall and set off fireworks in a "releasing ritual".

An advert in the Church Times for a chaplain for the group has drawn applications from all over the country. But according to churchwarden Alan Gibson, Mr Brain's successor would not be allowed the same powers he had enjoyed.

"We are not looking for a leader, we are not looking for a guru. We are looking for a facilitator who will tie us more closely with the Church of England," Mr Gibson said.

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev David Lunn, demanded Mr Brain resign after he confessed to having sexual relationships with young women in the congregation.

He quit last November after initially refusing to bow to the criticism heaped on him when the scandal broke.

The Archbishop of York had already banned Mr Brain from acting as an ordained priest.

Within days of the revelations Mr Brain checked himself into a psychiatric ward of Cheadle Royal Psychiatric Hospital, Cheshire.

Women who were manipulated by him and called a telephone hotline were told the matter would almost certainly be dealt with within the church and only be passed on to the police if there was an allegation of rape.

In February, Mr Brain's solicitor announced the disgraced clergyman had left Britain for America, where he was hoping to make a comeback in music and the media.

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