Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland minister crowd surfs at end of service

By Ivan Little

A minister has made an unconventional exit from a service at his church ­ taking a leaf out of rock stars' books to crowd surf out of the building.

The Rev John Dickinson did what the aptly-named Peter Gabriel from the band Genesis helped to pioneer by allowing himself to be passed above the heads of worshippers in Carnmoney Presbyterian Church in Newtownabbey.

A video of the cleric's odd departure after the completion of a weekend-long conference on Sunday night has been posted on Facebook.

It initially shows Rev Dickinson standing on a stool in front of his congregation, most of whom have their arms outstretched.

The cleric playfully motions that he is going to throw himself head-first into the midst of the church-goers - but stops himself.

To laughter, a visiting English pastor and team leader, Pete Greig, urges the congregation to see if they can get Mr Dickinson out through the glass doors at the back of the building.

And Mr Greig, who is also a best-selling author, offers a prayer of thanks for Mr Dickinson, his leadership, his faith, his humility, his love for the Lord and his resilience.

He adds: "We thank you Lord not just for the choices he's made in public that people have applauded but for the choices he's made in private that have sometimes been deeply difficult and painful."

Rev Dickinson is then lifted up and passed on his back through the church to loud applause and cheers, safe in the arms - so to speak - of dozens of worshippers. The churchman, whose own Facebook page includes a picture of himself in a wetsuit after surfing at sea, was ordained in 1980.

He has been minister at Carnmoney Presbyterian since February 2002.

He taught Church history at Belfast Bible College and is also a regular contributor to BBC Radio Ulster's Thought For The Day.

Although the stunt has been warmly received by most people, one poster on Facebook labelled it "an absolute disgrace", claiming: "This is a synagogue of Satan."

The commenter later wrote that he couldn't find anything like "this complete rubbish" in the New Testament, and it brought people no closer to God.

He also said that giant TV screens and rock bands had no place in the Bible. In response, one woman said: "This is no place of Satan."

She told the critic he would feel "the presence of the Lord in abundance" at the Carnmoney church, which is one of the oldest and largest Presbyterian congregations in Ireland.

Another woman said: "I'm sorry but I find this all too strange for me."

All the other responses were upbeat.

One woman said Rev Dickinson's exit was "a never-to-be-forgotten moment at the end of this ministry and a great leaving present". Another poster said the cleric deserved the recognition of his own people.

Referring to the service, she said: "Yes, it was strange, but it was fun. Jesus loved having fun."

Last July Rev Dickinson conducted the high-profile funeral service at his packed church for Newtownabbey barber Dean McIlwaine, whose body was found on Cave Hill more than a week after he went missing.

Rev Dickinson was thanked for bringing comfort to Dean's distraught family and friends. Crowd surfing is a common sight at rock concerts.

Stooges singer Iggy Pop is often credited as its inventor at a gig in Cincinnati in the 1970s, but Gabriel quickly adopted it and featured it for the first time in a video produced by Martin Scorsese.

Talking about the weekend service, Rev Dickinson, a father-of-four, said his crowd surf went smoothly.

"They didn't drop me. I'm still here," he laughed.

Belfast Telegraph


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