Likened more to a rock concert than a church service, Sunday gatherings at Green Pastures are a bit different from what you usually see in Northern Ireland.
That’s what I expected when I visited the 97-acre site on the outskirts of Ballymena for its 12pm service, the second of the day.
Once I turned down ‘Faith Avenue’ — the road leading to the huge Green Pastures building — I was surprised to only see about a dozen cars in the car park, as reports are that hundreds flock each week to Green Pastures to worship. I wanted to find out what has been going on there following weeks of turmoil that has seen the resignation of lead pastor and founder Jeff Wright and eight senior staff.
There were a handful of people milling about as I walked through the door and up the stairs to a café, where I was greeted by a member who informed me there was no 12pm service, only the earlier 10am one — despite the noon service still appearing on the church’s website. I told them I was a journalist trying to find out what was going on at the church following the recent news. However, I was told no board members, senior staff or pastor were there to speak to me.
I left scratching my head and back outside in my car one parishioner pulled up next to me and asked what was going on. I told him the service was not happening, to his surprise. I spoke to a few others chatting in the car park, who were tight-lipped about the situation regarding Pastor Wright, simply replying they had “no idea” what was behind his resignation or if it had anything to do with the lack of the usual 12pm service.
From when it was founded in 2007, Green Pastures rapidly grew in size, led by its charismatic founder. It expanded so much that it later moved to the massive site where it is currently situated.
Pastor Wright had grand visions of eventually transforming the site into a project he called ‘The Gateway’, complete with social housing, a hotel, restaurants and even a supermarket. There was backlash, however, when Wrightbus, of which Pastor Wright was once a director, went into administration three years ago and it emerged the firm had donated £15m to Green Pastures over six years.
Now, it emerges that Pastor Wright has reportedly told church members he intends to sell church property, which could signal the end of Green Pastures — in its current form, at least — and The Gateway’s grand visions.