For many years I walked up and down the Carrickblacker Road and noticed this hall. I have left Portadown almost 30 years and in recent years developed a specific interest in the ‘Exclusive Brethren’.
This was prompted by an investigation by the Charity Commission who threatened to take away their status. If that were to have happened their income would have been well depleted.
This led to the exclusives embarking on a campaign of apparent greater openness. The most obvious example being their website.
For a group that doesn’t watch TV, read newspapers or listen to the radio having a website was a big step. You will note that their videos give a bigger insight into the group than probably you have ever known. Indeed they do now use mobile phones and the internet though, I believe, have agreed as a worldwide body contracts with specific providers in order to maintain blocks on information that would not be appropriate for the brethren.
It was through reading and a specific contact (who I regard as the UK’s number one authority on unusual Christian groups) I discovered that this ‘room’ on the Carrickblacker Road belonged to a small splinter group of the Exclusives. The splinter occurred in 1974 and is referred to as ‘The Aberdeen Controversy’. The article below gives reference to it.
This group in Portadown belongs to only two other groups in Ireland. The other being in Belfast and Dublin. There are numerous other assemblies, as they call themselves, in England and Scotland.
I decided on Sunday it was time for me to ‘come to the room at 5 00 pm’.
I opened the closed down and could see two men, one woman and four children under the age of 4 praying. It was a room with chairs. The only ornament was the huge clock ticking the time.
They were welcoming and after some small talk the 25 minute service began. There is no musical accompaniment though I knew the tunes and blasted out my notes. The younger man was the preacher. He preached good. He was animated and spoke as a clear communicator. It was the ‘Good News’ as you would hear it in any Evangelical Church.
At the end I thanked them and made my way back out of the door.
It is a curious thing that here were these welcoming people but I knew, perhaps because of what I read, that to belong to them would require an adherence to a culture, symbolised by this room that was closed to the outside world.