Hillsong's opening meeting at London's O2 Arena were marked by a protest against a video interview with the controversial ex-pastor of Mars Hill church, Mark Driscoll.
Driscoll's ministry collapsed in the wake of a string of revelations about his conduct and leadership style, which left a trail of casualties behind it. Defying calls for him to remain out of the public eye for a decent period, he has wasted little time returning to the conference circuit. His appearance at Hillsong conferences in Australia and now the UK, albeit only on video, see him addresssing his biggest audiences yet.
Truth to tell, yesterday's protest didn't, on the face of it, amount to all that much. Gender justice campaigner Natalie Collins unveiled a banner saying, "Weep with those who weep." Her Driscoll petition gathered around 3,300 signatures, but on the night she was there by herself – not a prospect she particularly relished – and it turns out the video has yet to be shown.
One would have hoped for a few more, but perhaps it's not all that surprising: Hillsong is big among evangelical Christians, Driscoll – for all his outsize personality and outrageous behaviour – a bit more niche. And while his conduct has been thoroughly critiqued in mainstream Christian media, particularly in the US, it takes an awful lot to knock out someone who's as successful as Driscoll has been. A sex scandal will do it, but he avoided that; misogyny, bullying and plagiarism the Church can evidently live with much more easily.
Collins has no regrets at all about her stand.
"Driscoll hurt hundreds of people, if not thousands, by his behaviour, his words and his lack of repentance, and his refusal to remove himself from public platforms," she told Christian Today. "I did this to stand with people who were being hurt."
She cites comments from former Mars Hill members on the petition's website. 'Emily' says: "Mark Driscoll's arrogant words have seriously hurt me and many people that I love," while 'Scott' says: "I was at Mars Hill Church for 10 years and have firsthand knowledge and experience of the damage he caused to people in the church. The last thing the church should do is give the stage to those who have abused it."
'Patricia' says: "After living through this nightmare in Seattle I am now left questioning the authenticity of God's hand working through Hillsong. I'm shocked and saddened you are allowing yourselves to be tainted by Mark Driscoll's corrupt heart. Please Hillsong send him back to answer to and clean up his corrupted mess he created in Seattle."
Collins did have a few positive encounters at her one-woman protest, though one man told her that she had "disturbed his spirit", while another said her protest was "pathetic" because Driscoll was "in the light" – "It was as though he'd been attacked personally," Collins said.
The protest's lack of traction is rather instructive, she thinks.
"We invest our lives in the people who enable us to have an emotional experience of God, rather than in Christ himself. We have to legitimise them and invest more in them than we do in God directly.
"We get into the position where success in the world and success in the Church looks like the same thing."
Her stand, she says, was about "being a presence and providing an alternative narrative" – and, she adds, "Being there on my own helped me wake up to the reality that God is not in the crowd, he's standing with the wounded."
She notes a further irony. While the Hillsong event was on, there was no indication that 8,000 Christians were inside the 02. On the other hand, "I spoke to quite a lot of non-Christians who were passing by and we had loads of conversations about social justice."
Hillsong's pastor Brian Houston has professed himself shocked by some of Driscoll's more outlandish comments. But it looks as though the sort of conversations Collins had with people outside the Hillsong congregation have yet to be held inside – or, indeed within wider evangelicalism. Driscoll is a hard man to stop, and it looks as though the bandwagon is rolling again.
Follow @RevMarkWoods on Twitter.