The Gate meets in an old Church of Scotland building constructed as a result of the 19th century awakening. It is a fascinating mix of ornate carvings, stained glass windows and high-tech hardware such as TV monitors and video cameras. If you have access to the internet, you can sample their services electronically
Dancers stormed the stage. The lectern was pushed to one side. The band kicked into a Scottish jig - complete with melody played on a tin whistle - and Celtic fire struck the 125-year-old building. Worshippers belted out the words of a Dave Bilbrough classic: 'Sound the trumpet, strike the drum, see the king of glory come'. And a shiver ran through my entire body. It felt like a moment when anything could happen. The scene was a celebration during the five-day 'Major Movers' conference at The Gate, one of Scotland's biggest charismatic churches situated in Dundee, the country's fourth largest city well known for 'jute, jam, journalism and Jesus'.
To say that they are on the 'edge' of revival is true, at least historically. The fires of a citywide awakening were lit just a few doors down the road at Robert Murray McCheyne's church in 1839. It was said that the whole city was moved at that time. No fewer than 39 prayer meetings were held weekly in connection with McCheyne's church in the Perth Road, of which five were run by children. According to McCheyne - known as the 'prophet of Dundee' - there was 'a sweetness' over the area.
That typical 19th century city, with its drunkenness, brawling and immorality, became a place where people instead cried out in repentance and rejoicing. Scotland has experienced numerous Holy Spirit visitations in its history, since it was first evangelised by Celtic saints in ancient times. Hopes are being rekindled for revival today - particularly at The Gate. In McCheyne's day, the Bible readings would have been taken from the King James version. At The Gate, more than likely the New International Version - or increasingly The Message - will be used on a Sunday morning. And it won't just be read out. It will be displayed via PowerPoint on a screen over the main platform.
The Gate is home for a young-ish congregation, with an average age of 25-35. Dundee is a university city, with students making up one in ten of the local population during term time, so the church reflects that. There's a healthy mix of class and culture, too. One housegroup is led by a janitor from the local university, and the people under his care include a professor and a business school director from the same campus! The 'Major Movers' conference showed something of the international links enjoyed by this church. Among the speakers were Keith Johnson, pastor of Saskatoon Christian Centre, Canada, and Tony Miller, pastor of New Harvest Church in Clewiston, Florida, who's a regular guest. Also among the overseas delegates was Ted Yuke from the 700-member Rock Church, Nova Scotia ('New Scotland') - for whom his visit to 'old Scotland' was the fulfilment of a prophetic word over his ministry - and a couple from a church in Estonia.
There is no doubt that these guests have much respect for The Gate's leader and founder Stewart Brunton. This former shipbuilding engineer - who was involved in the construction of the QE2 ocean liner - became a Christian at a mission hall near the 'bonnie banks' of Loch Lomond. In England, 1968, he experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit - while attending one of the first ever 'house churches' at Chard, Somerset. "It felt like I was floating in the air the whole way home," he recalled. On moving to Dundee, Brunton ran a Christian bookshop in the university precinct. Students came in to talk - and for prayer. "I found myself involved in exorcism, without knowing anything about it. "I saw many people set free. I became known as 'the Dundee exorcist' - which upset me enormously." The film 'The Exorcist' was released at that time. Brunton ministered to 100 people as a result of a leaflet drop at the local cinema. Along with five others he started the church in April 1976. They were literally an 'underground' congregation, meeting in the basement of Brunton's bookshop. They bought their present building in 1984.
Formerly linked with the Pioneer network, The Gate has itself become a 'hub', drawing together other churches from across Scotland. Brunton downplays it all, but about a dozen leaders relate to him these days. The church's own vision statement says, 'The Gate is a church which aims to be a living demonstration of God's love by setting our hearts on God and making an impact on our generation'. Membership stands at 500. To cope with rising numbers, they're now running two Sunday morning services. Brunton has tried traditional outreach methods, but found they didn't work. So now The Gate deploys a wide variety of highly creative programmes, including: a 'Student Feed' - distributing free lunches to 350 students every week; their own skatepark 'The Factory' - attracting 2,000 skateboarders, in-line skaters and BMX bikers; a pre-schooler's day nursery, regularly commended by the local authorities; and '3D' teams (Decision Determines Destiny) to speak on moral issues in schools. Brunton admitted they've only seen small numbers of conversions through their initiatives.
But they are winning the city's attention. "We're no longer that hidden little church. We're quite visible now." In 1994, the church started a school in its existing buildings. When numbers grew, they bought a purpose-built primary school - complete with playing fields and caretaker's accommodation.
Brunton is focused about the future. He'd like to build a 2,000-seater centre for his growing church. "I believe revival is hitting us," he said. "I believe we will see it happen. I never knew quite what it might lead to, but I've always had on my heart that there'd be a real stirring of the Holy Spirit in Dundee. "I still don't know how far it will go. I still can't define it. But I believe we're getting nearer to what that should be."
Keith Johnson, whose own church in Canada has been dramatically transformed by passionate prayer meetings, believes The Gate is seeing the 'beginning stages' of revival. "I'm encouraged by what I see here," he told me. "I believe Stewart Brunton is on the right track. "I understand there are other churches around Scotland starting to reach out and press in to Jesus for revival. History tells us that Scotland has experienced some mighty moves of God. If God did it before, he'll do it again." The Gate's conference closed with a prophetic call from Tony Miller - which produced a wild response from the audience. "God's plan is to restore the fortunes of Scotland," he said. "God's plan is to restore the fortunes of the United Kingdom.
I'm not talking about natural kingdoms, I'm talking about spiritual kingdoms. " He's going to restore the glory, and the anointing and the power of God that made this a nation of revival - and made it impact the entire world. Miller went on; "There's a move of God coming to this land that will be far greater than the Welsh revival. It will be greater than the days of Robert Murray McCheyne. It will be the days of the revealing of the glory of God like never known in the history of mankind." During my stay at Dundee, my natural 'awakening' each morning was triggered by wild geese flying overhead.
The wild goose is the ancient Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit. As they seek to become friends with the local community, surely The Gate are well placed for hearing the sound of revival over their city.
Those who walked through The Gate...
I was a Baha'i' for 12 years. It felt so good to have rules in my life, to have some moral structure. When I came across the Christian faith, I didn't want to believe it. But I couldn't deny the Christians I met had power encounters with a real God. The more I went to church, the more I saw emotional and, at times, physical healing going on. The teaching was spiritually deeper than the Baha'i' faith. I went on a fast - asking God to show me which was true. After five days I decided I believed in Christianity. I carried all my Baha'i' books to a local skip, got within 20 feet of it and was rooted to the spot. I prayed for some sign that it really was necessary for this clear-out. A car immediately pulled up. A guy came out and ran over to me, asking, 'Do you want me to put that in the skip for you?' Is this just a coincidence, I asked myself? These 'coincidences' increased once I became a Christian. One thing that distinguishes the Christianity I've known at The Gate is honesty. People are themselves - warts and all.
I was a homeless person living in Dundee. I met a young guy called Ben at a soup kitchen run by The Gate, which gave free food every Sunday. Ben gave me a few talks on being a Christian, which sounded absolutely wonderful. So he invited me to The Gate on the Perth Road. This was around the time when Tony Campolo came to speak at The Gate. I can tell you, it took my breath away. I was gobsmacked. I began to go more regularly with Ben's parents and his sister, who all helped me immensely. But I didn't feel I was part of the church - like I wasn't good enough, not quite equal. So I began to use, lie to and treat people with utter contempt. Yet those people cared for me, loved and wanted to help me. I felt God speaking to me as though it was my time to become a Christian. Those who I thought were against me were actually those who loved me as brothers and sisters in Christ - they were there for me when my life was hard. I have learned to cope with my problems, to love and not to judge. God has touched me in ways I never thought he would.
I first met God when I was five and attended a mission hall that catered for poor children. I got married when I was 18 and had three children by the time I was 25. I visited my older brother and his family. I was so moved by the love in his home that I asked Jesus to come into my heart. The love I felt was fantastic - I wanted to tell everyone that God loved me. In 1980, I sought a career as a social worker. It totally opened up a new world for me. My husband started his own business and started socialising without me. After about a year I was having an affair with a man from work. My marriage ended. My children scattered. I turned to alcohol and sex for comfort. Then I turned to God. I headed for The Gate and was met by a lovely woman who told me God still loved me, no matter what I'd done, and led me back to God. I rededicated my life to God in 1998. He has been healing much of my past pain and hurts. When my oldest daughter got married, I made up with my ex-husband and his new wife.