Hillsong conference at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Photo: Wolter Peeters
FOR the sixth consecutive year, the songs, sermons and spectacle of Hillsong Church's annual conference have left an impression on Tracy Durrell, a delegate from Brisbane.
''It actually gives you the feeling, when you're worshipping, what it would be like to worship in heaven … You can imagine the angels just extending, worshipping,'' Miss Durrell said yesterday.
''I felt that the very first conference I went to at Acer Arena. There was no roof and it was like I actually saw heaven.''
This week's conference was held for the first time at the Sydney Entertainment Centre and nearby Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. After 25 years it remains a key date in the Pentecostal calendar.
Miss Durrell, 46, singled out Nicky Gumbel, famous for developing an introduction to Christianity called the ''Alpha course'', and a Christian motivational speaker, John Maxwell, as among her highlights.
They were just two of dozens of speakers at sessions on church leadership, creativity and justice that for three days and four nights attracted more than 16,000 people and thousands of volunteers to Darling Harbour - including delegates from Burundi, Burma and Namibia for the first time.
Hillsong lead pastor Joel A'Bell said the conference's catchcry was to champion local churches everywhere, and most delegates were from outside Hillsong.
''This conference brings people from all over the world, from all kinds of churches, all kinds of different denominations and different traditional styles of worship,'' Mr A'Bell said. ''We want to help other churches be what God wants them to be.''
Yesterday's ''Our Motivation'' session showed how much the movement, founded in Sydney's Hills district, has grown. As well as a choir, band and videos, it featured preachers from Hillsong's New York, London and Cape Town churches.
Delegate Ira Kavetskaya, 26, said she would leave before the event wrapped up tonight to return to Ukraine today to prepare for Hillsong's conference in Kiev in two weeks. For delegates Cheryl Tan, 21, Barbara Ramiro, 37, and Henny Susanti, 31, the conference was a chance to meet Hillsong parishioners closer to home.
They attend different services at Hillsong's city church in Waterloo and met for the first time at the conference yesterday. ''Everyone just comes together. You feel this atmosphere of faith together,'' Ms Tan said.