Some years ago in the course of my day job I found myself working late one night in the docks area of Belfast where the old housing and buildings have been demolished to make way for redevelopment. If you live in any of the big cities with old docklands, you'll know the sort of thing.
Around 1.00am in the morning I was standing alone outside in waste ground close to the edge of Belfast Lough when a ship came gliding silently towards central Belfast. At first I thought I was seeing things, (ships don't sail that far up the lough any more), and I ran to the docks edge to get a closer look. There was a little pilot boat in advance of the large ship and the sailors were calling back and forth as they navigated the channel (honest!).
The whole scene stirred something in my spirit and I was aware of some sense of history, or importance to the time and a deep feeling that God was bringing something ‘to my remembrance’ as I worked there. In my heart I was convinced that many years previous I had heard a story about this place and some sort of revival that began in the heart of the Docklands.
When I got home I asked that fountain of all knowledge, Paul Reid, if he was aware of the story. He knew of the story through his father in law and reminded me of a wild, hopeless, alcoholic West Belfast man named Billy Spence who in 1894, as the result of being ‘captivated’ by a preacher at the Custom House steps in Belfast Dock, (where he often went to hurl abuse) became a Christian and went on to be one of the foremost evangelists of the city of that day. Revival came.
Billy Spence gave his life to Christ under great conviction two days after hearing the preacher, at his place of work, kneeling down on the deck of the dredging boat sailing out of Belfast Lough. The boat I had witnessed was the ‘stone boat’ simply delivering aggregate for the continued rebuilding of Belfast's road network.
Now it may just be nostalgia, or advancing years, or simple sentimentality that brought all this about. But I believe that God's word ond purpose was to remind me, as I want to remind you, that what he did before, He can do again. That He can burst forth in the heart of a city and take the ordinary mundane work-a-day lives of the people there and make them extra-ordinary and victorious.
That is why this album is called what it is called. Why some of the songs are ‘city’ songs. And why the title of one of them is ‘Billy Spence’.
I hope this doesn't sound too pretentious or ‘arty’ or contrived. I honestly have no intention of trying to endow whatever merits (or otherwise) this collection of songs has with any dreamed up spiritual significance.
It is just that it you're reading this, and there is something stirring in your heart as you read: then maybe there is a ‘Billy Spence’ in you waiting to get out. Maybe God's hand is on your Iife or my life, or all our lives to, once again, bring us to our knees; in order to rise up and take, wherever you live, ‘this City’.