Cherie Howie pays her $65 to join the crowd at Destiny Church’s annual conference this weekend.

It's just after six on a Friday night and I'm outside the City of God. Polarising religious leader, the self-styled Bishop Brian Tamaki, is launching the annual conference for Destiny, the fundamentalist Christian church he founded. Outside fluoro-clad men wave neon sticks to guide motorists.

Inside, it's a wall of noise. I pay $65 for the three-day Born in the Fire conference and enter the massive chapel with 1,000 others.

I want to sit at the front, but I'm not a VIP. We might all be God's children, but we're not all VIPs. At the back, a woman grizzles about the ushers but we're eventually encouraged to move forward. There are not enough VIPs, it seems.

 When the band comes on it feels as if we're at a rock concert, except cheaper, so far, and without the mosh pit.
When the band comes on it feels as if we're at a rock concert, except cheaper, so far, and without the mosh pit.

The "etiquette guys" come on. It's like being at the movies and told to turn off your phone, and they're funny. The music gets louder and it's starting to feel exciting. When the band comes on it feels as if we're at a rock concert, except cheaper, so far, and without the mosh pit.


Search and laser lights, and the busy video backdrop, are dazzling and most of the crowd are on their feet, singing, dancing and high-fiving.

This is actually quite fun. And no one has asked for money. Yet.

Elder Turei Marshall changes that as he comes on to tell those gathered how they can buy Tamaki's personal study notes, and to encourage generous donations to the tithing boxes now doing the rounds.

"We're not ashamed of giving," he says, his voice rising to fever pitch. "You can't stop us, no one can stop us. Because it's in our spirit. Doesn't that just make you want to give more? Have you got more? Chuck it in there."

I once got a smack as a kid for taking money out of the tithing box. I drop in a fiver from the company - it's the only money left after my entry fee and buying Tamaki's $30 book, Quotes You Can Frame.

A call and response chant of "say money" follows before Tamaki enters the stage.

After all that hype, it's a bit of a let down. His tone is measured and he rambles for a long time.

I guess it's not my thing. He talks about the "biggest religion" in New Zealand, which is those identifying as "no religion". I'm one.


I find myself staring at the video backdrop, which is swirling colours and sparkles. It's my salvation from boredom, just as the stained-glass artwork in our family church was during the Sundays of my childhood.

Then Tamaki starts talking about the biggest problem in the world at the moment - "gaypower".

My ears prick up.

He is shocked by Catholic stronghold Ireland's decision to legalise gay marriage. It's spreading around the world, he tells followers and they hum in approval.

"It's normalising it, eh," a woman behind me says.

Tamaki thinks he might have to "move to Limerick next after this". A whole generation of children will be bisexual because the "perversion of homosexuality is leading the charge," he says.

"Gaypower, that spirit is so powerful it's changing political institutions and half of them don't even want it, but they're forced to.

"Churches are powerless. You go there now and you talk about that now and you'd be driven out of town.

"Not by the gays, because they're so well organised, but most of the neutral population agree with them. Gay is the new thing, it's taking over the world.

"It's a fire that's allowed to burn because the church ran out of fire. After a while the whole globe is going to be on fire."

In a crowd this large there will be people who are homosexual. I wonder what they're thinking.

It's hard to listen to and I can't wait for the end. No more trying to blend in, and the book under my arm - bought under the instructions of my boss - feels like a beacon of shame.

Tamaki is settling down now and just after 10pm he winds up his two-hour sermon, speaking softly as people file out.

"Fire, fire. Fire it up. Fire," he whispers.

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