Creating a healing space for the spirit

Alexandra Keery discovers that a quiet place on a Belfast street is the answer to prayer for people of all faiths

In this loud and bustling world, we can forget how important it is to take a moment to quietly sit and reflect, and even when we do it can seem like we’re not being heard over the noise. Nestled between shops on an ordinary Belfast city street is the Christian centre for mental and spiritual wellbeing, a place that is dedicated to listening to others. 

Opened in November 2013 and founded by Alan Lorimer, a BABCP accredited cognitive behavioural psychotherapist and Methodist minister, and Breige O’Hare, trained in Ignation spiritual direction, the centre aims to ‘foster good mental and spiritual wellbeing’. Breige explains: “We have three words that have become our guiding principal: still, deep and free. It’s to bring ordinary people into an experience of what Christ means when he says ‘live life to the full’ ”.

Reflecting on her first meeting with Alan, Breige says: “I always had a dream for a centre of spirituality.  I wanted spirituality to be available to ordinary people on the street, that’s where I feel my call. I remember the night when I’d said to God that if this is not to be his dream then I am to put it down and walk away.”

The very next day she met Alan and once they started talking it became clear that they had a common sense of vision. “We were bringing a blend of gifts that we recognised to be just what was needed to bring about this shared purpose that we had. The more we talked, the more we realised that we could work together.”

CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy, is designed to help problems like depression, anxiety disorders and PTSD. According to “it is a short term therapy with a good track record in the treatment of psychological distress. Through CBT you learn valuable skills not only to handle current problems but to use in the rest of your life”.

Spiritual direction is meant to offer individuals space to recognise for themselves God’s presence and leading in their lives. “It’s to help people to listen to themselves, to their own desires in their lives, to what gives them life, and to see within that God’s desire and purpose for them. To bring about a healthy and wholeness in their relationships with themselves, with God and with others,” Breige explains.

The centre is open for all adults over the age of 18 regardless of religious beliefs. However, there was some surprise in the type of patients they ended up receiving.  “We thought that we would be aiming at mostly people on the street, but what we’ve found is that Church leaders have a real need for a place where they can go and talk, pray, reflect and reconnect with where God is in their lives, and the sense of mission and purpose for them. We’ve been bowled over by that response,” Breige says.

“There’s also people coming in here who would never darken the door of a retreat centre, they’ll not go for spiritual direction. It’s the exact group that I feel most called to, just ordinary people who think ‘I’m not holy enough to do this’. People who come here for spiritual direction will say ‘I’m not sure what I need, but I’m sure I’m not holy enough to do spiritual direction, but I need to do something’.


“You hear their passionate longing for God and a relationship. It’s not that it’s not being noticed in other places, it’s just that quality of listening that they can get here in this space and to talk.”

Daily prayer is central to the centre’s operation. “What we didn’t realise is that for the past year we’ve been committing ourselves to 12pm prayer, and it has helped to shape our days, our vision, our sense of rhythm in the day… it’s really helping us, it’s slowing us down, it’s making us available for people. We’re never too busy now to do what’s needed.”

Describing the prayer room Breige says “That room is the heart, the pulse, the rhythm and we’re learning to tune into it and to practice our ministry differently and gather about the community around us.

“There will be people coming in from the businesses around; it’s just a slow and steady trickle of people who join us for midday prayer, who decide it’s a good thing to step out of their work to pause and to be with God.”

The prayer room is ‘the heart’ of the centre.  It is especially significant because it is one of the very few, if not the only one entirely, interfaith prayer rooms in Belfast. Both Catholics and Protestants alike come to reflect and pray in the room.

“Whatever mental and spiritual wellbeing means to people it’s really tapping into a felt need, there’s something there. We have found that all of the churches have been incredibly supportive . . .There’s this gentle coming together of different faiths here, in a way that doesn’t require formal dialogue, but there’s conversations going on here that may or may not be happening in other places,” she says. 

Though they’re making a difference in the community, they keep under the radar. Laughing at the end of the interview Briege says “I’m so used to being the one doing the listening that it’s strange for me to be talking so much”. 

Listening is something the centre clearly specialises in, and they encourage anyone who needs counselling not to be afraid to ask for help.