Fisherwick Presbyterian Church Belfast

Fisherwick Presbyterian, Belfast, Northern Ireland


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Mystery Worshipper: Sagacious
Church: Fisherwick Presbyterian
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 January 2007, 11:00am

The building

A very large gray stone building that sits slightly above road level. Built about 1900, it is a traditional church building both inside and out, although it has obviously undergone some interior renovation work. It is painted a light, warm colour, which combines with the traditional wooden pews and floors, the large windows and glass panelled doors, to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. A small gallery can be found at the back of the church. There is also a fixed, purpose-built coffee area and an area with a low table and cushions for children to play games, read or colour in. The church combines a nice mix of modern and traditional, some modern art pieces on the walls contrast with the more traditional stained glass designs in the church windows. The church has several halls situated behind it.

The church

The congregation are an all-age congregation, most of whom probably live in the area surrounding the church. As the church is situated near Queen's University, some of the church's young people are probably students, as the Queen's Elms halls of residence are also within walking distance. This congregation are involved in a wealth of activities with all sections of the local and wider community, from students to the homeless and late night revelers to those who don't have anyone else to have Sunday dinner with.

The neighborhood

Fisherwick Presbyterian is situated on the Malone Road, which is a main arterial road in south Belfast. It is part of a route running from the city centre to Lisburn. The road gives its name to the district through which it runs. The residential streets leading off the Malone Road are known for their high property prices. As well as being home to some of the province's leading grammar schools and sports clubs, the section of the Malone Road where the church is situated is also home to a wide variety of eating and drinking hostelries, including some of the most popular bars in the city.

The cast

Eddie Rice welcomed, Peter Lindsay read, Raymond Liggett said the prayer for others, and Steve Stockman spoke.

What was the name of the service?

Annual Bowler's Service.

How full was the building?

The building was at least two-thirds full, with over 200 people present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady at the door said "Hello" and handed me a very detailed order of service and newsheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a traditional pew, set at a comfortable angle, with plenty of legroom – no fear of DVT here! The seat had a thick cushion pad in a red tweedy fabric that matched the carpet perfectly.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A lot of lively chat between people standing at the back of the church in little groups and also between those already seated in their pews. Immediately before the service started the choir (dressed in robes) formed up at the back of the church ready to make their procession.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, everyone, and welcome to our annual bowler's service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There were copies of the New Revised Standard version of the Bible in the pews. Hymns were sung from a PowerPoint presentation screened at the front and sides of the church.

What musical instruments were played?

Although the music was played on an organ, I would consider the main "instrument" to be the choir. Rarely have I heard such a professional sounding (and looking) choir in church. They sang in four-part harmony, and I could actually hear all four parts!

Did anything distract you?

I was quite taken with a piece of art on the wall beside me, and my view was a bit blocked by a pillar, but neither were a major distraction.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

We sang some good old traditional hymns, such as, "O for a thousand tongues to sing", and "Make me a channel of your peace", but I wouldn't go as far as to say it was stiff upper lip.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

24 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 – Steve Stockman is the best communicator I have heard in a church, bar none. His ability to use humour as well as being tongue-in-cheek while shooting from the hip made him not only a good contortionist, but also a most enthralling speaker. What I particularly liked about him was the fact that he was refreshingly honest to the point of being blunt. All this to a very well dressed, professional, middle-class congregation from one of the most affluent areas in Belfast, who, instead of being offended or shocked, seemed to be eating right out of his hands. He is the type who, as we say over here, isn't afraid to call a spade a bloody shovel! The only thing I can say against him is that he turned out to be a rubbish bowler.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon actually started in the children's message when a bowling carpet was laid out and children were given a bowl and invited to have a go. Chaos! Then one of the bowlers present was asked to explain and show how to throw the bowl, which resulted in much greater success for the children. The gist of the message was that having a bowl doesn't make you a bowler; you need to follow someone who knows how to bowl – just as having a Bible doesn't make you a Christian; you need to follow Jesus.The continuation of this in the main message was, "If only..." If only Jesus had said belonging to church made you a Christian, then life and faith would be so much easier. But he didn't. He said "Follow me", and that means engaging with drug-dealers, prostitutes, enemies and terrorists and forgiving those who have done things against you. In a nutshell, if we follow Jesus it could mess up our perfectly ordered lives.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Before the opening prayer, the children were invited to go to the front of the church. Here they had the reasons why we pray in church explained to them in a very child-friendly (and adult-enlightening) way. They were then encouraged to say things they would like to pray for, and an eclectic mix that covered everything from shopping for toys to sleepovers were mentioned and then cleverly woven into the congregational prayer.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

If I say nothing here my report will look a bit dull. So what can I say? Because of camera angle, the bowling activity didn't show up very well on the large screen? I'm sorry; dull it's going to have to be.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

A few people smiled and nodded in my direction. I was invited to go and have a coffee, so I did.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Tea and coffee were served in polystyrene cups in little plastic holders. Blackcurrant juice was also available, probably for kids, but I had some anyway, and there were plates of chocolate biscuits set on tables around the back of the church.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 – Just the kind of plain, honest, old-fashioned fellowship that can't help but appeal.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Certainly, and I might even have a go at the old bowling!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Listening to Steve Stockman's down to earth, gritty delivery.

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