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332: St Mark's, Portadown, Northern Ireland
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St Mark's, Portadown, Northern Ireland
Mystery Worshipper: Jaffa.
The church: St Mark's, Portadown, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Church of Ireland.
The building: The building is in the heart of Portadown town centre and its bell/clock tower dominates the skyline. The building has occupied its present site for almost 200 years and has been built up to its present splendour over the years. The interior is not particularly striking – a typical church building with some beautiful stained glass windows. There are also church halls located in a separate building, a minute's walk from the main church building.
The neighbourhood: The church is central to Portadown's main shopping street and is therefore surrounded by numerous banks, shops, restaurants and pubs. Portadown is locally known as tin-town on a Sunday, with all the shop shutters being battened down. On Sunday mornings and evenings the church provides the focal point for many people in the town.
The cast: The preacher was Rev. Dr John Stott, but there was a substantial supporting cast, including, Rev. David Luckman and Rev. Terence Cadden (Church of Ireland) and Rev. Jim Rea and Rev. Billy Davison (Methodist Church).
What was the name of the service?
A Service of the Word.

How full was the building?
Bulging at the seams – 1,200 people were in attendance. The church can ordinarily hold 1,000.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The doorman said "hello" and presented me with a service sheet. I had a very pleasant conversation with a lady who sat beside me.

Was your pew comfortable?
My pew was comfortable, but although five people can fit into them, they feel squashed at that.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What a crowd! We arrived 15 minutes early and almost missed getting a pew seat. There was an expectant buzz around the place.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We begin our service this evening by standing and singing the hymn on your service sheet."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None, just a service sheet, although a number of people had their own Bibles with them.

What musical instruments were played?
The music was provided by a church organ and robed choir.

Did anything distract you?
The church bells chimed 8 o'clock during the service and a big stone pillar blocked my view of the pulpit.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was very reverential, using hymns of the "old faithful" variety, such as "Tell out my soul", "Just as I am" and "And can it be". Congregational singing by 1,200 people is powerful stuff.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10. The church was as full as it was because of the preacher.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The text of the sermon was from Colossians 1:28-29 and the following questions were looked at: What is Christian maturity? How do Christians become mature? Who can become mature in Christ?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The powerful congregational singing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Hearing a godly man speak, but being unable to see him because of the stone pillar in my way.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I chatted to a few people after the service, but none of them actually attended St Marks! When we left the building, we were greeted with a warm, friendly handshake and a "thanks for being here".

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none provided... the tea and coffee provided by my mother at home was good as always, though!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If the church is seeking to establish the kind of teaching that John Stott is renowned for, that can't be a bad thing.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was a great service, drawing together many people from different church backgrounds in one act of corporate worship. In Northern Ireland, this is a really positive thing.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
If you are going to a service where John Stott is preaching, go in plenty of time!
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