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873: Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian, Belfast
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Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian Church
Mystery Worshipper: Sagacious.
The church: Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian Church.
Denomination: Presbyterian.
The neighbourhood: Sinclair Seamen's church is located on the now mainly commercial dockland area of Belfast known as Sailortown. There is talk of a housing strategy for Sailortown that includes an urban village development; this should breathe new life into the area and hopefully bring some young families to help secure the future of the church.
The cast: The service was led by Mr Mark Shaw. Mr Gary Gilchrist read and Mr Jim Charters led the prayers of intercession.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship on Father's Day.

How full was the building?
There were about 80 in the congregation and the building was approximately a quarter full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed at the door by a gentleman who handed me a hymnbook. Once inside, another gentleman came over to me in my pew before the service began and warmly shook my hand, apologising for his cold hand as he did so. I was welcomed again during the service by the gentleman who was passing around the collection, (if only he knew what I was putting in the plate), and after the service several people made a point of coming over to say good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was very hard, very straight and very wooden.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet, there was no music being played, but there was a definite buzz of conversation in the congregation before the service started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"You are very welcome to our service this morning, and happy Father's Day!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A King James Version of the Bible was placed in the pews, although the reading was taken from the New International Version, along with a copy of Praise! Psalms, Hymns and Songs for Christian Worship. I was also handed a psalter and church hymnary on the way into church.

What musical instruments were played?
The organist moved between an organ and a piano. There was also a small choir of ladies.

Did anything distract you?
I was totally distracted by the shipping and naval memorabilia in the church which included a ships bell, an array of naval flags, two miniature lighthouses with working lights, a helm and navigation lights on the pulpit, which also had a ships prow integrated into it! The church also housed some of the most fantastic stain glass artwork I have ever seen. All that was more than a little distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service and worship were very traditional.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
24 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – It was obvious from his tone of voice and conversation that he enjoyed an informal relationship with his congregation. Initially he led from a podium on the floor of the church, but he delivered his sermon from the much dizzier heights of the very ornate pulpit. I was quite taken aback when he announced from the pulpit that he hated religion, although I have to agree with him on that.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the parable of the lost son, looking specifically at the role of the elder brother. We were told that to neglect the role of the elder brother in the story was to neglect the teaching of Jesus to the Pharisees about forgiveness, pride, jealousy and anger – the sins the elder brother held in his heart. The lesson was about the danger of living in spiritual pretence and having no fellowship with the father.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The welcome received from so many of the congregation. It won't be warmer or more genuinely meant at the pearly gates themselves.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The church was pretty uncomfortable. It was quite cold inside – I had goosebumps – and the pews were horrendous. The bruises on my spine will testify that the pews were not comfortable; an elderly gentleman in front of me had brought his own cushion. I have to say that I felt like stealing it when he stood to sing the hymns!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have the opportunity to look lost. I was invited to wander round and have a look at the artefacts and was even offered an official tour of the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, but there's a pub across the road that serves a good Guinness.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – This was a lovely church with lovely, genuine people. I turned up in jeans and a t-shirt and was accepted and welcomed by this traditional, elderly congregation in their suits and Sunday hats. I'm sure I will visit again and I would heartily recommend a visit by anyone travelling to the Belfast area for a weekend. I am used to a very different style of church and worship, but this made for a very pleasant change.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, in a quiet sort of way.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Jim Charter's Father's Day intercession, during which he prayed for the fathers, but added that we should not forget the mothers.
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