|1004: Strandtown Baptist, Belfast, Northern Ireland|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Sister Act.
The church: Strandtown Baptist, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
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The building: A modern, white building, set well back off the road, with a deep inverted v-shaped roof. Inside was bright and airy, with pale walls and simple green plants.
The church: Strandtown Baptist has a reputation for being a lively church and draws people from all over the city and the nearby town of Holywood. In fact, there seems to be some sort of amalgamation at present between it and Holywood Baptist Church.
The neighbourhood: The church is nestled among a group of middle-class houses at the end of a short cul-de-sac off a minor arterial road out of the city. It's a rather ordinary middle-class area, not far from a shopping area and cinema. Two posh grammar schools (similar to public schools in England), one for boys and the other for girls, lie close by.
The cast: David Allen led the praise, and the associate pastor, Jim Cheshire, was the speaker.
|What was the name of the service?
Sunday Service, 7.00pm.
How full was the building?
The building was almost full. I could see only a few seats left.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received a warm handshake and greeting at the door, but no one else spoke to me as I entered. The person sitting beside me appeared to value her space and remained aloof. Baptists do not exchange the peace, so there was no opportunity there.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were wooden chairs with nice velvet cushioning – fairly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a buzz of conversation and people milling around. The service did not start until five minutes past the hour.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, everyone. I'd like to give you a very warm welcome."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No music or hymn books were needed as all the words were on the PowerPoint screen. There was a New International Bible in the back of the chair in front.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, two guitars, violin and drums.
Did anything distract you?
I was somewhat distracted when I spotted a person I knew from work and tried to avoid his eyes, fearing he would ask why I was there!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Worship was quite happy-clappy. Some of the songs were restrained, but they were all modern and there were no traditional hymns at all. The person doing the PowerPoint had some difficulty getting the right verse or chorus up on screen at the right time, so we were sometimes thrown as to what we should be singing! This didn't really help the flow of worship. Could this be why some people would rather use hymnbooks? At least you know where you are!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 The associate pastor was a young, squeaky-clean, close-shaven guy with a slightly American accent. I couldn't decide if he had been to the USA or was just putting it on. He had probably been to Bible college recently, as he knew his Old Testament pretty well. His points were clearly displayed on the PowerPoint screen as he came to them. They were a bit repetitive, but maybe that was deliberate in order to bang them home!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was one of a series of studies in the life of David, and tonight's topic was "Success: lessons we learn from David's success." There were five points: The first and third were both about God's timing being perfect; the second and fourth told how God's will for us cannot be opposed and will be fulfilled through His strength. The last point emphasized that when you do succeed, you mustn't let it go to your head like David did, going for extra wives and concubines!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Well, the cool, bright, fresh ambience of the interior, as well as some of the singing, were quite inducive to worship.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Some of the songs did not seem to be familiar to very many, so there was a lack of connectedness at times. And I personally felt that sense of isolation which is worse than being completely alone, that of being in a group of people who know each other well and treat you as if you are invisible. Hell could be like that for me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As I came out, a man I had known as a child, and also more recently as the father of a friend of my son, said hallo and chatted for awhile. Typically for northern Ireland, you can't go far without meeting somebody you know! And the fresh-faced preacher and the gentleman who had introduced him shook my hand as I left.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee, no nuthin. Only spiritual food at this church.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 I'd prefer more traditional hymns. And I would rather choose a church where the emphasis is more on Christian responsibility and service than this "God is so good to me" type of worship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really. It just didn't get me excited at all. It occurred to me that the choice of subject for the sermon, "Success," might have something to do with that fact that the congregation were a very middle-class, white, able-bodied group of people living in a quiet, very middle-class neighbourhood. The sermon was so structured and cerebral that it just left me cold.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The feeling I had of being invisible.