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1091: Christian Fellowship, Strandtown, Belfast, Northern Ireland
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Christian Fellowship, Strandtown, Belfast
Mystery Worshipper: peaceangel.
The church: Christian Fellowship, Strandtown, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: No actual denomination, but it is of the charismatic variety. It was originally founded as the Bangor Christian Trust in the 1970s, and had a reputation then for using "shepherding" techniques which have now been abandoned.
The building: A 1960s style brick-built modern building with some high stained glass windows on the wall facing the road, just beginning to look a bit on the tatty side.
The church: One of the more "mature" of the Fellowship churches, it seeks to meet the needs of all ages – Kidzone Creche and Playgang, Noah's Ark Playgroup, employment opportunities, a spring ball for members, ministry for physical and spiritual healing, men's breakfast, pre-marriage course, cell workshop – all mentioned in their announcement sheet. They have just opened a new wing complete with healing rooms.
The neighbourhood: Located in the Strandtown sector of Belfast, the church is situated very near a busy intersection with shops, cinema, pub and dentist close by.
The cast: The leader was Richard Gardiner. The speakers were Sharyn McKay and her husband William.
What was the name of the service?
Youth Service.

How full was the building?
Pretty full, in a building seating about 400.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A young person gave me a handshake and a quick welcome along with the announcement sheet. We spoke about the church to a woman who seemed naturally friendly. She even brought me a beaker of water later on during the service when she overheard me say I was thirsty.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable enough. Upholstered metal chairs of two different types.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The strong aroma of coffee being served greeted us as we walked in about ten minutes before the start. The church was not very full at that stage, and people were chatting amongst themselves and casually hugging one another. By starting time it was still only about half full, but then it suddenly filled up and the noise level rose dramatically. The leader had to make an effort to be heard when he stood up to start about ten minutes after the appointed hour.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We're going to try and get started. God, thank you that you love us."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books to be seen, except one girl had a Bible and was poring over it searching for a verse.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, drums and several electric guitars, all amplified very heavily through the sound system.

Did anything distract you?
The collection was taken first thing after the brief opening prayer and announcements. This took me somewhat unawares and I missed putting the calling card in! However, I left it on a table near the door as we were leaving.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very loud and long and over-the-top. After an initial presentation about a team going to India, we were asked to stand, and we sang four songs using words on a screen, each getting louder and louder. Some had been recently composed by people in the church so I didn't know them, but others were fairly familiar. Three people then appeared waving large purple and orange flags, which I'm told is something they employ regularly in worship here. Personally, it didn't inspire me to worship any more. And the music was so loud I could not hear my own voice at all. Is this what young people like?

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes by Sharyn, followed by another 10 by her husband, which led to an altar call for those wishing to give their life to Christ and then for those seeking healing.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Sharyn gave her impressive testimony with quiet confidence. Then her husband William, unnecessarily I thought, spoke for another 10 minutes, after which he asked everyone to stand and close their eyes and pray along with him, sentence by sentence, not knowing that at the end we would be using his words to make a personal committment to Christ. I thought that was rather sneaky, getting people to start a prayer with him which then became a statement of enormous importance that people should have been given more time to consider.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
First, there was this amazing testimony by Sharyn, who had been diagnosed with a rare terminal cancer and given a year to live. Biopsies had been examined by doctors in Britain and the USA, which showed that after prayer for healing the cancer had completely disappeared. Sharyn certainly appeared well enough to stand for half an hour and tell us her story! After that her husband gave us an address on the Old Testament story of Naaman and how he was healed after bathing seven times in the River Jordan, which showed how we must keep on praying to God for answers to our requests. This led to the two altar calls mentioned above. It was all very long and drawn out, but I was in no hurry (just thirsty!), and the songs that were sung as people were receiving prayer were quiet and very worshipful.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Sharyn's wonderful testimony, which gave glory to God in a quiet, easy manner and left us all full of praise for God.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The attempt by Sharon's husband to provide some added value when it was not only unnecessary, but perhaps not even listened to, as people were so stunned by Sharyn's wonderful faith that they could probably think of nothing else.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were still waiting for prayer at the front of the church and by 9.00 we had to leave, but it was the sort of service where people went in and out as they pleased. Nobody spoke to us. I thanked the lady who had given me the water.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was coffee at the beginning, but it had been cleared away by the time we left.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – It was mostly not my style of music, though to be fair it was a youth service, but I don't think the other services would suit me either. I would like a bit more quiet.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes, definitely, and glad that God is big enough for all worship prefences.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Sharyn's amazing testimony.
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