|1125: Knock Presbyterian, Belfast, Northern Ireland|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Sister Act.
The church: Knock Presbyterian, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The building: A grey stone building erected in 1874, set on a slight prominence overlooking a busy suburban traffic junction on the main Belfast ring road. It seemed a smaller and friendlier church inside than appeared outside. The decor was plain, except for the large stained glass windows, and there were three upstairs galleries.
The church: Knock Church's beginning is quite unique in that the congregation sprang out of a children’s Sunday school established in 1870 that met in an old mill owned by Liberal MP for Belfast Sir Thomas McClure. An early minister of Knock gained notoriety by playing the leading role in the accusations of heresy levelled against a college professor at the General Assembly of 1926. Years later, the political turmoil that engulfed Northern Ireland in the 1970s largely left the congregation unscathed. The church seems to lave lots going on through the week, and there are two morning services each Sunday as well as the evening one, thus meeting the needs of an established community.
The neighbourhood: This is in a very middle-class, mainly Protestant Belfast suburb, close to the Cherryvalley area, laughingly called "Cheeryvelly" by local comedian James Young on account of the artificial English intonations of the upwardly-mobile people living there.
The cast: The Rev. David Montgomery, associate minister.
|What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The downstairs area was full, with about 200 people. There might have been more sitting in the back gallery, but I couldn't see up there.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I A person standing on the porch shook my hand and gave me a news sheet, but I had to find a pew for myself.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard church pew with regulatory cushion, but plenty of leg room.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Most people were chatting quietly before the service started, though some of the younger participants were somewhat louder.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Evening, folks. We're going to take a look at a song we'll be using later this evening." After a brief rehearsal, the service proper began with "Good evening. Welcome to our service."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The recently published Irish Presbyterian Hymnal, a paperback edition of the New Testament in the New International version, and an older Revised Standard version of the Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
There was an eight-piece music group comprised of keyboard, vocals, violin, guitars and drums.
Did anything distract you?
Whilst people were arriving and leaving and the main doors were open, there was a fierce draught hitting those sitting near the back. Maybe this was to encourage people to sit nearer the front? And during the sermon, it took me a while to work out the meaning of the figures in brackets on the screen after each point (they were the numbers of the relevant verses from the reading).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
"Happy-clappy, Presbyterian style," which is to say rather upbeat hymn tunes sung with no physical movement whatsoever except opening of mouths. The song rehearsed earlier, How great is our God, was one I was fairly familiar with, but no one joined in until asked to later in the service. There was a token traditional hymn, Praise my soul the King of Heaven, played at a fast rate with no harmony and no variation of beat. No one clapped or raised their hands at any time.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
26 minutes, with the service in all taking an hour and a quarter.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The associate minister wore a casual open-necked shirt and spoke from the floor at the front. He had obviously prepared the sermon carefully. It was no passing "thought for the day." On the contrary, it was highly structured, with the points outlined on the three screens behind him and at each side. He read the whole sermon fairly quickly and clearly for the 26 minutes that he took to get all his points across, and everyone listened intently.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He asked the questions: "How unique is Jesus?" and "What relevance in 2005 does being a Christian have to offer?" A map of Colosse was shown on screen, and parallels were drawn to modern day Belfast. We were then given five foundations for today's Colossians, five challenges, and five reasons why we could meet those challenges. Thoroughly Biblical, yes, but somewhat heavy stuff! (The website had advertised the title of the sermon as "Reasons to be thankful." Frankly I didn't see the connection.)
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The solo piece Your love endures forever, with a haunting, somewhat melancholy backing on the violin, was quite beautiful. I was also pleased that on this Sunday following a general election, prayers were said for the country and for our new political leaders.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Sitting through such a long and complicated sermon at the end of a busy Sunday.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing really. The only people who spoke to me were one or two whom I already knew in other contexts.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No refreshments, but in my experience an after-service social hour does not usually occur in Northern Irish churches except on special occasions, at which the "tray-bakes" and other naughty comestibles are wheeled out by the trolleyload along with tea!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – According to their information leaflet they do seem to address important issues that would draw me, but the length of the Sunday evening sermon would put me off.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made being a Christian seem pretty heavy going for me, and the music was somewhat restrained for the type of songs used. Perhaps the morning service with full choir might please me more.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
All these young people sitting through a long sermon on a Sunday evening without appearing the least bit fidgety!