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994: Dromore Cathedral, County Down, Northern Ireland
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Dromore Cathedral, County Down, Northern Ireland
Mystery Worshipper: Sagacious.
The church: Dromore Cathedral, County Down, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Church of Ireland.
The building: Dromore Cathedral was built in 1661 by Bishop Jeremy Taylor, author of Holy Living; Holy Dying. He and Bishop Percy, the 18th-century prelate and poet, are buried in the cathedral. This is one of the two diocesan cathedrals of the Church of Ireland diocese of Down and Dromore. Serving mainly as a parish church for a developing community, it is also a centre of diocesan life. Built in grey stone, this small cathedral (I've been in much larger churches) has two separate halls, one of which is a converted terraced house across the road, and the other a purpose-built hall and car park about 100 yards behind the cathedral.
The church: Although the church appears to have an all-age congregation, about a third of the people at the service I attended was in the pre-teen age group. I had specifically chosen to attend this service, as it was the launch of a new weekly worship service called "Celebrate at 10" or "C1@0". On the cathedral website, this was billed as an hour of worship and teaching, focused in its earlier part on child-friendly worship, but including elements of all-age worship throughout. It also hoped to draw those preferring more informal styles of worship to the church.
The neighbourhood: Dromore is a quiet town situated in the north-west of County Down, in the hills of the upper regions of the Lagan Valley and off the main road from Belfast to Dublin. It takes its name from the Gaelic Druim Mor, meaning "great ridge", or "back of a hill". The Dromore Mound, one of the finest examples of a Norman motte and bailey to be found in Ireland, is located just a few hundred metres from the town centre. Dromore is also a designated conservation area.
The cast: The dean, Stephen Lowry, led the service. Jayne Patterson spoke to the chidren. Zach the puppet also made a brief (too brief) appearance.
What was the name of the service?
Celebrate at 10.

How full was the building?
Although a sizable section of the church was roped off, I reckon it was about half full, with just over 200 people present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one welcomed me as I arrived at the church. In fact, I was able to get into the church, all the way to my seat, through the service and back out again at the end without anyone speaking to me. In my experience of visiting churches (never mind Mystery Worshipping) this was a first for me. I did force the issue a bit after the service when I went for coffee and the lady serving had to ask would I like coffee or tea? Sadly, however, that was the extent of any conversation I was involved in all morning.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was a regular church wooden pew with regular church cushions, just thick enough to delay the onset of bruises beyond the hour that you have to sit on it.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
This was the first morning of the new service, and, as you would expect, the people involved were pulling last minute bits and pieces together and the worship team were practising. The place was absolutely teaming with kids and their resultant noise and confusion, which was great. They were all happily amusing themselves as they waited for the service to begin. From my seat I was able to watch as Spiderman launched an attack on a Power Ranger, who was knocked right out of the pew and into the aisle, only to be rescued by two action men. (Please note: no children were harmed in this sequence, but one doll did end up with its head ripped off.)

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"I'm wondering who brought the nails today?" followed by "What about the wood for the sign?" Various children dutifully brought these items to the front of the church, whereupon they were put behind the pulpit and promptly forgotten about, never to be mentioned again!

What books did the congregation use during the service?
All the words for the songs were projected onto a screen at the front of the church using PowerPoint. The reading was taken from the New International Version of the Bible.

What musical instruments were played?
There was an acoustic guitar and a keyboard. Three ladies and the man playing the guitar led the singing.

Did anything distract you?
At one stage in the proceedings, an announcement was made regarding the children leaving the service to go to Sunday Club. With two halls, a busy road to cross and a lot of children to cover, this produced possibly one of the most complicated announcements I have ever heard, lasting nearly five minutes. I did find myself reflecting on it later in the service, wondering if all the children had managed to get to where they should have been.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship had a modern feel and I would describe the style as "unplugged".

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The short sermon focused on the cross of Jesus. The dean read from John chapter 19 and explained that "God is love" has everything to do with death and nothing to do with niceties. Using PowerPoint to show pictures of Jesus on the cross, and quoting John 3:16, he pointed out that there was nothing beautiful or picturesque about Jesus on the cross, but that the scenario was ugly, brutal and deadly. He took some time to introduce a series of services for the next few weeks, when the church would be looking at what God is really like.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This has to be the children's talk. Presented by an accomplished teacher, Jayne Patterson, it was very well thought through and presented, as well as actively involving the children. Xs drawn on A4 pages had been placed round the church under various seats and the children had to bring them to the front, where they were used as addition or multiplication signs to complete simple sums on a flipchart. The Xs were then used in different contexts to show that some sums were wrong, or that Xs could be kisses, meaning that someone loves you. These points were then drawn together to teach us that the Bible says we all do things wrong, but that it also contains many examples of God's love for us. Jayne Patterson then held up a cut-out X, which she folded out into a cross shape to demonstrate that, even though we have done wrong, the best example of God's love was Jesus dying on the cross. Each child was then given one of these hand-made Xs to take home as a reminder.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I wasn't too sure about their modern version of the Lord's prayer, which they called Jesus' prayer. What's wrong with the traditional Lord's prayer we all know and love? Why did somebody feel the need to take bits out? Was it the same person who keeps re-writing the words to all the "old faithful" hymns?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Unfortunately, nothing. So I hung around outside, but still nothing happened. Although I hadn't personally been invited back to the church hall for coffee, there had been a general announcement about it, so I wandered down the road to the hall where I got a coffee and hung around for another 10 minutes. Again, nobody made any approach, so I left, but not before nipping into the toilets to check out my reflection and reassure myself that my face wasn't covered in Job-style suppurating boils.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was tea or coffee available in polystyrene cups and as many digestive biscuits as you could eat. There were also two colours of juice available for the kids, who had obviously partaken, absorbed the e numbers into their systems and were chasing each other wildly round the hall.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I totally agree with the ethos and concept of what they are doing with this new service. The team behind it had obviously come up with lots of good ideas, and the children loved it and I enjoyed it. But was that in itself enough for me to overcome the feeling of being ignored and to entice me back?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'll be wondering if the nails and wood produced at the start of the service were a forgotten part of the programme, or were they in fact needed for a DIY job on the pulpit!
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