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Baptist, Ballynahinch, County Down, Northern Ireland
The church: Ballynahinch
Baptist, Ballynahinch, County Down, Northern Ireland.
They are members of the Association
of Baptist Churches in Ireland.
The building: The
building is fairly new, having been extensively redeveloped
in 2007. The main auditorium is spacious and has a very pleasant
feel to it. The decor is tasteful: blue carpet, red-cushioned
chairs, cream-coloured walls and the stage area is mostly blue
with a white background. Mounted on the white background wall
is a stainless steel cross. The use of lighting is particularly
good; there are strip lights sunk into the ceiling as well as
surface-mounted spotlights. THere is also a shaft of light behind
the stage that comes from a cavity in the back wall. Along both
sides of the room are floor-to-ceiling windows, which allow
lots more light. It all works together wonderfully well. I was
very encouraged to note that this church has eschewed the Baptist
canon of placing a single vase of flowers near the front.
The church: They
have adopted five "Bs"' to sum up their mission: bridge,
belong, build, body, beacon. It's all about reaching out to
the community and shining forth.
The neighbourhood: Ballynahinch
is a small market town far enough away from Belfast to be considered
"in the country" and indeed the place was thick with strange
accents. There are many Christians in this small town, however,
as it boasts plenty of churches, most of which are very well
subscribed. This one has a congregation almost 400 strong.
The cast: There
was a very enthusiastic and energetic woman leading worship
whose name I didn't get. A young woman called Rachel gave a
report on her recent trip to Brazil and the sermon was delivered
by a man named Andrew.
The date & time:
Sunday, 16 January 2011, 6.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Evening Service.
How full was the building?
There were at least 400 seats downstairs and a balcony upstairs.
However, tonight it was less than half full and everyone seemed
to cluster together, making me feel a bit hemmed in.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, a pleasant elderly gentleman greeted me on the way in and again on the way out.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seats have metal frames with red cushions and were comfy
enough but they were bolted together and many of the screws
have not been trimmed adequately. I wouldn't be surprised if
someone snags their trousers or scuffs their shoes from time
How would you describe the pre-service
We were among the first to arrive as the band were finishing
their practice. Very soon afterwards, people were flocking in
and seemed to cluster around us, despite our sitting strategically
near the back.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Well, good evening, everyone. You're so welcome." There followed
a reading from Isaiah 60, something about "shining like stars,"
which was a preamble to the missions theme for the evening.
What books did the congregation use during the
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, played by a guy who looked a lot like the musician Moby.
There were also a bass guitar, acoustic guitar and electric
guitar, plus a drum kit. There were three vocalists in all.
Did anything distract you?
The opening song was fairly upbeat and the worship leader immediately
began slapping the inside of her arm as she sang. Her arm quickly
became very red. I worried a little about what would happen
if she continued to slap it through every song, but she soon
realised this was a bad idea. The bassist was very scruffy looking.
I couldn't believe my eyes as he slouched on a comfortable seat
on stage while playing through the musical items. At one point
he was virtually horizontal. I found this infuriating and stared
daggers at him, hoping he would somehow sense my anger. He didn't,
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
All the songs were the contemporary clappy type that are generally
hard to sing and most of which I didn't know. I am slowly growing
to hate this kind of "worship" but there were a few good moments
in there. This service was a communion celebration, and as the
tokens were passed around, three congregants prayed aloud and
another two read and reflected from the Bible.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 Andrew had a very strange accent that I couldn't place
at all; at times a South African twang came over, other times
it sounded kind of American but I've never quite heard one like
it. He was very casual for a Baptist, in jeans and a checked
shirt. Many Northern Ireland Baptist churches would be scandalised
at such attire.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
I never quite got the point; he was a bit all-over-the-place.
One minute he was talking about working out your own salvation,
the next he was talking about missionary work. It ended very
abruptly too, though I wasn't about to complain.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
There was a nice moment when the music came to something of
a climax. Someone in front had his hand raised so that I could
see it silhouetted against the lyrics on the screen. It just
hit me, you know, a real moment of clarity, like, yes, this
is what it's all about just raising your hand and letting
go and affirming that God is worthy of our worship and praise
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
It was a fairly close call between three moments: First, when
after a full hour had passed the speaker mounted the platform
and I realised we had a sermon still to come. Second, when the
wine was passed around and it turned out to be Ribena,
(ugh!). Third, when for the final set of songs they dimmed the
lights and gave everyone glow-sticks and badgered us into waving
them around like teenagers at a concert. It was only made worse
when I got a green one and then saw other people with really
nice blue ones. Why didn't I get a blue one!?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Diddly squat. People drifted off to talk about their tractors
and whatever else they do out here in the country. There were
people right beside us who were only too happy to pull in their
knees and feet to let us out, but no sign of a hello or even
momentary eye-contact. I got the impression we could have hung
around all night and not be noticed. Too bad.
How would you describe the after-service
For such a progressive Baptist congregation in such a swish
new building, and considering Northern Ireland's famous country
hospitality, there is no excuse whatsoever for the total lack
of tea and buns after this service. Shame on you, Ballynahinch
Baptist! Get this sorted out!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 This church, like so many Baptist congregations nowadays,
has no full-time minister so they rely on pulpit-supply. As
long as this is the case, the ministry here will always be a
mixed bag. Tonight was not one of the better experiences. Not
likely to return, I'm afraid.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Some brief rays of light came shining through.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The glow-sticks. Never ever done that in a church before.
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