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2183: Redeemer Central, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Redeemer Central Belfast

Mystery Worshipper: Servetus.
The church: Redeemer Central, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Independent.
The building: They have moved around quite a bit lately. They previously used the student union building in Queen's University, and not long before that they met in the Oh Yeah music centre in Belfast's cathedral quarter. At present they meet in the Crescent Arts Centre, a Victorian-era listed building on University Road that formerly housed a ladies' school. It was extensively refurbished between 2008 and 2010. Redeemer Central meets in a room fittingly called the Cube, as it is literally a square room. There are no windows and the room is defined mainly by the long black curtains that cover all four walls. The stage area is right in the centre where the band play and the loudspeakers stand. Around the centre there are circular coffee tables and chairs; each table sits around four or so people. Off to the front there is another table upon which sat a loaf of bread and several glasses of what looked like wine or perhaps fruit juice.
The church: This church is part of a 200-or-so strong network of UK churches who unite under the banner of Newfrontiers. Their aims are outreach, community transformation, leadership training and accountability.
The neighbourhood: It's very near the centre of Belfast and right in the heart of a cosmopolitan and thriving area that boasts lots of cultural attractions, including museums, theatres, the prestigious Queen's University, and a plethora of trendy and arty hangouts and eateries.
The cast: The service was led by David Capener, who came here from England specifically in order to plant this fellowship.
The date & time: Sunday, 29 May 2011, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
City Group Sunday.

How full was the building?
There were some empty seats but the body-to-room ratio felt about right. It's not that big and the coffee-bar layout made it feel a lot more full than it really was.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. As soon as we entered we were welcomed by an extraordinarily helpful guy who introduced himself as David. He asked us about ourselves and how we came to be here this morning. He made us tea and coffee, gave us a history of the church, and after showing us the layout and explaining how the service would work he helped us find suitable seats. He must have spent 10 or 15 minutes with us. Very impressed indeed.

Was your pew comfortable?
Steel tubular frame and flexible laminated wooden back – fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Because we were engaged in conversation for most of the time, I didn't get to soak up the atmosphere. But a gentle murmur pervaded the room up to the start.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome, welcome. Good morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None.

What musical instruments were played?
Electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, and drums.

Did anything distract you?
Some children were playing games openly on their iTablets and iPhones at a table near me. It was a racing car game and looked quite good. They didn't even go out to the kiddie group with the rest of the children! Also the sound guy was constantly fiddling with the knobs and I couldn't for the life of me understand why. I'm no expert but I thought once the levels are set correctly there is very little adjustment to be made. Ironically, later on when he was away from the desk, there was a really loud feedback screech that nearly deafened us! Oh yes, and one of the guitarists looked very like Edwin van der Sar, long-serving goalkeeper for Manchester United football team.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Well, when you get a bunch of young men together with guitars and drums you don't have to be Einstein to figure out how the music will go. It was very intense and had a distinct grunge feel. There weren't that many songs but they went over each one several times and really focussed on every word. It was as if they were determined to wring every last drop of meaning out of the lyrics. I think on that score they succeeded. The music lasted almost a full hour! David announced before the music that if anyone felt led to share a word or a reading they could do so. His offer was accepted by three different individuals who variously read over and sang over us prophetically. I was looking forward to the communion section, which involved approaching the table at the front and tearing off some bread and dipping it into the wine before consuming it. But alas, we didn't make it that far.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
46 minutes – too long!

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – David is quite engaging as a speaker. He exudes passion and conviction and I really liked everything he had to say. There was a strong social-justice theme running right through the message that I found entirely fitting. He took a fair bit of time painting in the cultural and historical background to the passage and he had clearly done his homework. But I feel he needs to sharpen his message somewhat because it was simply too long. A fair part of the message was repetition. He had the annoying habit of opening and closing his Bible a lot. Thankfully that was knocked on the head before too long.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Luke 4:16 (Jesus reads from Isaiah in the temple and announces that the scripture has been fulfilled). Jesus is the new exodus. When Jesus read the scroll it was an OMG moment (oh my goodness) that would change everything. The passage Jesus read was originally the prophecy of a new exodus for the community of faith who found themselves in exile. Today we take part in this exodus through Jesus, moving from a station of spiritual death to new life. It's not just for Israel but for everyone.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Their grungy but meditative version of "All Creatures of our God and King" carried me off into another sphere and I could have happily remained there for quite some time.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
David, impromptu, decided we should transition into a time of ministering to one another right where we stood and "pray shalom over" each other. I felt super awkward; as a visitor I wasn't about to take the lead and the others at our table seemed quite uneasy. One of them got up and walked away!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After two
full hours with no end in sight, I felt emotionally burnt out and decided it was time to leave. I have no doubt, however, that they would have shown us more great hospitality.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was pre-service and a bit too milky for me. I didn't ask if it was fair trade, but given the emphasis on social justice in the sermon, I am quite sure there is nothing to worry about there. There were lots of delicious looking buns and tray bakes but these had to be paid for. The coffee, too, was free only for visitors.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – It doesn't feel quite like church to me. Even so, I would definitely come again, as I loved the music and appreciated the message. For me, however, it would need to be shorter.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The guitarist who looked like Edwin van der Sar.

 
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