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Road Presbyterian, Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland
© Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse
Presbyterian, Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland.
Church in Ireland.
Its a fairly huge grey stone edifice with vaulted roof and bell-tower.
There is a fairly large narthex with floor-to-ceiling glass
walls separating the sanctuary. Inside is sumptuously decorated:
the wood is highly polished and there is brass in abundance.
The ceiling is wood-panelled and there is a large oval window
in the ceiling that lets in a lot of light. The front window
has a tasteful and minimalist stained glass depiction of the
Agnus Dei. On the occasion of our visit, there were banners
and flags hanging from the balconies and in the narthex representing
dozens of different countries.
Hamilton Road Presbyterian has hosted the Bangor
Worldwide Missionary Convention faithfully for 75 years.
This year the event opened with a grand fête in Belfast's
very swish Waterfront Hall that attracted a sell-out crowd.
An elderly pastor told me that, while at the height of its powers,
the little seaside town of Bangor commissioned more foreign
missionaries than anywhere else in Europe. I'm not sure how
true that is but it certainly sounds good! Through the Bangor
Worldwide Missionary Convention, however, literally millions
of pounds have been channeled into furthering the spread of
Christianity abroad. Their accounts are still in fairly good
shape despite the global credit crisis.
Hamilton Road is one of the main roads linking Bangor central
with the suburbs. It's less than 10 minutes walk from the very
popular seafront and right beside the very pleasant Ward Park
which, tonight, was the venue of a major annual open-air music
festival featuring some big-name bands. Bangor has always retained
a certain cachet, as it is home to many yacht and boat owners
as well as a major golf club. On the outskirts there is a fairly
rough housing estate, but the centre is mostly for the beautiful
A man called Geoff led the proceedings. Guest speakers were
Altin Hysin, general secretary of the Inter-Confessional Bible
Society of Albania; and Eddie Arthur, executive director of
Wycliffe Bible Translators. Cecil McWilliams, convention treasurer,
delivered the treasurer's report.
The date & time:
Tuesday, 23 August 2011, 7.30pm.
What was the name of the
Standing Up for God's Word. This was one of several programmes
planned for the Bangor Worldwide Missionary Convention.
How full was the building?
Somewhat less than full, although it is a massive church and there were easily several hundred in attendance.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The door was very busy so I was able to walk in virtually undetected.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not that comfy actually. The pew cushions appeared well-padded
and inviting but turned out to be very light sponge. Lots of
shifting around was necessary throughout.
How would you describe the pre-service
Lots of chatter and activity in the narthex, where there was
a bookstall. People continued to arrive a good 10 minutes after
the service started.
What were the exact opening words of the
I didn't get the exact words but it was a comment about being
in church singing words of eternal worth, versus the people
at the music festival in the park across the road singing words
of no lasting value.
What books did the congregation use during the
None, although the pew Bibles were all fitted with padded jackets
and each had two pens, which I thought was quite a good idea.
No notepaper provided, though.
What musical instruments
The band was impressive: keyboard, two guitars, three trumpets,
a trombone, two saxophones, a clarinet, a flute, and drums.
There were also two female vocalists.
Did anything distract
Yes. At each side of the raised pulpit there are two doors.
Throughout the service people were continually getting up and
going through the doors, presumably to the bathroom. There was
a constant stream and it was impossible to avoid distraction.
One gentleman actually exited through the door on one side and
returned through the door on the opposite side before starting
a conversation with some people over there! Also the concert
going on across the road was very loud and could often be heard
over the presentations.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was dignified and restrained but quite beautiful in its own
way. Many of the crowd didn't bother singing at all, but those
who did nevertheless managed to generate quite a volume.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
7 Eddie Arthur, like most missionaries I've met, seems
fairly eccentric but he came over quite well. He is animated
and clearly very passionate about his work. Much of his address
revolved around facts and figures but this didn't take away
from its overall impact. He spent much time defending Bible
Translation (over 340,000,000 people, he said, are still without
a single word of scripture in their own language) in an age
when everyone is acutely aware of serious world hunger and socio-economic
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
We need to regain a sense of the importance of God's word in
world missions. If you give a hungry person the Bible they will
remain hungry, won't they? Yes, but hungry people need Jesus
too! Many of the present world problems are much the same as
those agonised over in the Bible: war, poverty, famine, exile,
etc. The Bible is not a nice book, but it is a real book for
the real world. It makes sense of suffering and brings hope.
Lack of fiscal resources and lack of biblical teaching often
tend to go hand-in-hand. Poverty cannot be solved without the
Bible. (This was easily the evening's most startling claim!)
The spread of the Bible brings literacy, development, reconciliation,
justice and hope.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
As we entered the final stanza of "As I survey the wondrous
Cross" the brass band totally let rip and it was quite
a sensation. However, there were stirring moments throughout,
one of which was hearing Altin Hysin's personal experience of
a journey from atheism to Christianity and his work in bringing
the Bible to Albanians.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The treasurer's report should have been more interesting but
was delivered in a monotone voice and had too many confusing
charts for my liking. Cecil seemed a little sheepish. He mentioned
something about not being as important as the other speakers,
but if he would spice it up a bit there's no reason why next
year's report couldn't be riveting.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was accosted by a street-evangelist who tried to recruit me
to his project. We chatted amiably for a few minutes and then
he let me go.
How would you describe the after-service
The tea and coffee looked pretty gross, to be honest, so I took
some juice. It was heavily diluted and not very good quality.
But, as I was very thirsty, it was like good news to my weary
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 It's a very large church, and feels quite opulent too.
I don't think I'd feel entirely at home here, or in Bangor either
for that matter.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. I was inspired by much of what I saw and heard.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Probably that amazing claim from Eddie Arthur. The more I think
about his talk, the deeper the impression gets.
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