Lisburn City Elim, Lisburn, Northern Ireland

Lisburn City Elim, Lisburn, Northern Ireland


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Lisburn City Elim
Location: Lisburn, Northern Ireland
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 May 2010, 6:30pm

The building

This is a modern, recently refurbished building, with a glass prayer tower and a top storey for the church's youth work. Inside, the building is bright, roomy and warm, and everything has a very new feel to it.

The church

The church began life in 1921, and moved to its current building in 1984. The congregation describe themselves as a group of all generations united by testimonies of how the power of God is at work in their lives. The church claims a large and thriving youth program.

The neighborhood

Lisburn is the third largest city in Northern Ireland. The church is near the park in a fairly quiet residential area of Lisburn, on the main road to Belfast.

The cast

The pastor, Norman Christie, did the lion's share of the talking, while the music was superbly directed by a guy named Jonny, another female vocalist (about whom more later) and four other musicians.

What was the name of the service?

Evening Service.

How full was the building?

I estimate that the building has a capacity of around 160 or so, and would say that at least 100 seats were vacant for this service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was greeted on the way in and shown the way to the sanctuary. I had just sat down when a guy named Barry introduced himself and asked me if I was a visitor. He told me there would be tea after the service and that I was very welcome. Also, a lady sitting nearby offered me some mints, which I accepted.

Was your pew comfortable?

The seats were very comfy indeed, one notch up from the standard cheap church seats. So an extra tick for that.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was piped praise music, and lots of people were chatting. The atmosphere was very relaxed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good evening, everyone. Let's stand to our feet and sing..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There were none.

What musical instruments were played?

Keyboards, an accordion, a trombone, drums. The music sounded great, and the sound guys got it right.

Did anything distract you?

There was one major annoyance. Right at the front there was a guy recording the service on a camera. This put me off in a big way. He was constantly panning all over the place: back, forward, back again. Why they would want to record the congregation when it was so sparsely populated I don't know, but having a camera pointed at people is not conducive to helping visitors relax.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was fairly clappy. All the songs were contemporary, with a modicum of raised hands. The girl vocalist was quite animated.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

45 minutes, but I'm not sure "sermon" is the correct description for it.

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

6 – The pastor spoke in a fairly low voice, almost a monotone, with a certain sleepy quality. He possessed a kind of avuncular charm in the way he addressed his audience.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was basically a long appeal for anyone present who felt they were "in the wilderness" to leave there as soon as possible and get back on a right footing with God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music was very well done; the songs were well chosen, and the musicians succeeded in creating a wonderful, worshipful atmosphere. At one point I felt the urge to throw my hands in the air, but I resisted as I didn't want to draw attention to myself, especially not with that damn camera being waved around the whole time.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The weakest point of this service was undoubtedly the sermon. The kindest thing I can say about it is that it was a warm and sincere pep-talk from a concerned pastor who clearly cares for his flock. In fact, because everything about this service was clearly so sincere, the following criticism is given reluctantly. The sermon was too long, and while the central point came through, it rambled all over the place like a meandering brook. There was no central text, but instead a bewildering array of proof-texts were passed over without any serious exegesis. I am not from the Pentecostal tradition, but for me the whole service was too touchy-feely and geared towards drawing an emotional response. The idea seemed to be that if anyone didn't feel like they were on fire for God, they should come to the front and be prayed over, and then they might get some kind of emotional boost. A major surprise came when, during the post-sermon appeal, the female vocalist, who seemed so alive during the worship, turned out to have actually been "in the wilderness" the whole time and needed to come forward for special prayer.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I didn't get the chance to hang around before a man named Brian whisked me off for tea and introduced me to at least a half a dozen people, including the pastor and his wife. After I hung out with them for a while, he insisted on showing me to the car park too. If they take such care with all their guests, they will have a full house in no time.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Tea wasOK. There was also fresh cream cake, which was very good indeed.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – There is so much about this church to commend: it's friendly, with great music and lovely facilities. But I'm simply not able to engage with 45 minute talks. This is the age of Twitter and text messages, after all!

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

Very much indeed.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The trombone. You don't see that very often in church today.

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