This is a typical traditional plain Presbyterian building, somewhat strangely painted pink. It dates from 1885, having replaced an earlier building dating from 1833. It is rectangular, with arched windows and a covered porch. A slightly pitched roof is adorned with a tiny pointed steeple and a rather narrow chimney. The church is smaller inside than it appears from the street. Beside the pulpit there was a large hanging with the phrase "Across barriers with Christ" stitched in, along with lots of symbols. In the background of the banner there was an Israeli flag that seemed a bit out of place.
They claim a membership of 500 families. Activities include an adult study group, bowling and badminton clubs, and groups for women, parents with toddlers, young adults, seniors, etc. There is one service each Sunday morning, with an occasional evening service.
Hillsborough, in County Down, is a pretty little village and is distinguished as the place the Queen and other government heads stay during visits from England.
The Revd J.I. Davey, minister.
What was the name of the service?Good Friday Worship. This was a joint service with the local Church of Ireland congregation.
How full was the building?
About 80 per cent full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received a warm welcome and an order of service and was helped to find seating.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was surprisingly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a gentle chatter leading up to the ceremony and just before the start some organ playing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening to you all and welcome." There followed some apologies about the heating switch not working, but it seemed warm and cosy enough to me.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Good News Bible was used for the readings. Everything else was displayed on very handy video screens in front of the pews and a large screen at the front.
What musical instruments were played?
There was an organ for all the songs except one. The organ was used to good effect. A piano accompanied the choir's anthem.
Did anything distract you?
Yes. There was a distinct rumbling of the boiler that came and went a few times during the service despite the building being quite warm. And someone close to me had the annoying habit of jingling keys or money in their pocket during the music. I kept thinking the collection plate was coming around.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was traditional but included some modern hymns. The whole service had a certain quietness about it that actually felt quite appropriate. One of the songs had an accompanying drama/signing that was tastefully done, but I am not yet convinced that items like this really help the message.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The minister had a good strong voice and communicated very clearly and effectively. He had a warm and engaging manner.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke about the forces that conspired to bring about Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus was not the victim. The Jews and Romans caused all manner of problems for themselves through their involvement with Jesus. It was they and the world who were really on trial. In giving himself, Jesus subverts the world's quest for power and instead demonstrates an ethic of self-sacrifice. The cross reveals God's power, which can redeem the whole world.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The 20-strong choir offered a brilliant rendition of that old standby "In the Garden" accompanied by piano. Sublime.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The readings are a very important part of any service, so it was a shame that both readings during this service could have been delivered better. The lectors read the texts without feeling and way too fast. The New Testament reading, John 19:16-30 (Jesus' crucifixion) was a long reading and once can understand the desire to get through it, but it was a shame nevertheless.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one came forward to chat. In fact, one gentleman asked me to move out of his way. I felt, erm, awkward and in the way!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nothing to write home about, but OK.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I wouldn't want to be thought of as standing in anyone's way.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Sure. It was a good service and conducted well.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The pulpit banner with the Israeli flag in the background.