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36: Martyr's Memorial Church, Belfast
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Martyr's Memorial Church
Mystery Worshipper: Daniel O'Donnell.
The church: Martyr's Memorial Church, Belfast.
Denomination: Free Presbyterian.
The building: A very large sermon in bricks – 'Time is short' is inscribed under the clock outside, and a quote from Martin Luther on the front door.
The neighbourhood: Middle-class Protestant suburbia.
The cast: Rev. Ian Paisley, MP, MEP.
What was the name of the service?
The Old Time Gospel Hour.

How full was the building?
About 150 people, in a building which would seat 10 times that.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, both the man at the door and the one sitting next to me shook my hand. The door man said, 'that's a cold night', and the other said, 'glad to see you'.

Was your pew comfortable?
No, it was all wood and right angles.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
My overwhelming first impression was one of many hats. Otherwise, people seemed friendly and relaxed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
From Ian: 'We will commence our Old Time Gospel Hour by singing number...' From the wee man in the pew in front of me, speaking to his child: 'Put away your sweets, here comes the Reverend Ian.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible, and 'Free Presbyterian Psalms and Hymnal'.

What musical instruments were played?
An electric organ and a grand piano (although the piano player may have been miming as I couldn't hear it).

Did anything distract you?
During the sermon a baby did emit a few nervous sobs, but that didn't distract me much as I was pretty nervous myself by then. I was trying to appear as interested as possible so as not to attract undue attention. It's nerve-wracking, being a Mystery Worshipper...

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It sounded as you would expect 150 fairly elderly people singing in a hall for 1,500 to sound like. They sang a couple of hymns from memory, which called for some impromptu bluffing from me, and at one point Rev. Paisley told them off for not smiling – although he didn't look ecstatic himself.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
34 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
For enthusiasm and obscure biblical facts: 8. For content and humility: 2.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon title was: 'The Restoration of the Money of Babel'. It was about the new European currency, and Rev. Paisley used Zechariah chapter 5 to demonstrate that the Euro was a step towards a world-wide currency with the Pope's head on it.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The only part of the experience where I didn't feel completely uncomfortable was the first handshake at the door.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, I don't know if I would say that it was hellish, but I enjoyed the sermon least of all.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I joined a group of people admiring the sample Euro coins, complete with 'woman on beast' and a head which could have been the Pope's. We exchanged a few nods and raised eyebrows, and the occasional joke about slipping the coins into our pockets, and mutters of 'strange times...', but no one engaged me in conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. Possibly Rev. Paisley is suspicious of coffee as they drink a lot of it in Italy.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1. I think attending the church regularly would give me sincere questions about the Christian faith. However, there is a strange attraction to people so convinced they are right, and they were friendly enough.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No, it made me worried that I might not be one.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will remember that on next Tuesday there will be a protest outside 'Jesus Christ Superstar' at the Grand Opera House in Belfast. All are welcome...
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