|846: Carrigart Presbyterian, Carrigart, County Donegal, Ireland|
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Mystery Worshipper: Sister Act.
The church: Carrigart Presbyterian Church, Carrigart, County Donegal, Ireland.
The building: Quaint, stone-built church with small steeple on an elevated site by the main road leading into this holiday town.
The church: The minister is responsible for both this and the church in the neighbouring town of Dunfanaghy about 20 miles away, and he has to conduct both services each Sunday morning, so can sometimes arrive late if delayed by traffic. The congregation is usually quite small, but increases dramatically at holiday times.
The neighbourhood: It is a holiday area with wonderful sandy beaches all along the coast. Many people have holiday homes and caravans which they return to each year, and are regular summertime attenders at the church. Beside the church is a house set back among trees, which has been developed as a residential youth centre for organisations such as Crusaders.
The cast: The minister, Rev. Jimmie Lamont, led the service and preached the sermon, and the organist was Joy Buchanan.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Service, Easter Sunday.
How full was the building?
Bulging at the seams, with extra chairs in the aisles. There were about 130 present, in a building which would normally seat about 100.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. We arrived about 15 minutes early as, being Easter, we knew it might be hard to get a seat in such a small building. People were streaming in, so we didn't hang about! The person next to me smiled and exchanged a few words, but he was a visitor also.
Was your pew comfortable?
No, it was a hard pine pew with a thin felt pad runner, and it was pretty uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Subdued buzz, muted chat, with a sense of expectation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!" Followed by a comment on the weather forecast: "Dull... somewhat dull later... dull intervals."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Good News version of the Bible, Presbyterian Hymnbook (the revised version, now out of print, which is the version before the one presently used in most Presbyterian churches), and Complete Mission Praise.
What musical instruments were played?
An electric organ.
Did anything distract you?
The long pauses between the verses of the hymns were a bit disconcerting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was unusual, in that we sang a Christmas carol, "Love came down at Christmas", to illustrate the point that if we didn't have Christmas, i.e. God's love coming down, there would be no Easter. We sang two hymns from the hymn book and two from Mission Praise, which seemed a good balance. With so many visitors, the singing was quite good, and definitely not happy-clappy! But the organist seemed to pause a long time between verses.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes, but after the last hymn had been sung and the service seemed to be over, there was a two-minute kind of postscript, as though the minister had suddenly found a page he had missed out! It may have been deliberate, and actually added impact to the final words.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 As he mounted the pulpit steps after doing the children's talk, the minister muttered "Oh dear! I'm getting too old to be climbing pulpits!" His style was chatty and he made a real attempt to connect with peoples' lives and relate his points to events and problems they might be experiencing personally.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Because he lives, I can face tomorrow." The children's talk had centred on the word "because", asking them lots of "why" questions with a "because" answer. As the children left and the atmosphere quietened, a CD played "Love changes everything" and I have to say it created a real tingle factor – for me, anyway! The minister visualized the many problems hovering in the air above the congregation. Most people were trying to solve them by their own power, but his message was that love, God's love, changes everything. We should ask him to help us with our problems instead of trying to solve them on our own.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Three things, actually! The beautiful arrangement of daffodils below the pulpit. Then the way the minister came down among the children for the children's talk made me think of Jesus taking a little child on his knee. And the playing of "Love changes everything" between the children leaving the building for Sunday school, and the beginning of the sermon.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The dour expression of a lady going in as we arrived.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The ratio of visitors to members was so high they could not possibly have all been spoken to individually. But I wandered down to the road to take a photo and when I came back the minister was still busy shaking hands with people coming out.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, but the service started at midday in the tradition of churches in farming areas, and people would probably have had coffee before they left home. It was one o'clock and time for the traditional Sunday lunch when we got out.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I probably would if I actually lived there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The feeling evoked by the playing of "Love changes everything".