|851: Drive-In Church, Portstewart, Northern Ireland|
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Mystery Worshipper: Sagacious.
The church: Drive-In Church, Portstewart, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Organized by the Brethern of Portstewart Gospel Hall.
The building: Church was held in a large gravel car park known locally as "The Pits". This is the pit-lane area for the annual North West 200 motorbike races, on the main coast road between the towns of Portrush and Portstewart on the North Antrim coast. Those leading the service were positioned in a specially customized 40-foot haulage trailer at one side of the car park.
The church: Although the responsibility of organising and conducting the services lay with the members of Portstewart Gospel Hall, it was obvious that the congregation consisted of believers from a number of local or fairly local Gospel Halls. The "congregation" was mostly wearing suits, and there were many wearing hats.
The neighbourhood: Situated on the beautiful north Antrim coast, this is one of the main holiday towns in Northern Ireland and is always very busy at the weekend. A lot of young people travel up to Portstewart on a Sunday evening, many of them after church, for an ice cream or coffee, to cruise round the town in their flash cars and/or to "admire" members of the opposite sex. But don't let that put you off visiting!
The cast: Mr Alistair Caldwell and Mr Leslie Craig both spoke.
What was the name of the service?
Drive-in Gospel Service.
How full was the building?
I counted about 190 cars. All had at least two people in them; many had four or five.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were seven stewards in luminous jackets, directing cars round the car park and giving out songsheets and tracts, but nobody welcomed me personally.
Was your pew comfortable?
I couldn't vouch for everybody's, but my pew was extremely comfortable – nicely padded with leather trim, ample leg room, the ability to recline to whichever angle I chose and even an in-built heating device, which, being the height of the summer, I didn't need to use. However, the air-conditioning came in very handy.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a lot of activity, positioning of cars and revving of engines, but due to the drive-in nature of the service, no specific atmosphere.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello folks! It's nice to see you all again at our drive-in gospel outreach."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially produced song sheet was given out by stewards at the entrance. It contained a selection of hymns I understand to be from the Believers' Hymn Book. Readings during the service were from the King James version of the Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
None. There were about 25 people in the trailer who heartily led the singing.
Did anything distract you?
Cars were still arriving quite some time after the 8.30pm start time, and I found myself distracted by one steward in particular who took his job of directing and positioning cars very seriously. Obviously he was trying to make optimum use of the space available. He had them reversing back, tightening up, squeezing in, then edging forward until they nearly ran over his toes. I haven't seen such skill in sandwiching cars into a tight space since I last travelled on the HSS ferry, and even that's debatable!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I'd describe the worship as traditional Brethren. The singing in my car was fantastic! The singing coming from the car beside me was a bit off key, but in this service I had the advantage of being able to put the car window up so I didn't have to listen to it. Although the people on the trailer were getting enthusiastically involved, I don't think many people were actually joining in in their cars. I spotted at least one car in which there was a picnic happening. Definitely no singing there!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There were two speakers. The first spoke for 15 minutes, the second for 14 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was what I would call a traditional "turn or burn" message. It looked first of all at man being at a distance from God, outlining the role of sin and the accountability we all have for our own sinfulness, interspersed with personal testimony. It then went on to discuss what salvation is all about, and explained the need to be saved through Jesus, who died for our transgressions in order to escape eternity in hell. This was a traditional gospel outreach service and the message was plain. I'm just glad they didn't have an altar call – it might have resembled the start of the Monaco Grand Prix, and the insurance claims would have been horrendous.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This part of the coastline has the most fantastic scenery. The car park overlooks the Atlantic Ocean with fabulous views across to Co. Donegal, and on this particular evening we were treated to the most beautiful red sunset. It was heaven to be able to have church outside and fully appreciate God's creation.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Because of the way they had positioned the trailer, the cars were all facing the opposite direction to the views described above. God provides them with the most powerful visual aid, and they make us all sit with our backs to it!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the luminous stewards came over and directed me out of the carpark.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None available, however in nearby Portstewart, you're never short of a coffee shop.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 I hold these people in the highest regard for the work they are doing, but this is just not my type of church or style of worship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt delighted to be a member of a family that caters for all the diverse needs of its individual family members. And the sunset reminded me of what a fantastic God we all have.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Audi TT parked just down from me. Nice car!