|943: Causeway Coast Vineyard, Coleraine, Northern Ireland|
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Mystery Worshipper: Sagacious.
The church: Causeway Coast Vineyard, Coleraine, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Association of Vineyard Churches.
The building: Although this church has permanent office facilities in a nearby town, it does not own a building to meet for worship -- it currently meets in a lecture theatre at the University of Ulster, Coleraine campus. The theatre is a typical 1960s grey concrete building, rather boring. It does, however, overlook the river Bann and the grounds are quite impressive. They obviously hire the facility for their services, and as such there is no fixed sign. However, the church was very well signposted with bright yellow A4 size posters.
The church: This is a fairly young church with a fairly young (but not exclusively so) congregation. The welcome pack makes it clear that it is a true community church that seeks to serve not only its own members but the wider community as well. They have an Alpha programme, there's a ministry to men and another to women, and a ministry specifically for new Christians. The church is also involved in domestic and foreign missions, street evangelism, and tape ministry. They sponsor school and student outreaches, serve free tea and coffee outside the many nightclubs in the locality on weekends, and do something called "servant evangelism" -- a monthly event within the community where they do gardening, wash cars, wrap presents at Christmas, and "go large" for unsuspecting customers at McDonalds, all free.
The neighbourhood: Coleraine is the main town on the Causeway Coast, an area of outstanding beauty that boasts World Heritage sites such as the Giant's Causeway, blue flag beaches and championship golf courses. As well as the locals there is a large weekend population who have holiday homes and caravans in the vicinity, a busy tourist trade during the summer, and of course a large student population during term time.
The cast: The senior pastor, Alan Scott, led the service assisted by his wife, Kathryn Scott.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The church has 300 members and holds two services on a Sunday morning. At this 9.15 service there were 80 people and the theatre was about a third full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was met at the door by a young boy who was offering everyone sweets and giving out the announcement sheet. As I entered, a lady welcomed me personally, directed me to the lecture theatre, and explained that although the official start time was 9.15 most people didn't arrive until nearly 9.30. Before the service began, the senior pastor came over to introduce himself and welcome me, and he also explained that they had a relaxed start on Sundays. He joked that most people wake up during the week saying "Good morning, Lord!" but that on Sunday they are more likely to say "Good Lord, morning!" I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.
Was your pew comfortable?
The usual lecture theatre fixed seating with armrests, in a tiered arrangement. Padded and quite comfortable, but the type that spring closed on you every time you even think about standing up.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was a bit deserted initially. When I arrived, the worship band was practicing. At 9.15 they fired up the PowerPoint, but at 9.25 there were still people arriving and no start. But to be honest, I could have listened to the band all day, so I wasn't bothered!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Will we all stand together."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. The words of the songs were projected onto a large screen at the front, and everyone had their own Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
Kathryn Scott led from a keyboard. There was also a lead guitar, bass guitar and a drummer.
Did anything distract you?
The only minor distraction I had was trying to establish where Alan Scott was from. The north Antrim accent is very similar to the Scottish accent. Thankfully one of his illustrations cleared it up for me, as he talked about his upbringing in Scotland.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was vibrant, contemporary and wonderful.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The pastor's style was relaxed and informal but very enthusiastic.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Reaching for the future and taking hold of the life God has given you. If you seek exclusively God's kingdom, you will find the life you always wanted. Jesus taught us not to worry about life, but instead to give up possessions. Life is about donation, not duration. As Christians we are contributors, not consumers. Broken people get healed as they give. The pastor linked individual gifts with specific church ministries and encouraged every member to find their place to serve. A sheet with all the ministries (36 in all) was distributed and the congregation was asked to indicate on it which they felt they could get involved in. I must say I found this a very motivating sermon and left fired up with renewed enthusiasm for serving.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I can't narrow this down to one thing, I enjoyed so much of the service. However, I am going to mention two things in particular: first, the fact that there were so many children and young babies in the auditorium, and although a few were occasionally unsettled, nobody batted an eyelid; and second, hearing Draw me close to you (Kelly Carpenter) sung properly. I've heard some congregations absolutely murder it!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I had the most awful time getting rid of my mystery worship calling card! I was caught completely unawares when the steward arrived in front of me with the collection plate, and as I was the first to make a deposit I was very aware that I would blow my cover if I dropped the card in at that stage. I had to hang around the plates after the service, looking very suspicious I'm sure, until such time as the first collection had been counted and the plates returned for the start of the second service. Then I dropped my card in and ran like... er... the other place!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The same lady who had greeted me earlier invited me to have coffee and a donut.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a choice of coffee or tea served from large insulated containers obviously used as part of their tea and coffee outreach to the nightclubs. Jam donuts were also provided and I watched the kids heartily tucking in.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 This church appears to have everything I personally would look for in a church. It bills itself as "church with a difference" and to my mind it is. It's a bit far from home for me to make it my regular, but I will certainly be back to visit when I'm up in that direction again.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Without a doubt.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
53 people have become Christians at this church in the past six months. Amazing!