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973: Church of God, Glenmachan, Belfast, Northern Ireland
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Church of God, Glenmachan, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Mystery Worshipper: Peaceangel.
The church: Church of God, Glenmachan, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Church of God.
The building: It is a very basic square red-brick clad warehouse-type building, with large stone-effect grey concrete blocks inside. There is a porch area and glass screen leading into the main worship area, which has a tiered platform at the back for the choir and those leading the service. The interior decor is plain, understated and practical.
The church: It is situated on the very outskirts of the city amongst the trees of a large parkland, so it would seem that everyone would have to come by car.
The neighbourhood: Belfast is surrounded on all sides by hills, and the area overlooks Belfast Lough and the famous shipyard in East Belfast. Around it are large middle class homes, and further away a working class housing estate.
The cast: Jim Connolly, assistant pastor, and one of the Girls' Brigade officers.
What was the name of the service?
Girls' Brigade Enrollment Service and Act of Dedication.

How full was the building?
Pretty full, the middle section having been roped off for the Girls' Brigade (GB) company. I reckon the building holds about 1000 to 1500 and there were very few free seats left.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one spoke to me as I entered the church, though the entrance was filled with little girls in GB uniforms and their officers. Everyone seemed busy organising the children. I hadn't realised I had chosen the night of the GB enrollment service! There was a brief pulpit welcome to visitors, but no one spoke to me during the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
The seats were moulded plastic, joined together, and were reasonably comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a busy feel as officers rounded up the children and kept them in order before they went in to the service. There were lots of young families milling about, with parents looking after the little brothers.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The 34-strong sanctuary choir launched immediately into These are the days of Elijah, at the end of which Pastor Connolly said, "We stand as we continue to praise the Lord and present the Colours." The company then paraded in with the Union Jack and took their seats.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Words projected onto a single screen via PowerPoint, though there were a few copies of Making Melody on the seats. The assistant pastor used the King James Bible and one of the girls read from a modern translation.

What musical instruments were played?
A grand piano, two drum ensembles, several guitars and some brass.

Did anything distract you?
A microphone hanging from the ceiling just in front of the screen blocked my line of vision. A little boy in front of me amused himself by putting his thumbs through his shirt cuffs and trying to touch his nose with his tongue! And at one point one of the youngest GB girls cried out, "I want Mummy! I want Daddy!"

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The choir was well conducted, swaying a little, with lots of raised hands and some clapping. I detected a slightly American twang, but they sang with great feeling and enthusiasm. The pianist during the choir piece Only Jesus played with great gusto, thumping the keyboard with every strong beat. The congregation joined in to some extent, but I did not feel pressured to clap or raise my hands. At the end of most of the songs the assistant pastor broke into singing in tongues, which just seemed a natural follow-on.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
26 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – As it was a GB enrollment service, the sermon was mainly directed at the children. The assistant pastor is a young man, and his style was clear and energetic. He moved around the platform and up and down the steps with his radio mike, and had a volunteer come up to illustrate a point.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He pretended to be a magician and read the children's minds, then admitted we can't really read people's minds. Doctors can see inside our bodies with X-rays but they can't see what we think. But God can. He knows what you are thinking, how you feel, and if you really love him or not (somewhat threatening perhaps?). What sort of a person we are will determine our eternal destiny, and He will accept only hearts given to a personal relationship with Him. All have sinned and come up short of the glory of God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing of the youngest children when they went on the platfrom to do their presentation. They were well prepared, and some were given solo or small group parts, so their obvious talents were being encouraged.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The fact that no one spoke to me. Also it was a bit hot, and the service was somewhat longer than I'm used to.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung around for about five minutes and no one spoke to me. I felt as if I were invisible! So I said hello to one or two and they said hello back, but no conversation. As I went out, a man was shaking hands with everyone as they left by the only door, but his eyes were over my shoulder and he didn't have time to even say goodnight. I gave them another chance and hung around outside, and one lady caught my eye and asked was I a mother of one of the GB girls (which flattered me, as my kids are late 20s/early 30s!), and she was really friendly when she found out it was my first visit to the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No mention of any!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I was pleasantly surprised that it was less over the top than I had expected, but I missed the music and anthems my own church choir sing.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but sad that only one person noticed that I was a visitor. I think in such a big church they really need to organise a team of greeters or people to look out for visitors and welcome them.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The joyous enthusiasm of the singing.
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