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2031: Carryduff Presbyterian, Carryduff, Northern Ireland
Carryduff Presbyterian, Carryduff, Northern Ireland
Mystery Worshipper: Servetus.
The church: Carryduff Presbyterian, Carryduff, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The building: Opened in 1841, the church is a large, imposing, modern-looking building painted white. It was recently extended to include an annexe that is used for church activities. The original sanctuary is still used for services and is surprisingly small. Everything feels quite tightly packed together but is very nice nevertheless. The sanctuary is dominated by a large pipe organ that sits directly above the pulpit.
The church: They refer to themselves as "a church at the heart of the community" and have many weekly activities such as various fellowship groups, Bible study, youth groups and table tennis. On a Sunday there are two services: Morning Worship at 11.00am and Evening Worship at 7.00pm, and also a breakfast club, Sunday school, creche and a talk for teenagers.
The neighbourhood: Carryduff is approximately six miles outside Belfast. It is a small town centred around a prominent shopping centre that has some nice cafes and eateries. Most people would know Carryduff as a place they drive through to get somewhere else.
The cast: The service was led and preached by a visiting speaker, the Revd Victor Sinclair.
The date & time: Sunday, 13 June 2010, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Evening Worship.

How full was the building?
There were no more than 30 people at most in a building that could easily accommodate 300. We all clustered together in the middle and I noticed that the sides were actually cordoned off.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was welcomed at the door with a handshake and shown into the sanctuary.

Was your pew comfortable?
They were standard wooden pews with elbow-height surrounds and were arranged in a box format that reminded me of a "cube farm" office. There was at least one full inch of cushioning though, which gets a thumbs-up.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was piped music that sounded like a cheap worship CD, and there were two or three ardent conversations going on. They were talking very fast, about 100mph. At 7.00pm a woman emerged and began to play "Great is thy faithfulness" on the piano. As soon as she appeared, a reverent hush descended. But once she started, the conversation resumed but louder, which was a shame because the music was beautiful.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, dear friends. And welcome to anyone who is visiting with us."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version, and Mission Praise songbooks.

What musical instruments were played?
There was a piano/organ player and a five-strong choir. The piano was played at the start and the organ used throughout the service.

Did anything distract you?
From the very start there was a low-level buzz from the sound system that was clearly audible every time voices went quiet. Also, there are two stained-glass windows bearing the Latin inscriptions ardens sed virens and nec tamen consumebatur. I spent a lot of the service trying to figure out the meaning which, not being Presbyterian myself, I couldn't have known is their motto and an allusion to the burning bush in Exodus: burning but flourishing, yet not consumed. It was also a bit too warm for me. I noticed a thermometer mounted on the side of the pulpit and I couldn't help wondering "why?"

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Apart from the pre-service piano playing, I barely knew a single song they sang. They all seemed like very old hymns, which nevertheless were sung with impressive gusto. In fact, I was surprised at how much noise such a small crowd was able to make.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
18 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The preacher seemed like a veteran in the pulpit: good deportment, good eye contact, engaged the congregation very well indeed and radiated conviction about his message. Without negating what I have just said, there was a problem. The message itself was a good one (although I felt it needed more imagination) but unfortunately he selected the wrong text from which to preach it. The reading was 1 John 4:7-21(why we should love one another) but he spent all his time reflecting on John 3:16 (the familar "God so loved the world..."). He ended up preaching an evangelistic message that I felt was fairly basic and even slavish.


In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He started with a very good and topical illustration comparing the World Cup and football with religion and faith, and reflected on John 3:16.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a moment right at the end when one of the members of the choir who had spent the entire service looking very serious indeed (and dragging me down with him) suddenly let loose a wonderful happy smile. This made me feel relieved and that everything was in fact going to be OK after all, and that Carryduff Presbyterian wasn't as serious and solemn as I had begun to imagine.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, perhaps it is my own fault, but as I was dressed fairly casually and somehow ended up sitting in front of most of the dressed-up congregation. I felt super conspicuous the whole time and it made me really really uncomfortable, especially since we were so few.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I lingered in the narthex/porch area just long enough for one man to say hello and offer a handshake. When I said I was a visitor, another man introduced himself and engaged me in conversation. He explained that the porch we were standing in was built for the special purpose of providing space to chat to visitors, as before there was no room for such frivolities. So it came as such a relief to me to see that all that money had not been wasted and that they are indeed very welcoming to new people. He also told me that I should return for a morning service as they get a lot more people then, which I don't doubt for a second.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. Perhaps they overspent on the new porch!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Based on tonight alone, I would say I felt welcome but don't feel I fit in. However, perhaps if I went to a morning service I might feel differently.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I didn't know any of the songs and the sermon ultimately failed to inspire, but I could see the people were warm and sincere. So by default, yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Presbyterian motto in Latin.
 
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