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City Vineyard, Belfast, Northern Ireland
City Vineyard, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Churches UK and Ireland.
The Vineyard takes place in the premises of Fleming Fulton School
in South Belfast. The building itself is not much to behold
from the outside – it is a fairly large sprawling complex of
shabby white squareish units that actually reminded me more
of a hospital than a school. Once inside, my initial impressions
were further reinforced when I visited the bathroom and was
sure I had entered a hospital ward. The service itself took
place in a gym hall, which has huge white sliding curtains that
are very similar to those you find in, yes, the hospital.
There were two things that attracted me to this church: the
promise of doughnuts (see below), and a very commendable project
started by this church called Storehouse. Storehouse involves
asking people to think about the urban poor when doing their
weekly grocery shop. Participants buy two of each item they
would normally gather and donate one to the storehouse, from
where it is distributed weekly to those who struggle to make
ends meet. Since its inception, several other churches have
got on board and send grocery items to be distributed through
The school is situated just off the Malone Road, which is one
of the most affluent areas in Belfast. It is very close to the
track named in honour of Dame Mary Peters, who represented Northern
Ireland in the Commonwealth Games between 1958 and 1974. Although
she was born in England, she has been a resident of Northern
Ireland since the age of eleven. During her career she bagged
at least three gold medals for pentathlon.
Strictly speaking the service was not "led" at all
– it kind of just happened. There were several people who stood
up at various points, however, including at least three different
pastors. "Andy" – who may have been Andrew Smith,
senior pastor – gave the welcome. The main speaker today was
named Alan – he may have been Alan Carson, associate pastor.
The date & time:
8 August 2010, 12.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
I don't think it has a name but it was the second of two services.
How full was the building?
There were a lot of empty seats but I would guess at least 100
people were present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed a welcome sheet at the door listing some announcements
and containing an envelope for giving and a separate form for
me to fill in if I wanted to be contacted about further involvement
in the church.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seats were solid construction square-section extruded metal
frames with robust blue cushions, the kind that are designed
to be linked together but, mercifully, weren't. Mystery Worshipping
requires some elbow room for taking notes!
How would you describe the pre-service
As I walked through the door I passed through a wall of sound.
The band was already in full swing and there were clusters of
people spread all over trying to make themselves heard. Slightly
What were the exact opening words of the
The opening words came after 25 full minutes of music: "Nice to see you. I'm Andy, one of the pastors here."
What books did the congregation use during the
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic keyboard, three guitars, and a drum kit.
Did anything distract you?
Many. A short while after the service was underway, I detected
a smell that I couldn't identify but which I was sure was some
kind of burning – some kind of chemical, I thought. A little
while later Andy asked the congregation if they could smell
the BBQ. Oops! A girl in front of me who raised her hand during
worship had painted her nails black but really didn't do a very
good job; the paint was very patchy and it was impossible not
to notice! There was a guy to the right of me who, from the
side, looked exactly like Shaggy
from the Scooby-Doo cartoon. He had a big mop of reddish hair
and a scruffy beard.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The worship was intense but strangely disembodied. The band
were playing well before the service began and continued for
25 minutes after the start time. They did not communicate with
the floor even once during the whole time. It seemed as if engaging
with them was entirely optional. Many people, however, certainly
did engage. The entire repertoire consisted of fairly ecstatic
choruses, the music gradually getting louder and louder. During
the service there was a five-minute break for people to greet
one another and get coffee and doughnuts.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
6 Alan, the quite young preacher, took the scenic route
and used many more words than were necessary. He spoke and read
very quickly and should think about slowing down a little. He
had a certain sheepishness about him, projecting a casual, almost-too-cool
demeanour, which might not always convince others of a sense
of conviction (although I was convinced).
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Alan's text was John 4:1-42 (Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan
woman at Jacob's Well). Today was part two of a series titled
"The Welcome of Jesus". Jesus meets those who are outcasts and
not valued by society and encourages them to "do relationship"
with him. Jesus does not see them as they appear to be but according
to their potential. We too should behave toward others in the
same manner, not judging but simply accepting, seeing others
as God sees them. The challenge is to live a "life of radical
welcome", "leaving our junk at the feet of Jesus", accepting
his acceptance of us and then going and doing likewise.
Which part of the service was like being in
It never occurred to me before that eating a doughnut might
count as worship, but since it was a bona fide part of the service
today my outlook has been transformed. The moment I bit into
one of the freshest, fluffiest, jammiest doughnuts I've encountered
for a long time was definitely the high water mark for me today.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Actually, I can't say that any part of the service plumbed those
kind of stygian depths, but I suppose I was mildly irked by
the recital of that song "The Heart of Worship". It's all about
being sorry for insincerity in worship and making a promise
to get back to the good stuff. But it was written, like, ten
years ago. How can churches still be apologising and still not
actually have gone back to the heart of worship already?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This is possibly the friendliest church I have been to since
I first donned the mask. Several people stopped to chat to me,
including at least one of the pastors and a few other parishioners.
They all seemed to be genuinely interested in chatting. Conversation
just happened like it was the most natural thing in the world.
How would you describe the after-service
This is the only church I have been to where coffee is served
both before and after the service, along with lovely fresh doughnuts.
Today, however, was special too – after the service there was
a BBQ. Big meaty burgers and hot-dogs were doled out with reckless
abandon as if there were no tomorrow. The coffee was the real
deal, although a wee bit too milky for my taste, and all the
comestibles were top-drawer! Full marks to the catering department.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 This church is very appealing, mostly because of the
people. They are very sincere and uncommonly friendly. However,
the touchy-feely nature of all the music and the sermon causes
me to wonder if this church might be all icing and no cake.
In my experience, trying to be happy-clappy and positive all
the time just doesn't fly. Like eating too much chocolate, it
makes you feel sick very quickly. However, I may very well return
here someday for another take (and a doughnut or two!).
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, but not because of anything that was sung or said per se.
The people themselves won me over by their sincerity and enthusiasm
for their community.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
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