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Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Independent but Brethren influences, I think.
They meet in the Octagon Suite annex of the Kings
Hall Conference Centre. It is basically, as the name suggests,
an eight-sided room. Large and roomy inside, it has a low-ish
ceiling with a plethora of sunken spotlights and faux chandeliers.
The decor is neutral: the walls and ceiling are painted white
and the floor is partly red carpet and partly laminated wood.
The stage is bare except for a six foot tall wooden cross, which
is loosely draped with a purple scarf. There is also a very
simple lectern placed slightly off-centre, presumably to allow
a clear view of the drop-down projector screen.
Christchurch was founded in 1998, I believe as a break-away
from another Belfast Brethren assembly called the Crescent,
and originally met in the downtown branch of the YMCA. The most
notable thing about Christchurch is that this is the church
where Derick Bingham served as pastor for around ten years.
Until his sad death from cancer earlier this year, Bingham was
one of Northern Ireland's most beloved figures.
The Kings Hall is a large venue which, until the recent construction
of the Odyssey Centre, attracted all the major musical and other
entertainment events in Belfast. Nowadays it is still the venue
for trade shows and country fairs. It is situated on the Lisburn
Road about three miles from the city centre, in a very busy
and densely populated cosmopolitan area. There are many trendy
and upmarket shops, bars and cafes. It is also a stone's throw
from the exceedingly affluent Malone area and very close to
the dividing line for West Belfast, which has a markedly different
The service today was led by a man named Carson. The music was
directed by Keith Mclure. Jackie Whyte gave the sermon.
The date & time:
Sunday, 12 September 2010, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
The service doesn't seem to be named, but I know there is only
one service each Sunday.
How full was the building?
As I entered, I was impressed at the huge number of seats that
had been set out and that were still empty, probably around
300. By the time the service got underway, though, almost every
slot was occupied.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
At the outside entrance I was handed a service sheet and asked
if it was my first time. Once I was inside, someone smiled and
said, "Good of you to come!" After I had sat down,
a gentleman sat beside me and asked me if I came regularly.
When I said I was new, he proceeded most helpfully to explain
the names of those taking part in the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a bog-standard metal frame and cushion that caused no
undue discomfort or distraction from the proceedings.
How would you describe the pre-service
There was an excited babble with lots of laughing and a steady
stream of people arriving right up to the start.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning, everyone. What a cracker day it is!" (Meaning
bright and sunny, as had to be explained to some Americans present.)
What books did the congregation use during the
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, two guitars and a drum kit. The piano never really came
through, however, as the others were very loud.
Did anything distract you?
There seemed to be an enormous amount of coughing and spluttering
that came in waves. It reached a thunderous crescendo immediately
before the sermon. A very sickly congregation, I thought to
myself, which caused me a major worry later on (see below).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Keith, the young music leader, began the worship with a funny
story and then read Psalm 27 ("The Lord is my light and
my salvation whom shall I fear?"). The music was
very well played and the songs were all contemporary choruses.
At the end there was a fairly funky rendition of "Crown
him with many crowns". By funky I mean unconventionally
modern and stylish. The congregation sang along fairly well,
but I sensed some resistance among the pews and they seemed
to be battling inertia through some of the items.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
6 Jackie Whyte managed a few moments of earnest, but
overall I felt he appeared too urbane and unruffled. I for one
was definitely not grabbed by the collar (metaphorically speaking)
and shaken up and down by his calm, knowing style. I think,
in the end, there were too many points. I was left with no single
memorable thought to take home with me. So a bit disappointing.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
His text was 1 Peter 1:3-9 (through Christ's resurrection we
have new hope). Today was part two of a series titled "Resident
Aliens." By following Jesus faithfully we will impact the
world. Resident aliens (1) get a fresh start; (2) are well kept;
(3) get it tough; and (4) love Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in
That the collection was taken using deep velvet bags came as
a relief to me. When they pass a shallow plate, I am always
nervous that someone will notice me dropping the token. And
today I felt particularly well surrounded by prying eyes.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Communion, for two reasons. First, and especially, because of
all the coughing. I shuddered in horror to see the wine being
passed around in plain glass beakers and noticed that the deacon
only wiped the rim at the end of each row, not between individual
sips! However, I was lucky (or so I thought – but see
below) because I was at the start of a new row! Second, because
communion was another incredibly noisy slice of the service.
The deacons all advanced at once and trundled through the place
like a herd of elephants. The floorboards were squeaking wildly
and another round of coughing began. Anyone expecting some moments
of quiet contemplation would have been thoroughly frustrated.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood at the back, where there was lots of milling around.
There were at least two people who made eye contact and sized
me up. I could sense the wheels turning in their minds while
they decided whether to speak or not. But they both left me
hanging. Yes, it did feel quite awkward.
How would you describe the after-service
The tea had been in the dispenser too long. It was fairly gross
and I didn't finish it. I didn't bother with the dry-looking
biscuits, as they weren't remotely appealing.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 From the announcements and the general buzz, I get
the impression that there is a real sense of community here.
But, for me, the service itself was just too bland. Nothing
to get overly excited about.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, I appreciated that this bunch of people are clearly quite
sincere about their faith. I found that encouraging.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Well, since I woke up the next morning coughing and sneezing,
I am not likely to forget them in a hurry. Perhaps I will send
them the bill for the vitamin C!
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