about the ship sign up for our newsletter support the ship
community the mystery worshipper gadgets for god caption competition foolishness features ship stuff
mystery worshipper home reports from the uk and ireland reports from the usa reports from australia and new zealand reports from canada reports from elsewhere famous and infamous reports comments and corrections
the mystery worshipper
Comment on this report, or find other reports.
Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
2083: Crescent Church, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Mystery Worshipper: Servetus.
The church: Crescent Church, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Independent evangelical with a Brethren background.
The building: It is an impressive traditional looking stone building, with a high bell-tower that soars above the busy street directly below. Through the all-glass front entrance there is a fairly large narthex where a collection box is stationed right in the middle of the floor. The sanctuary itself has a spacious balcony area. There is a raised pulpit directly in front of an imposing pipe-organ and a large stained-glass window set behind the organ. The raised pulpit appears to be redundant as there is now a large screen erected directly in front of it. The corner areas at the front downstairs are very grubby looking indeed – wires dangling and exposed plaster on display.
The church: They claim over a century of witness to the immediate area, including outreach every Friday night, and they have a special interest in international students. Indeed there were many student age people in attendance when I visited. For many years there was a special Bible study every Tuesday night aimed mainly at young people, and it was one of the cool Christian hangouts.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated on busy University Road in the heart of the student and nightlife district. The highly prestigious Queen's University is no more than 100 metres or so away. In the other direction, Shaftesbury Square is a mere stone's throw away. Shaftesbury Square is reminiscent of Times Square in New York, only way smaller, and is always buzzing – it is the square that never sleeps. There are many businesses operating during the day, and it can be total chaos at night, especially when all the major clubs and restaurants begin to empty.
The cast: The service was led by a man named David and the preaching was undertaken by Norman C. Nevin, M.D., professor emeritus in medical genetics, Queen’s University of Belfast.
The date & time: Sunday, 19 September 2010, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Evening Service.

How full was the building?
There were three people in the balcony upstairs and the ground floor was fairly full. However, due to the high roof and lack of heating it had quite an empty feel.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Three separate welcomers shook my hand. They smiled warmly and told me they were glad to have me.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was deceptively comfortable at first but became sorer as the service progressed.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived immediately after David began to open the service so most were inside already, but there was still considerable movement in the narthex while I was finding a pew.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Unfortunately I didn't get in on time to hear them.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

What musical instruments were played?
Many musical instruments were scattered around on the stage, but only the grand piano was in use this evening. It was played very competently by a young man.

Did anything distract you?
Tonight's service was brought to us by the letter "S" – I'm not sure whether it was the microphone or the speaker himself but every time he voiced a sibilant S it seemed to trail quite badly – I think there's a name for this but I can't remember what it is. There was an unusually high occurrence of S's so it became quite grating after a while. Also someone near me passed wind (yes, I did hear it!) and another person's mobile phone went off twice!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There were only two short hymns and then a quick prayer. The sermon (see below) took up the remaining time. A woman beside me really let it all out in fine style – not sure she was always in tune, however!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
40 minutes, with a brief interval for questions.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Dr Nevin spoke quite slowly and deliberately. He had a lot of PowerPoint slides, and his talk was a hybrid of lecture and sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The title: "Do Miracles Occur Today?" One installment of a series on apologetics. He began by saying that the word "miracle" is used with too much flippancy these days and gave the example of Captain Chelsea Sullenberger, the airline pilot who emergency-landed his plane in the Hudson River. Also, one's view of miracles is conditioned by one's world view. He went on to discuss the miracles wrought by Jesus and the resurrection and finished with a story about a modern medical miracle (see below).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The story of the modern miracle. Dr Nevin spoke of a lady named Mary Self, who had contracted a particularly nasty form of cancer while young but made a full recovery, only to be told soon after that she had but a short time to live. However, people started praying for her, and when she returned to the hospital the doctors were totally astounded to discover no trace of the disease whatsoever.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the start of the service, David (the service leader) looked at me sternly over the top of his spectacles and for a few seconds he seemed to be telling me, "I know who you are and why you have come but I am on to you!" Could have been my imagination. But at the end of the service, while I was hanging around in the narthex, I watched the deacon casually open up the collection box and remove and unfold the Mystery Worship calling card. I took that as my cue to make a hasty exit.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I milled about in the narthex area after the service and there were lots of people chatting. Several people appeared to notice me standing alone pretending to be interested in the literature but didn't feel the need to talk to me. Well, I guess human contact can be over-rated anyway!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no tea nor any kind of refreshments. Amazingly this did not seem to hinder most people from standing around and chatting avidly for the whole ten minutes or so I remained.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Even though there were lots of younger people here, it actually felt quite stuffy and conservative.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Mildly happy but it failed really to stir my soul.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
To be honest it wasn't all that memorable. I've almost forgotten it already!
please give to the floating fund
camino pilgrimage
The Mystery Pilgrim
One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
mystery worshipper sunday
London churches
Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.
follow ship of fools on twitter
buy your ship of fools postcards
sip of fools mugs from your favourite nautical website
      More Mystery Worshipper reports          
      ship of fools