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2100: Newtownbreda Baptist, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Newtownbreda Baptist, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Mystery Worshipper: Servetus.
The church: Newtownbreda Baptist, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Baptist. They are a member of the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland.
The building: This is a modern and aesthetically pleasing brick building that sits slightly back from the road. It features some nice curves and has lots of glass at the front. Inside, the space is well used and not an inch is wasted. The main sanctuary is very plain, as seems the norm with Baptist assemblies, and there is a single token vase of flowers beside the stage area. The only other feature is a pair of drapes on either side of the pulpit, which are very colourful.
The church: They describe themselves as a diverse group of ordinary people who share the same problems as everyone else but who have the assistance of an extraordinary God. They provide many different services to the local community, all described on their website. They also have an outreach project in another part of town which is something like a gym club designed as a kind of first-contact for the unchurched.
The neighbourhood: Newtownbreda Baptist Church is situated just off a major arterial road in southeast Belfast. On the other side of this road is Belvoir Forest Park, which is a nice green area good for getting away from the business of daily life. There are a lot of facilities nearby, including two large shopping areas and several schools, offices and a hospital.
The cast: A man named Brian led worship and directed much of the service. The main address was given by Pastor Freddie McClaughlin from Ballymena Baptist church. A welcome was brought from the Revd Alistair Bill, minister of the local Presbyterian assembly, and there was an address by the incoming pastor, Trevor Ramsey, as well.
The date & time: Friday, 5 November 2010, 7.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
The Induction of Pastor Trevor Ramsey.

How full was the building?
Barely an empty seat to be had and ushers were required to ensure everyone found a seat. There were easily 300 to 400 people crammed into this medium-sized building.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Several people on the door and on the way to the seats made a point of shaking my hand and saying hello. One even asked where I was from.

Was your pew comfortable?
The seats were individual but linked together. There was more than enough padding but they were too close together for my liking.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Cacophonous: there was a lot of excited babbling and occasional outbreaks of loud laughter right up to the start. On the welcome screen before the service began, there was an advertisement for the Sunday service that read: "Find out why a blue Mini is so important to our new pastor."

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, good evening everyone..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None.

What musical instruments were played?
There were two acoustic guitars, an electric guitar and a bass guitar, as well as a violin and a drummer who was heard but not seen. There were also two female vocalists.

Did anything distract you?
Several of the song words were projected onto moving backgrounds, which was a bit disorienting. One of the screens featured fish-tank-like rising bubbles and another was a shot of the cross with clouds drifting behind. I actually liked this feature and certainly wouldn't want to quash innovation, but it was nevertheless a distraction. Perhaps it was nerves but Pastor Trevor seemed incredibly fidgety during his brief appearances in the service. He was like a young child who just won't stand still: rolling his shoulders, shifting from side to side, pulling up his trousers and making shapes with his mouth. Quite amusing nonetheless.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was some clapping but most just relied on their voices. The singing was incredibly powerful. Right from the off I felt a massive wave of sound rise up and crash over the entire congregation; it filled the entire auditorium. What really impressed was that this level was maintained throughout. If all congregations sang out like this, the world would be a different place!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
24 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Pastor Freddie was very animated and appeared at home in the pulpit. Prior to the recent three-year gap, he had been the minister of this congregation and so knows them well. Although he was clearly excited about his message, for me he stayed too long in the text and didn't speak enough into my world; the message needed some relevant illustrations.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The reading was Luke 4:14-21, when Jesus returned to Galilee and began to teach there by reading the words of the prophet Isaiah. The sermon was oriented around the theme of new beginnings. Just as Jesus undertook his ministry by the power of the Spirit, pastors and churches need the Spirit too. Therefore we must try to emulate Jesus and do the work of the Spirit in the Spirit, which is to proclaim good news to the poor because this sets them free.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During the service, an elder named Les recited the "History of the Call" detailing exactly how Pastor Trevor came to be the minister here. I found it utterly absorbing and fascinating. It was inspiring and edifying to get a glimpse of the church's history and the inner workings of the congregation as they went about the business of seeking out and selecting their leaders.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It wasn't hell for me personally, but when a certain elder, whose name I didn't get (luckily for him), was charged with officially welcoming the new pastor, he elicited a massive collective gasp when he mistakenly got Pastor Trevor's wife's name wrong! The embarrassment was particularly acute as he named the pastor's first wife, who sadly had recently succumbed to illness, and he has only recently re-married. I have a feeling this incident may be remembered for some time!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was lots of activity everywhere: in the lobby, the gym area where the food was served, the main auditorium, even in the corridor, but as I poked around nobody wanted to engage me in conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee wasn't bad and I even emptied the polystyrene cup in the brown plastic holder. I asked if it was fair-trade but they didn't seem to know. The star of the show was the huge long table arrayed with a veritable feast of freshly made sandwiches and a bewildering selection of sweet and savoury bakes, and everything I sampled was top-notch.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I like the fact that they work in close partnership with other churches and there seems to be so much going on here. But in the end, Baptist worship is still too formal and vanilla-flavoured for me, too plain.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I liked the spirit here, I sensed that these people take their faith and mission here quite seriously.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The notice about the blue Mini. I must admit I am intrigued, but as I cannot return on Sunday I will be left wondering.
 
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