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2238: Seymour Street Methodist, Lisburn, Northern Ireland
Seymour St Methodist, Lisburn
Mystery Worshipper: Servetus.
The church: Seymour Street Methodist, Lisburn, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: The Methodist Church in Ireland.
The building: It's a traditional red brick building that is smaller inside than it looks from outside. There are steps leading up to the front door. Inside it feels very warm and cosy, not much space to wander around. There is a raised pulpit and lots of drapes with biblical themes hanging around the walls. Also, there are some very nice stained-glass windows depicting biblical scenes such as Psalm 23, Mary Magdalene washing Jesus' feet with her hair, and the "suffer the children to come unto me" scene.
The church: The church was opened in 1875 and has apparently never ceased to thrive. In 1995 they were forced to split into two congregations due to overcrowding. There is an impressive array of activities and clubs in operation here, including a luncheon club, a bowling club, and a rambling group: something to suit almost every taste perhaps. On a Sunday there are morning and evening services along with regular prayer time and fellowship during the week.
The neighbourhood: Lisburn is the third largest city in Northern Ireland, with a population of around 70,000. Seymour Hill is an area close to the heart of Lisburn city centre. The church is just across the road from Wallace Park, which is a haven of greenery amidst the surrounding cityscape. Nearby, too, is the Island Arts Centre, which hosts various performances and exhibitions. Just down the road a bit is an excellent brewery where several delicious hoppy concoctions are always available. Their restaurant is one of my favourites in Northern Ireland as a whole.
The cast: The minister, the Revd Brian Anderson, led and preached throughout.
The date & time: 21 August 2011, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
We arrived a good 15 minutes early and were surprised to find the building almost full, forcing us quite close to the front. A constant stream of people flowed in to fill up the remaining spaces right up to the moment the service started.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two older gentlemen at the door handed us service sheets and greeted us warmly.

Was your pew comfortable?
Barely noticed it, actually. So, yes, I guess it was quite comfy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was an electric piano being played. It could be heard above the quite noisy chatter that carried on right up to the very last moment.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"It's a joy to be back among you after our journey to Uganda."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything was done by PowerPoint.

What musical instruments were played?
Just the electric piano.

Did anything distract you?
During the New Testament reading, several children, who should have already gone through to Sunday school, were allowed to roam unfettered around the pews making a lot of noise. There were sweets being traded and crayons being arranged, and at the back a door slammed loudly. Very, very distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was warm and enthusiastic; not always entirely in tune but all those around me really sung out and the atmosphere was quite worshipful. On one song the piano verged toward honkytonk territory. Also, after the offering was brought forward, the entire congregation stood up unprompted and the minister said a prayer. During the reading of Psalm 98 ("Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things...") the congregation read aloud the alternating verses.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The Revd Anderson seemed entirely relaxed and at home in his pulpit. He is a very expressive and confident speaker and displayed warmth and sincerity throughout. He appeared quite uninhibited, even pulling off an impressive African-style warbling celebration cry at one point. Also, the PowerPoint was used very effectively, neither too simple nor too complex. The slides were just right to capture the general theme of his sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Psalm 98. We all love to sing. This psalm is about singing a new song and its theme is gratitude for salvation. Many today have lost their sense of excitement and wonder in the God of salvation. They need instead to get lost in praise, to abandon themselves to a God who can be trusted. It was about living out the joy of the Lord daily.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a young child brought forward for baptism. Before the ritual I was inspired and comforted as the minister reminded us that this sacrament speaks to us of how Christ claims us all, and cleanses and redeems us too. Also, after the ritual the entire congregation sang a version of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24: "May the Lord bless you and keep you") to the child and her family, which was quite touching.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The same baptismal ritual. For me baptism and the eucharist are just as important as preaching, and so I was a bit disappointed that the whole affair was over very quickly. Indeed it seemed rushed and almost as if it were a mere formality before getting onto other stuff. There was very little time to absorb what was happening or to reflect on the solemnity and meaning of the occasion.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no space for hanging around. The large crowd gently shepherded us out of the sanctuary through the small narthex and dumped us onto the street again, where the minister offered us a handshake and a smile.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The church had a nice feel about it, but unfortunately a feeling is all I have to go on since no one engaged either of us in conversation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Sure.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How the church sang to the newly baptised child and her family.
 
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