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1978: Christian Fellowship Church, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Christian Fellowship Church, Belfast
Mystery Worshipper: Servetus.
The church: Christian Fellowship Church, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Independent.
The building: The church is built in a strange shape, and is odd-looking from the outside. But once you are inside, you realise it has had many adjustments made to it over the years. There are some good stained-glass windows which could be more prominent. The interior is very welcoming and comfortable, with couches at the back, a well-kept stage at the front, and three large video screens.
The church: The church describes itself as "Love giving, people dedicated, power bringing, world impacting and Christ centred." The vast majority of the congregation were quite young and very trendy – I was so glad I didn't dress up before coming. A significant deaf contingent also showed up, which was catered for by two signers who each translated one half of the service.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated in the Belmont area of East Belfast, which is a fairly upwardly-mobile part of town, and the only place in the east I am aware of that has coffee shops which stay open into the evening.
The cast: Andy McCourt did most of the leading. The guest speaker was from their sister church in Antrim, John Ash. Two people also translated the service into sign-language for the deaf.
The date & time: Sunday 9 May, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Evening Service.

How full was the building?
Of approximately 300 or so seats I would say 95 per cent were occupied. Interestingly, they had a timer countdown on the three big video screens showing five minutes to the start of the service, but most seats remained empty till after it wound down completely – and then there was a sudden rush to grab a pew!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I arrived a full 15 minutes early, but there was no one on the door, despite plenty of people milling around.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were of the regular cushioned variety and were fine. They were separated from the couches at the back by a thin curtain, which for some reason put me in mind of being in an airplane.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A palpable hum of excitement, which grew as the timer counted down. I wasn't sure if it was in anticipation of the service, though.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"OK, let's worship God together."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. I noticed that virtually no one had brought a Bible, including the very few token older people – who should be setting an example, I thought! I have felt for some time, however, that there is a lot to be said for simply listening to the reading without following along.

What musical instruments were played?
There were three guitars and a drumkit, all played in earnest.

Did anything distract you?
There were many distractions. The congregants seemed quite restless, from the guy sucking the lollipop through the worship (he should have saved it for the sermon), to the people playing on mobile phones (despite the switch off sign), and one guy near me who was constantly looking around him the whole time. Also some noise emanated from behind the curtain occasionally.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Is it necessary to sing along in church in order to worship? My jury has been out on this one for a while now, and it was hard not to notice that hardly anyone joined in singing, except the people at the front. The music was very contemporary and had a professional, concert-like feel to it – and it was fairly loud. I noticed several flags near the front which I half-expected to be hoisted aloft, but alas, not tonight.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
47 minutes! Outrageous.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – John Ash is quite a winsome and likeable fellow, earnest, but not too much, funny and down to earth.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was from James chapter 2: the relationship between faith and works. Faith that works produces actions in line with belief. Faith is a statement of intent and a statement of action. His three headings were good: dead faith, demonic faith and dynamic faith. In the end, he made an appeal to "get smelly", which was a reference to the "fragrance of Christ" spoken about in 2 Corinthians.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The final five minutes of the half-hour worship session was great and hugely atmospheric. It was a slow build-up, but a great climax.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That sermon! Such a shame. He started so well, had some great illustrations and used the PowerPoint wonderfully, but in the end the message suffered from severe information overload. There were way too many long quotes from the 16th century, and too many human interest stories. The core message was a simple one and would be quite powerful if the preacher only knew how to discriminate more carefully in selecting his material.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Incredibly, I managed to get in and out of the church service without anyone uttering so much as a single word to me the entire length of the visit. And that includes the moment during the service when the speaker suggested everyone greet someone near them! Guess I'm just not trendy enough.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I would have paid 50p to sample the coffee at the very nice looking bar, but unfortunately had no change left.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Great looking and sounding church, and a very good atmosphere inside. But I couldn't handle the long sermons!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
In the end it left me feeling decidedly un-stirred one way or the other.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sign-translators.
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