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1979: St Donard's, Belfast, Northern Ireland
St Donard's, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Mystery Worshipper: Servetus.
The church: St Donard's, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Church of Ireland, Diocese of Down and Dromore.
The building: The building looks impressive from the street, with its high steeple. Inside, the sanctuary has clean lines, with wood-panelled ceilings, beautiful stained-glass windows which run the length of the nave, and impressive pillars and arches. All the pews are well kept and polished, the colours are soft and the lighting is perfect: not too bright and not too dim. The building creates a wonderful atmosphere.
The church: Aside from three morning services (at 9, 10 and 11.30am) and the evening service at 7pm, St Donard's has the usual church activities through the week, including a parent and toddler group, prayer and fellowship for senior citizens, Brownies, Guides and bellringing practice.
The neighbourhood: St Donard's is in the Bloomfield / Connswater area of East Belfast. This is a fairly leafy suburb, with lots of trees lining the road, and there is a large shopping centre close by.
The cast: The service was led by the vicar, Canon Ken Higgins, and supported by a small choir of around eight people.
The date & time: Sunday 16th May, 11:30am

What was the name of the service?
Service of the Word.

How full was the building?
I would guess there was space for at least 200 souls, but there were no more than around 80 present, who were fairly evenly scattered around.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was given a hymnal and told I was "very welcome".

Was your pew comfortable?
Not really. These are standard wooden pews with very thin strips of carpet loosely laid over. By the end of the service I was a bit sore.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a gentle chatter accompanied by some pleasant organ-playing, which helped me feel relaxed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone, and a warm welcome to our service of the word."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used church hymnals, The New International Versions of the Bible for the reading, and the liturgy was printed on a separate handout.

What musical instruments were played?
Just a traditional church organ.

Did anything distract you?
The acoustics were not very good. I wasn't sure if it was the fault of the guy at the sound desk, or just the building itself, but I found it very difficult to hear what the preacher was saying, and had to strain to hear the whole time. Ironically, while this was very irritating, it actually resulted in me focusing so much that there was no opportunity to be distracted by anything else.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was a good mix of hymns and worship songs, all accompanied by the organ and choir. The singing was very restrained and I noticed that many people weren't singing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
21 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The preacher is a very able communicator and was clearly very excited and passionate about his message. He used his voice to good effect, placing the emphasis in all the right places, and his use of hand gestures and deportment was especially good. However, the acoustics department let him down very badly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about prayer, and was based on Acts 16:16-34, the story of Paul and Silas in prison. The core of the message was a play on the fact that the chains which bound Paul and his companions were not as strong as the link they had to God through prayer. Prayer changes things. The sermon was enclosed, start and finish, with two well-chosen illustrations which were both inspiring and funny. The preacher also used a prayer shawl and another visual aid which helped get the message over.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I would like to say the music, but the singing was a bit muted. Probably the sermon itself was the high point.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sound desk was a massive irritation. Even though it forced me to focus more, it was so bad that at times the preacher was almost drowned out by the sound of a fan at the back of the building.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no hanging around, as the moment the service ended everyone began to file out reverently. However, at the door the Reverend shook my hand warmly and told me it was good to see me and that I was "very welcome".

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7.5 – but get that sound fixed and the score would go up to 8.5. Get some cushions on the pews and I would probably award a 9!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I believe it did. There was a good mix of music and a very well-delivered message.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Those funny and inspiring sermon illustrations.
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