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Baptist, Lisburn, Northern Ireland
Baptist, Lisburn, Northern Ireland.
Baptist. They belong to the Association
of Baptist Churches in Ireland.
A plain, pointy-roofed, rectangular, modern brick building that
looks slightly awkward in its location on a busy downtown street
surrounded by fast-food takeaways. Inside it is roomy and notable
for its plain-ness: long rectangular windows and plain walls
painted in three different shades of tannish brown. There is
a single vase with flowers near the front to the left of the
pulpit, providing some colour. On the pulpit wall there is a
sentence in gold lettering: "Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory
of God the Father."
Their website describes some of their activities. Notable is
the book trailer, which they park at various locales and which
is designed (quoting from their website) "to engage passers-by
in conversation relating to their position before God."
Lisburn is a city southwest of Belfast. It is home to Thiepval
Barracks, the headquarters of the British Army in Northern Ireland.
Lisburn is certainly the place to come if you are hungry –
you can take your pick from fried chicken, pizza, kebab, Indian,
Chinese, or a variety of other restaurants and sandwich shoppes
all within 100 paces of each other.
The Revd John Taylor, pastor, did everything himself, apart
from play the organ.
The date & time:
18 July 2010, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Probably around 250 people in total. The building slowly filled
up systematically from the back, but the very front rows didn't
come into use at all.
Did anyone welcome you
Yes. The men on the door were very welcoming indeed and seemed
pleased to see us.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pews with red cushioning, which I found comfy enough,
but my sidekick complained that the back was too low.
How would you describe the pre-service
The large room bubbled with conversation right up to the opening.
What were the exact opening words of the
"As it says in the Gospel..." The pastor then read
from John 1:1.
What books did the congregation use during the
Christian Hymns. There were no pew Bibles.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a lone electronic organ that sounded quite old-fashioned.
Did anything distract
A wee old lady sitting directly in front of me (bless her!)
had a bobbly head. Most of the way through the service it jiggled
and swayed from side to side and up an down and was particularly
animated during the singing. Also, I felt quite conspicuous
and under-dressed. It's so difficult for visitors to know how
to dress for church these days. I have noticed some churches
make a point of mentioning a dress code on their websites, something
that I think is a very good idea indeed.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
I found it exceptionally formal, a case of the classic hymn
sandwich. It didn't help that everyone was dressed very conservatively
except for your Mystery Worshipper – the room was full
of hats! However, everyone present really sang out and I was
quite impressed with their sincerity. There was a long prayer
that one enthusiastic member of the congregation kept peppering
with "Hallelujah!", "Yes!", "Amen!",
"Yes, Lord!", and so on. The pastor gave a youth talk
that I'll have more to say about in a moment. After the hymn
sandwich came a communion service, but I left before it started,
as I felt emotionally drained by then. Apparently about 20 per
cent of the others felt as I did, judging from their exit.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
5 The pastor looked very small behind the pulpit and
in front of the very large plain wall. He spoke with a country
accent and I detected a slight nasal quality to his voice. I
had been led to believe that Baptists are champions of exegesis
and expository preaching, but there was nothing like that in
evidence this morning. The sermon lacked cohesion and at times
I could barely make any sense of it at all.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Good question. The reading was Genesis 28:1-22 (Isaac blesses
Jacob and sends him on his way; he dreams of a stairway to heaven)
and the pastor called his sermon "Jacob: the man God needed
to change." But the title was totally superfluous and the
text itself was merely a springboard for launching a series
of evangelistic slogans, pithy sayings and sentimental platitudes
along the lines of "Keep putting God first and he will see you
right" and other such notions.
Which part of the service was like being in
Perhaps just a brief glimmer during the singing of "Come
thou font of every blessing."
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The youth talk. The pastor began good-naturedly enough by using
a wash-bag as a prop to illustrate the need to keep oneself
clean. But then he quoted Jeremiah 17:9 ("A human heart
is more dishonest than anything else") and told the children
that their hearts were "desperately wicked" and couldn't be
cleaned except by the blood of Jesus. I was deeply troubled
at the thought of telling little children how evil they were.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
No time for that. As we were leaving, though, several people
made a point of saying how welcome we were. I believe they meant
it and would genuinely like to see us again.
How would you describe the after-service
There wasn't any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 For me this visit was like stepping back in time. The
hats and suits and formal atmosphere put me off.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Glad I'm not a Baptist! I will go to another Baptist church
some day but not this one.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That this is a "hat" church!
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