Mystery Worshipper: Sheepwatcher
Church: Randalstown Free Presbyterian
Location: County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 January 2012, 11:30am
A pleasant red brick building with white trim and a covered porch, dating from the early 1990s. A large hedge of Leyland cyprus surrounds a secure site containing church, manse and substantial car park, all landscaped with low maintenance plants and shrubs. Upon entering, one finds oneself in a foyer off which are toilets, recording studio, crèche, and stairs to a balcony. Inside is the sanctuary, which seems standard Presbyterian style: wooden pews, raised pulpit, organ, piano, and Presbyterian blue carpeting.
Little information was available via church notice board or leaflets. They say they have a website, but it appears not to be up. They offer morning and evening worship each Sunday, plus Bible study. An after-church youth rally is held the fourth Sunday of each month. They also offer Bible study on Wednesday evenings, and youth fellowship and children's meeting on Friday evenings.
The church is situated on the outskirts of Randalstown, a medium sized village 20 minutes from Belfast, rural and quiet.
The Revd Phillip Millen, pastor.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
Approximately 40 persons were sitting on balcony, with about 80 downstairs. The church could seat around 300, which would make it over a third full. To be fair, it was New Year's Day, and perhaps this may have increased or decreased attendance.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
People in pews looked over and spoke.
Was your pew comfortable?
Surprisingly the wooden pews were very comfortable, perhaps even a welcome relief from Christmas settee sitting.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The front hall seemed a hive of busy activity. Men in fine suits and ties were wandering to and fro, seemingly with substantial workloads. Inside was quiet, as some people sat and prayed, whilst many arrived close to 11.30 commencement.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Please turn to hymn 7 in your hymnbooks: 'To God be the glory.'"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymnbooks and Bibles nestled in front of pews.
What musical instruments were played?
An electric organ and a piano.
Did anything distract you?
Seemingly a dress code consisting of suits and ties for men and heads covered for women. In addition to doors identified as leading to the toilets, crèche, studio and balcony, there were several doors in the foyer that lacked signs. I wondered where these led to.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Presbyterian and traditional. The minister was the only participant. Opening, announcements, song leading he ran the show. To be fair, singing was good.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – The minister's preaching style was clear, and he was vocal.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the Book of Habbakuk, and its theme was revival in the midst of trouble. We must stand as the good guys against a corrupt world. Too many people lack joy; we need to get on better with each other in the new year. Revival will arrive shortly.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The hymns seemed long-winded but the congregation sang merrily along.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The minister's words rang true: this congregation lacked joy.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The minister shook hands and spoke to people as they were leaving. The church car park emptied quickly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no after service refreshments.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – A secure location to attend church, close to the capital, but too joyless for me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. At least the singing was joyful.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The fact we attended church eleven hours into 2012.