Designed as the non-conformist Percy Chapel by Henry Edmund Goodridge, the 19th century champion of the Classical, Italianate and Gothic styles, it is Norman/Italianate and very Goodridge. Inside is a large octagon with much stained glass that has recently been restored. Until recently there was a false ceiling, with pigeons above. The gallery, which goes all round, is not yet usable. There is a downstairs room where the children go, but I did not see it. Elim have given the place modern seats, toilets, band to one side, and an efficient electrical system, but they left the central pulpit (which they don't use) and the general atmosphere of the revivalist Percy Chapel.
They seem very enthusiastic, welcoming and diverse. Several people were glad to see me, encouraged me to take photos, told me about the building. There were many children, who were well catered for.
Bath was a fashionable spa in the 18th century, with several churches trying hard to impose religion on visitors and their servants, following in the footsteps of Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, who played a prominent (if at times adversarial) part in the religious revival and Methodist movement in England and Wales. The Percy Chapel was Congregationalist, then taken over by evangelists from Wales.
The pastor took a back seat, playing the keyboard, while the band led the congregation through three hymns and some prayers with background music.
What was the name of the service?Celebration Service.
How full was the building?
Perhaps half-full (probably a bit under 100) but spread out and full of enthusiasm, so it felt full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Several people, with real friendliness and handshakes.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Full of life and greetings.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Isn't it great to be in the house of the Lord?’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Words to the hymns and the reading on screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, four guitars, percussion, two singers.
Did anything distract you?
There were some rows going on, as well as much goodwill.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very informal, with clapping. A complete absence of ritual. Then it was time for the Two Minute Silence. We all stood, with poppies on the screen and the Last Post (the bugle call commemorating the dead) played (I think it was a recording). Then the pastor led some prayers and introduced a film about the upcoming Passion Play, which all the churches of Bath will perform together. Then another hymn, during which the children left (they were more than half the congregation). The pastor introduced, and prayed over, the visiting preacher, who oversees the Elim churches in Wales and the Southwest. He went on for some time, with great passion. Then a hymn, and we were invited to take and eat bread and wine from the back of the church. We were also cordially invited to coffee.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1 — Preacher was very intense, almost ecstatic, walking up and down and working himself up almost to a frenzy.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Matthew 13:44-46 – the parables of the hidden treasure and field full of pearls. Why did Jesus repeat himself? For emphasis. The two parables appear similar, but if you look at them closely, you see that they appeal to different audiences: one poor, one rich. Whoever you are, Christ's message is for you. So get out there and do your bit. Support the Passion Play. It's a good day to say to God, ‘I surrender everything to you. I'm all in.’ We may not be the cleverest bunch, but we have a passion for Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The two minute silence.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon. I found the preacher's manic passion quite repelling.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had no chance. I'm sorry to say, the sermon drove me away.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn’t stay.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 — It turned me off.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The silence, which was quite moving.