Mystery Worshipper: Evangellybaby
Church: Holywell Free Church
Location: Loughborough, Leicestershire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 January 2008, 11:00am
A modern red brick building dating from about 1985, topped by an octagonal cupola. It put me in mind of a doctor's surgery. The main room is square, with attached wings that house rooms for various functions.
The congregation was formed in 1968 by a small group of Christians concerned that there should be a church on the developing Holywell estate. The membership seems to include a spread of all ages, although tending toward the older generations. I gathered from reading the sheet given out that they attract people from a wide area. There are a large number of Chinese in the congregation, and the church offers particular support to this community, with Bible study in Chinese held every Sunday afternoon. Sunday prayer meetings and worship services are held both in the morning and evening, and a variety of religious and social events take place throughout each week.
Loughborough is a large town in North Leicestershire. It is home to Loughborough University as well as to the world's largest bell foundry. In 1841 a Baptist preacher and temperance leader named Thomas Cook arranged a rail excursion for a group of temperance campaigners to a rally in Loughborough, receiving a percentage of the special ticket price he negotiated with the railway company. Thus began the business venture that over time blossomed into the worldwide network of travel agencies bearing Cook's name. The church is situated in the Holywell estate, a well-to-do area adjacent to the university.
The service was led by the Revd Bruce Powell, who was introduced as the former pastor. The baptism part of the service was taken by David Donegani. There was also a children's talk given by a gentleman introduced only as Mr Mercer.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship with Baptismal Service.
How full was the building?
It really was bulging at the seams – extra chairs had to be brought in. I suspect this was because it was the baptism service, and lots of friends/family were visiting. Around 250 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
My hand was shaken twice: once by a gentleman on the outer door, and again by another gentleman as I entered the main room. I then joined a small queue that had formed in front of an elderly lady who was handing out a set of three books plus a notice sheet – and seemed to be struggling at the task!
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a cushioned chair, and perfectly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Bustling. There was a buzz of conversation plus a fair amount of noise. The organ could scarcely be heard above the hubbub. There was further distraction as all the extra chairs were brought in for those who arrived late.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"It's wonderful to see a nearly full church this morning."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version, an old hymn book entitled Christian Hymns, and another hymn book called the Holywell Supplement which appeared to contain some newer songs.
What musical instruments were played?
An electric organ and a piano.
Did anything distract you?
The gentleman sitting to my left (I'll call him Mr Elbow) kept leaning to the right, which caused me to have to lean to my right in order to keep his elbow out of my ribs. Fortunately there was some extra room on the other side of me.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was rather staid compared with what I'm used to. All songs (even those from the newer book) were quite dated. The singing was loud and enthusiastic, though. The organist was quite competent, as was the pianist, and the two instruments blended very nicely.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Pastor Powell's style was very dry, but clearly very well rehearsed and smooth. His message was evangelical and quite sound, but also judgmental, and included some sweeping generalisations about other religions and the like.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He took as his text Acts 4:12: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." He explained how baptism was an outward expression of an individual's salvation, and how people were saved from their sins and what they were saved to. He finished with a call for people who had not yet given their lives to Jesus to do so.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The baptism ceremony included some testimonies from the candidates. Hearing people explain why they love Jesus never fails to stir my heart, and I was even moved to tears by one of them in which a young man told of all the ways that God was working in his life. He said that God had revealed his sinful nature, and that he had experienced freedom in knowing him for himself. It's great to be reminded of why we follow Jesus.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Pastor Powell sat on a raised platform and stared out at the congregation during those moments when he was not actively involved in the service. I really felt like I was being watched, and found it unremittingly off-putting!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I remained in my chair for a few minutes, and then Mr Elbow turned and spoke to me for a while. We had quite an animated discussion, actually. There was to be a special luncheon following the service, but my schedule did not permit me to stay around for that.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As mentioned, I couldn't stay.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – It's clear that this is a church where God is moving and is having an impact on people's lives. However, I wrestled with the style of service, especially the pastor surveying everyone from his raised platform. I'm also used to more contemporary music, and while the singing was heartfelt it wasn't my cup of tea.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The first hour was a struggle, but the baptism with its testimonies was exciting. It's wonderful to hear about what the Lord has done in people's lives.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The one testimony from the young man stood out in particular, and it certainly reminded me about the power of the Word of God. That's something I hope to take away with me.