Mystery Worshipper: Flower
Church: New Testament Baptist
Location: Kenny Hill, Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 10:00am
Modern, warm and friendly. Comfortable. Warm toilets. Remarkable for a church in the middle of nowhere. Displays both Union Jack and Stars and Stripes at the front of the church.
The church community came across as a happy family. Mostly made up of Americans off the local base. The pastors are also American and appear to be of the same family (dad and two sons). If one searches extra carefully, one can discover the odd English person too. Loads of children and babies, not many older people. In fact, I don't recall seeing any older ladies, and only one bald patch. Average age probably older teens. And the kids and babies ... so cute. You have never seen so many cute kids in one place. All happy, all well-behaved, no snotty-nosed screaming ones.
Bury St Edmunds is a busy and beautiful market town at the heart of East Anglia. The town is surrounded by miles and miles of arable farmland and is practically next door to Mildenhall Air base, with Lakenheath Air base not far away either. Few houses around.
Pastor Todd Adams and Dr Kent Hovind.
What was the name of the service?10.00am Sunday school (for adults as well as children) followed by 11.00am service (not sure what it was called exactly).
How full was the building?
Sunday school was about three-quarters full, and the service was pretty much full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we drove into the car park, two parking attendants showed us where to park and gave us a friendly wave. As we left our car, one of the two attendants made a point of shaking our hand (the other was directing a car) and welcoming us to their church. As we entered the church, the person on the door gave us a warm and friendly handshake and a visitor's pack consisting of a response card, an information leaflet about the church, and a pen embossed with the church's address. At the Sunday school, after singing the first verse of the hymn, we were invited to greet the people around us before continuing on with the next verse. The service that followed opened in like manner. Unlike at some churches when this is done, it felt comfortable and friendly, and not a bit embarrassing.
Was your pew comfortable?
My chair was very comfortable. Made out of some sort of plastic, but did not lean back with you when you sat on it, so supported your back. Also did not have those annoying side pieces that cut into your posterior. Could have sat on them for hours.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly, chatty, familial. Felt very comfortable. Although no one else came and sat in my line of chairs for ages, it did not feel like this was the case on purpose. I felt totally at ease. The Sunday school began with a five minute PowerPoint slide show featuring some humourous candid shots.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Sunday school: "All right, there's no laughing in church!" (with reference to the preceding comic clips). Worship service: "Good morning and welcome to New Testament Baptist Church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Celebration Hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano – beautifully.
Did anything distract you?
Ceiling fans, reminiscent of the scene on the television series Dallas where JR Ewing was shot. Something I've always remembered and had nightmares about. Humungous pulpit – huge. Out of scale with the rest of the church. A sea of chairs behind the pulpit – all empty. Looked like a jury might sit in them when disciplining naughty church members. Doorbell sound ringing to signal the end of Sunday school and start of coffee break whoopee! American currency in the offering plate – took me by surprise, although with so many Americans there I suppose I shouldn't have been.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Not stiff, nor happy clappy. Had some beautiful choruses (not Graham Kendrick!) and even older hymns that were beautifully played.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
40 minutes, at both services.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The preacher used lots of humorous facts, had a great rapport with the congregation. Did not tell people what to think, but was persuasive in pointing people to what to think. Definitely thought-provoking.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
(Sunday school) Dinosaurs and the Bible, evolution, Noah's ark, with reference to public school teaching of dinosaurs and to the US Constitution. (Worship service) Fear God, hate evil – Job in a nutshell. More dinosaurs. Blessing God when you lose everything. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people. Let God worry about what happens to whom. Get on with loving people and putting your lights on.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warm welcome, being made to feel a part of the family straight away, the unashamed allegience to the gospel of Christ. I was expecting this church to be completely fundamentalist, but I was pleasantly surprised. Other churches could learn a lot from this one.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The preacher's prayer at the end seemed to be more directed at the people than God. He seemed to imply that prayer was not so much for God's benefit as for prompting people into responding. Not keen on that tack.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Had no chance to look lost. After the service, before I could think about looking lost, the lady in front turned around and introduced herself. We talked for ages, and then everyone was outside playing paper aeroplanes with the preacher.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was provided before Sunday school as well as in between Sunday school and the morning service, and I think possibly after the service as well, although this is hard to tell because I was talking to the friendly lady for so long it was all over by the time we got out. The coffee was served do-it-yourself style – a prepared thermos style jug of filter (not fairly traded) coffee surrounded by polystyrene cups on a table. Vanilla-flavoured Coffee-Mate was also available, although I am told that if you go at the right time you might find some proper milk, or even tea. At the break between Sunday school and service there were also scrummy scones and mini choc chip cakes. Yum.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If I lived near this church I would probably be there every Sunday.
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 welcome, the paper aeroplanes, the relaxed atmosphere, the laughter of the children... oops, I can't count. That's more than one!