St John's, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Gerty & Swede
Church: St John's
Location: Woodbridge, Suffolk, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 September 2009, 11:00am

The building

The foundation stone for this Gothic style church was laid in 1842, reportedly at a grand Masonic ceremony, and the church was consecrated four years later. Considerable renovations were made over the years, most notably removal of the spire in the 1970s due to the building having been declared unsafe. In 1987 the pulpit and choir stalls were removed so that the altar could be brought forward; it stands on a dais-like platform surrounded by a removable wooden altar rail. In 1997 the pews were replaced by stackable chairs.

The church

Busy and very well organised - lots of ministry areas (covering a whole A4 sheet) with different names to contact for each area. The church appears to be joined with St Andrew's Bredfield. Two congregations operate in the morning (9.00 and 11.00) in order to cater for demand. Efforts are made to bring the congregations together from time to time.

The neighborhood

Woodbridge is a thriving market town in the east of Suffolk, not far from the coast. It is notably middle class and well-to-do. It's a lovely place to be, with a small riverside theatre, ice cream parlour, and several good restaurants, pubs and small shops.

The cast

The Revd Dave Gardner, vicar. Kathy Blair gave the readings and Alan Weller led the intercessions.

What was the name of the service?

Communion Praise.

How full was the building?

Fairly full. A few spare seats. A contingent of youth occupying the balcony.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Not formally. Someone said hello and we stopped to ask about where the children should go. People were helpful.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, very. There are large, cushioned chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Bustling. A man was handing out instruments to children to use during the worship, and people were chatting amiably.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Let's stand and sing."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Holy Bible, New International Version, was in the seat-backs. Words for songs and liturgy were projected using EasyWorship.

What musical instruments were played?

Keyboard, lead guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar and drums. A quartet of singers, one male and three female.

Did anything distract you?

Well, the kids had some pretty noisy instruments! But parents seemed to be monitoring the situation carefully and it didn't interfere with the quieter moments.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Happy-clappy, hands in the air. The band seemed to be in a hurry with several of the songs.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

19 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – We listened to every word he said. He was engaging, knew his congregation, and was honest but loving. It made us want to come back and hear the next in the series in fact, to hear the whole of the planned series on John the Baptist. It was simple but deep and seemed to be based on a thorough understanding both of scripture and the people being addressed.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

John the Baptist pointed to Jesus; we need to do the same. It's not about achieving – it's about pointing.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The sermon. Also some people were leaving for university for the first time; some older students were asked to offer advice. Then the church prayed for them.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Small, enthusiastic children with cymbals!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The persons sitting next to us and in front of us engaged us in conversation. As I stood in the coffee queue staring into space, the person behind said hello and started to talk to me. He then came and found me to continue the conversation afterwards. Several people noticed that we were new and took the trouble to talk to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

You could stand a spoon in the tea (though it was the last of a large pot). The coffee was at the boring end of decent filter coffee. It was served in mugs with St John's logo on them.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 – Actually 8.5 – Swede says 9, Gerty says 8, but Swede is doing the typing!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Resoundingly yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

John pointed to Jesus and we should do the same.

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