Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler
Church: Victoria Brotherhood & Sisterhood
Location: Bristol, England
Date of visit: Friday, 8 December 2006, 3:00pm
This chapel was built in 1932 and has a very dull exterior. The interior looks more chapel-like, with a timber ceiling and a long pulpit.
The Brotherhood and Sisterhood Movement was founded in 1875. Its churches were often founded by Methodist or Baptist churches and offered a down-to-earth version of the Christian faith. Like all Brotherhood & Sisterhood churches, this church once had its own orchestra, which sadly disapeared as members died. The church is called Victoria after the long defunct Victoria Methodist church nearby, which worshipped in a pretty 1850s Gothic building that has been a glass factory for many years.
St George's is a working class area in East Bristol that was once a mining area. It is full of 18th century terraced houses and missions with brass bands.
A lady called Vera led the service and preached.
What was the name of the service?Christmas Carol Service.
How full was the building?
There were about 20 people in the congregation and six musicians. Four children also sang "Away in a Manger" later in the service. Apparently the church is normally attended by very few people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several old ladies were shivering outside in their car as they had been told the service was to start at 2.30pm. They were a bit put out to find that it started at 3.00pm! Eventually, a battered old car driven by an elderly lady arrived and her 90 year-old friend opened the church. The first thing anyone said to me was: "What are you playing?"
Was your pew comfortable?
An ordinary iron chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Hectic! The visiting orchestra didn't have a clue what they were playing and even I as a visitor was asked to play the Hammond organ (which I turned down).
What were the exact opening words of the service?
No one could hear. Several musicians arrived late and hadn't realised the service had already started. The congregation were still busy chatting amongst themselves and walking around. The musicians were still warming up while Vera, the lady leading the service, was trying to start!
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A carol sheet ... which the orchestra didn't have!
What musical instruments were played?
Eight members of the nearby Longwell Green Orchestra showed up. This meant that two euphoniums, a trumpet, three violins and a cello were used to play traditional carols. The Longwell Green Orchestra started as a Brotherhood church but is now secular.
Did anything distract you?
Loads. The congregation generally chatting and ignoring the preacher. Three defunct Hammond organs, each of which had apparently been discarded as they broke down. Three domestic fires heating the building. There was also a crucifix on the pulpit and a picture of the Last Supper above it, which was very odd.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was old fashioned. These services were very working class and were always very informal, even in the past.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The preacher, Vera, is a local lady who clearly loves her congregation. She was very much a Bristol lady with a west country accent. I enjoyed the sermon as it was down to earth and not particularly fundamentalist – which is what I had been expecting.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme was "Shepherds and Angels" and Vera told the story of a young man who had been in a pub when he received a call on his mobile to attend a carol service. She had seen him at the service and said the phone call was like the call of an angel. She also talked about how she had heard some elderly ladies, travelling on a bus to Bristol, having some raucous laughs. She said these people were happy, but were not full of joy as she was because of Christ. Her message was simple and hit a chord with everyone.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in a place with such an unusual history. It was good to see the young people joining in the carols and to see this normally empty building full of people and music.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The exterior of the building, which could do with some church-like features. It is surrounded by a huge iron fence to keep the vandals out of the building!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The orchestra packed their stuff away and some mince pies and sausage rolls were handed around. A woman called Wendy came over and told me her grandfather had build the chapel. She said there had once been a decent orchestra here, but sadly it packed up many years ago, and the place is now in decline.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very nice, as were the mince pies.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I would love to give this church a lift! However, normal services are only attended by three or four ladies and accompanied by an awful organ that has replaced the orchestra.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did. This was a friendly and simple service, and gave a sense of history.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The rumpus caused by the congregation chatting and walking about throughout the service.