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114: Metropolitan Community Church, Manchester, England
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Metropolitan Community Church, Manchester
Mystery Worshipper: Martin's Loofah.
The church: Metropolitan Community Church, Manchester, England.
Denomination: Independent: "a growing Christian Church rooted in and reaching beyond the lesbian and gay communities."
The building: Spacious and modern, with a red-brick and wood interior.
The neighbourhood: The church meets in St Peter's House, the University of Manchester Chaplaincy Centre, Oxford Road, Manchester, in the midst of the campus.
The cast: The service was led by Mary Starkey, the preacher was Anthony Howe, with Rev Andy Braunston as celebrant.
What was the name of the service?
No official title, but the bulletin was headed: "Christ the Universal King".

How full was the building?
Not very. There were around 45 people present in a room which could quite easily seat 300.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
On entering I was welcomed by two people, who gave me the bulletin and directed me into the main service area. I was soon spotted by Rev Andy, who introduced himself and welcomed me, asking how I had heard about the church. I was then given a comprehensive information pack and a leaflet which dealt with the obvious thorny theological issues.

Was your pew comfortable?
Possibly the most comfortable I've ever sat in at church! The seats were pink and padded, and arranged in a quarter-circle, resembling a lecture theatre more than anything. I even had a wooden ledge to rest my notes and Bible on.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet, with gentle taped music playing to begin with, followed by some organ music. There was a little interaction between members of the congregation as they entered, but on the whole people just drifted in and took a seat.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to the Manchester Metropolitan Community Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The order of worship and words to all the songs, prayers and liturgy were contained in the bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and keyboard.

Did anything distract you?
Besides my slight discomfort at being a straight guy in an predominately gay church (which reflects more on my own insecurities than anything else), only the fact that we were spread around the auditorium rather thinly, making any sense of togetherness a little difficult.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Quite staid and well-ordered. Most of the service was led and read by Ms Starkey in a traditionally "Anglican" style: opening responses, lighting of a candle (the "AIDS Candle"), song, readings, song, preach, etc. No overt expression of emotion, though the singing was fairly enthusiastic.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes. The teaching is apparently kept to a max. of 10 minutes in order to appeal to the unchurched, which is all too often the case for the gay and lesbian community. By the time it had begun, it was over, which was a shame. The whole service lasted around 55 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – exciteable style, but a little short on nutrients!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Following God is never easy. Does he care if we follow him or not? Of course! Jesus is the good shepherd, and no one is excluded.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I particularly liked the open communion – anyone who was "looking for God" was welcome to partake.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The political correctness in over-using inclusive language. I struggled with the idea of starting the Lord's Prayer with "Loving God in heaven", rather than "Our Father". If Jesus referred to God as his Father, that's good enough for me, and I felt that changing the biblical account was unhelpful. Not exactly hellish, then, but still a bit irritating to this evangelical!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get a chance to. Someone I knew ushered me off for a post-service coffee in the basement, where I was introduced to various church members. Rev Andy re-appeared and I was added to the mailing list, despite outing myself as the Mystery Worshipper. Rev Andy was very supportive and enthusiastic about the idea, believing that it was "a good thing" for churches to be critiqued in this way.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Not bad. Instant, but palatable. I was unable to ascertain whether the "right on" ethos extended to using fairly-traded coffee and tea, or whether the demon of Nescafé was present.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, rather to my surprise. Holding a fairly traditional evangelical (albeit with distinctly grey areas) view on the issue of homosexuality, I had expected to feel uncomfortable in this environment, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a somewhat humbling experience, being welcomed so enthusiastically in stark contrast to many other churches I have visited.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Feeling part of the community within minutes of entering the building.
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