|138: St Matthew's, Kingsdown, Bristol|
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Mystery Worshipper: Corpus Intoxicus.
The church: St Matthew's, Kingsdown, Clare Road, Kingsdown, Bristol, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Outside non-descript (read: I don't know what style it is!), but inside light and airy. There is white paintwork and a huge east window, made slightly cosier by the raised flooring at gallery level, creating a meeting area above and church hall below.
The neighbourhood: A centrally-situated suburb, taking in the whole social spectrum, from large Victorian buildings to council flats nearer the city centre.
The cast: Canon Ray Brazier (who is the Vicar) was obviously occupied with other business. Pastoral worker Eric Quirk was leading and Dave (no surname given) preached.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were 155 people in the building yes, we were actually the rubber necks in the congregation who counted! but it seemed full for the size of building.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We got several warm welcomes as we came in, actually. The first at the door, where someone said that it was nice to have us with them; the next by the person handing out the books, who smiled in our direction and said hello; the last at the top of the stairs as we entered the church.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews at the side where we sat were surprisingly comfortable, though if we'd arrived earlier, we could have had modern chairs in the centre, with comfy, padded seats.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet and reverential, as the service began about two seconds after we walked in.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to you all on the first Sunday of Epiphany."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise, St Matthew's Song Book, the NRSV Bible and a service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, guitar, drums and flute, accompanying a nine-strong choir whose sound and tone would rival a good many cathedral choirs. They were obviously enjoying themselves, as was the leader of the music group. The whole music affair seemed well rehearsed but informal.
Did anything distract you?
I was only distracted from the service by trying to count the members of the congregation without it being painfully obvious that I was doing so!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was not quite happy-clappy, but chilled and laid-back, with the leader of the service happy to clap during some of the songs. I didn't feel compelled to do anything like that myself (as I have in some churches I have visited). The music was stuck in a Kendrick groove circa 1985, but none the worse for that, and the choir and instrumentalists seemed relaxed but well-rehearsed (and to judge by the expression on the face of the leader, well aware of the slight cheese factor in one of the more 80s numbers). Nothing was too intrusive (not even the drumkit), and there was plenty of space for personal worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7. His voice was friendly throughout and he sounded as if he was teaching naturally, if a bit like someone off Gardener's Question Time on Radio 4. He made some good points about the hype surrounding the millennium.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He linked the Magi to the calling of Samuel in the Temple as a boy, the point being that God can use anyone whose faith is strong, no matter how misplaced that faith is at first.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The enthusiasm of the leader (as has been the case on previous visits) and the excellent stained glass windows. Also the delicious reharmonisation of the last verse of Lux Eoi ("Church of God elect and glorious").
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was enjoying the Lux Eoi so much I forgot the rather intricate chromaticism of the melody and ended the verse in (albeit elated) confusion.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At coffee in the church hall, a couple of people came up to chat to us, and the pastoral worker was in the vestibule, saying goodbye to those leaving.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was fairly-traded but unfortunately instant (I think I'll try the tea next time!), made to order in a real mug, and there were also biscuits.
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?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The patterns on the wall cast by the sunlight through the stained glass which sums up worship to me the heavenly and the earthly combining to create beauty.