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252: Religious Society of Friends, Salisbury, England
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Religious Society of Friends, Salisbury
Mystery Worshipper: +Alguhas.
The church: Religious Society of Friends, Salisbury, England.
Denomination: Society of Friends (Quaker).
The building: An ordinary terraced house close to the city centre and the cathedral. The house was indistinguishable from the others in the street except for the large "Society of Friends Meeting House" notice in the front garden.
The neighbourhood: It was raining, so the main objective was getting under cover rather than sightseeing. However, there was a nice park next to the car park and a fine view of Salisbury Cathedral as we were driving in.
The cast: Being a Society of Friends service, there was no leader.
What was the name of the service?
Meeting for Worship.

How full was the building?
The meeting room (the ground floor front and back rooms in the house knocked together) had a total of 28 worshippers. This left a few seats empty, but not many.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
One of the Friends greeted me at the door and made sure that I knew how the service was run. In the meeting room itself, there was no talking, although there were plenty of friendly smiles.

Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on chairs rather than pews. Mine was comfortable enough, but there was a pile of cushions by the door for those who required extra padding. These were used by some of the congregation.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet, so much so that it became an embarrassment trying to take one's coat off without causing a din.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
There were no opening words. The service really began as soon as you entered the room, even though people were continuing to arrive. The first words we heard in the room was when one of the Friends stood up about 10 minutes into the service and gave us a short homily on how politicians were human too. This began with the words "Friends, I apologise for introducing the subject of politics into a religious meeting."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was no set order of service, but a couple of what I assume were Bibles were laid out on a central table which were available for anyone to consult during the service.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
At first I was aware of a lot of sounds: talking in the corridor outside the room, noises from the street, people coughing, and so on, but these became less intrusive as the meeting progressed. During the service a couple of the Friends stood up and gave us their views on how we should be thankful for democracy and more tolerant of politicians, but neither of these really counted as a distraction. There was more commotion later when the Children's Class arrived, but more of that later.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It is difficult to describe the "style" of an hour's silence, but for me it was one of the more spiritually fulfilling services that I have attended. In most denominations a period of silence is all too rare and it was great just to be able to relax and make time for God.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Obviously being silent, there wasn't one, unless you count the two interruptions on the subject of being nice to politicians, which went on for about three minutes.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The silence, excluding the interruptions.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The fact that I was terrified of making any sort of noise and disturbing the other worshippers.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone talked to each other in small groups around me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Well above standard, particularly as there was birthday cake for all provided by one of the members of the Children's Meeting.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7. It made a refreshing change to have an entire service without any need to jump up and down or worry about where you were in the service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. We could do with more of the Society of Friends' approach to worship in other denominations.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The last five minutes of the service. We heard the sound of children's voices from outside and then the Friends' equivalent of the Sunday School (known as the Children's Meeting) arrived bearing what I first assumed to be a papier mache black sheep, which they placed on the central table. The children then sat quietly with their parents while the rest of us "silently speculated on" what on earth the animal was and why had they brought it. The mystery was deepened by the fact that the model was standing on a piece of paper with 23 little circles on it. Fortunately, all was revealed during the notices given at the end of the service. I was wrong – it was not a sheep but a black Nubian goat. The reason it was there was so that we could contribute to a "Buy a Goat" charity for needy African villages. The 23 little circles were spaces to put pound coins on. Once all the spaces were filled, then you had enough money to buy a goat. I am glad to say that this objective was achieved.
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