|374: Horfield Quaker Meeting, Bristol, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: Horfield Quaker Meeting, Bristol, England.
Denomination: Society of Friends.
The building: Red-brick classical meeting house built in 1906, replacing an earlier meeting house. The frontage looks a bit like a saloon out of a Western, but with a touch of Norman Shaw about it. This is a discreet but pleasant part of the streetscape, next to the sadly long-since-closed St Edmund's church, which is now a factory.
The church: The meeting is well known for its friendly welcome and community work.
The neighbourhood: The Gloucester Road is a road of former church buildings, some of them very fine. The lovely Bishopston Methodist is a sports hall, Berkley Road with its Venetian tower is a garage, Horfield Garrison is now church offices, and St Edmund's a printing factory. So it is nice to see a place of worship still being used as such here. The area is made up of little Victorian working class houses which are now homes for the new London influx.
The cast: Everyone took part.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Fairly full, I was surprised by how many younger people there were and families. There must have been about 45 but someone said that a lot of people were away.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived very early and ended up chatting to some very friendly people before the service started, who explained the Quaker service to me. They introduced me to other people and I was impressed by their warmth and the fact that they did not try to force their own point of view on me but were interested in what happened at services at my own church.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable needed to be for an hour!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What were the exact opening words of the service?
No opening words, but everyone spent a little time getting comfortable.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There are no books at a Quaker meeting.
What musical instruments were played?
There are no instruments at a Quaker meeting.
Did anything distract you?
Only the noisy traffic outside, but in a way this made the silence inside more meaningful as the busy world still carried on during this moment of peace.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very quiet reflective kind of worship. You didn't end up thinking whether the hymns were nice or the prayers too long or the sermon too boring. The silence was very thoughtful and allowed you to collect your thoughts together in your own way.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon but a couple of people stood up to speak. One man spoke about someone who had asked him the way to another street and afterwards told him that he normally had a stutter but it had gone this morning. I wasn't quite sure what to make of that. Another lady spoke about President Bush's trip to Sweden.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being able to have time to gather your thoughts together and not worry what was happening in the next part of the service. Being able to be creative in this worship time.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing, although the traffic outside was pretty bad.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After everyone had shaken hands, I was shown to the hall where I chatted to a few people. I mentioned a trip to the local Swedenborgian church earlier in the year which interested a few people. There was a Traidcraft stall in the hall, too.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fairly traded and nice!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 I would enjoy coming to this church once in a while with its non-credal approach and silence. However I do like music as well, so would miss that.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did, and it made me happy that it was a place which did not do a "hard sell" as soon as I passed through the doors. This sometimes happens in evangelical churches where people in suits (rather uncannily like window salesmen) wring your hand. The doors were open to everybody.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The peace and acceptance found here.