|375: Above Bar, Southampton, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Joy.
The church: Above Bar, Southampton, England.
Denomination: Independent Evangelical Church (member of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches).
The building: Modern (1960s), built in the heart of Southampton over the top of shops. Probably purpose-built when the centre of the city was rebuilt. The building is highly visible and is an excellent worship centre.
The church: A committed evangelical church, ministering to the city.
The neighbourhood: The church is now in direct competition with the Sunday-opening shops, giving rise to some concerns about parking.
The cast: Service led by Dave Fenton, associate minister, assisted by Becky Thornton, youth worker, and with a brief contribution by the minister, John Balchin.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Almost full. The congregation was said to be reduced due to the holiday season.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Handshakes, good mornings and introductions from three stewards and a bookseller, on our way to our seats. People on all sides introduced themselves, asked where we were from. I had a long, friendly chat with two members of the congregation after the service. Goodbyes from the preacher and three other stewards as we left.
Was your pew comfortable?
Padded individual seats in the centre with tiered padded bench seats on the sides and at the rear. Fairly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Greeting and talking all round. People hung around in the entrance hall, where they met friends who they possibly hadn't seen since last week, then took their seats in the last five minutes or so.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome, especially to our visitors."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Bible (NIV), Mission Praise and Hymns Old and New. All provided in the pocket in front of each seat. All worship words, except one song, were projected (there was a computerized projector in the projection room at the rear) on a huge screen at the front.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, electric piano, guitar and trumpet. There may have been others, but I couldn't see them all.
Did anything distract you?
It would be hard to be distracted as the presentation was lively and well organised. I was occasionally distracted by the coming and going of one or two of the church members who were fetched out on what was probably pressing church business, such as the light bulb gone in the creche, or similar.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a family service, so the leaders were out to include the kids. Actions and clapping, led by the youth worker and a team of teenagers conscripted from thier hiding hole at the side of the congregation. Happily reverent is probably the best description.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Main sermon was 22 minutes. Other relevant brief words were also given.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 A determined effort to give a simple message in a simple way, to cater for the wide age-range present.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Taking time from our busy lives to listen to what God is saying to us (Matthew 11:25-30).
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Relaxed and enthusiastic singing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
One early technical hitch when the leader walked away from his fixed microphone faster than the technical erks in the back room could switch channels to his clip-on mike.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance to stand around with no one to talk to. Members of the congregation seek out unattached visitors and engage them in conversation. So much chatter, we didn't get to the coffee!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were several invitations for coffee, including a projected message before and after the service. We didn't get that far due to being intercepted by people keen to speak to us.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 If this church was local to me, I would certainly consider making it my regular church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very definitely.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warm and genuine welcome.