|459: St James's Park, Exeter, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Hungover.
The church: St James's Park, Exeter, England (the home of Exeter City Football Club).
The building: St James's Park is a cosy stadium. The worshippers were standing in the new Cliff Bastin Stand, and the band and speakers on the home end of the pitch. The floodlights were not used.
The church: The university Christian Union is the largest society on the campus; the event was hosted jointly with the main evangelical churches in the city.
The neighbourhood: The football ground is set in the heart of the student population in Exeter.
The cast: Readings were given by various members of the university Christian Union. The main talk was by Rico Tice of All Soul's, Langham Place, London.
What was the name of the service?
Exeter University Christian Union Carol Service.
How full was the building?
The new stand at St James's park seemed almost full, so an estimated 3,000 people were in attendance.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were greeted and handed a carol sheet, and also offered a mince pie with a cold drink.
Was your pew comfortable?
No pew, just the railings on the terrace to lean on.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A busy and expectant atmosphere. As this was an interdenominational event, many people were chatting and catching up on old friends. The Lympstone South West Telecom Band played jolly Christmas music.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello, welcome to our Carol Service tonight! Before we start, let's bow our heads in prayer."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A white sheet containing an order of service and carols, and also a red sheet with one of the readings and a "response form" on the back. The Mystery Worshipper calling card was stapled to this form and posted back to the Christian Union.
What musical instruments were played?
A full brass band and all the instruments that this entails!
Did anything distract you?
The fact the band did not give any introductions to the carols. We were asked to start singing the moment they struck up, which made finding a key to sing in a hit and miss affair. It was also a chilly Devon December evening, so feeling in feet and fingers was minimal by the end of the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was carols... boring and popular Christmas Carols!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Rico Tice (not to be confused with the Indian takeaway side order, Tico rice!) is a very confident speaker. He had a clear message and communicated it well. He had lots of props to illustrate his points, and he raised more than a few laughs.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He was preaching a standard evangelistic message and got all the evangelical basics in: sin, hell, Jesus' birth and death, judgment. He even managed to get the old "Imagine if God played back a video tape of your life..." thing in as well, which surprised me as I had not heard this done for many a year at evangelistic meetings! He managed to fit the Good News in there as well, but to me it was a bit swamped by the other stuff. To his credit, he communicated his message extremely well. It was clearly not the first time he has done that talk!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The brass band was wonderful and made me wonder why we have left this kind of music to the Salvation Army in recent years. The fact that so many people had all come together in one place (if only Exeter City could draw such a big crowd...) and all seemed to be having a good time. This was surely a foretaste of heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cold, and having to sing "O Come all Ye Faithful" surely the worst of all Christmas Carols?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The crowds swept us out of the ground, with no chance to hang around!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee after, just the cold squash before the service.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but the preacher did nothing to sell evangelical Christianity to me.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Rico Tice smashing an empty drinks can on his forehead. The point of the exercise escapes me now!