|521: St Barnabas, Cambridge, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: A Gnome.
The church: St Barnabas, Cambridge, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Traditional parish church, with a modern extension successfully added to the building.
The church: The church has a large congregation serving Cambridge residents, university students and foreign language students (here to learn English). One of the current church projects involves going out to the community to perform "acts of kindness", such as painting someone's room or doing the garden, for people not connected with the church.
The neighbourhood: Mill Road is a shopper's paradise, leading from the city centre out to the Cambridge ring road.
The cast: The vicar was on holiday and I was surprised to learn the service would be taken by the parish administrator, Lucy Cleland, who I later discovered is looking to enter the ministry. What wonderful empowerment from the vicar! Lucy was supported by a cast of many people. Unfortunately, I was unable to find out the name of the preacher.
What was the name of the service?
The service was billed as morning service, which turned out to be an all-age service of worship.
How full was the building?
When I arrived 10 minutes before the service, there were about 40 people, including those involved in running the worship. The church quickly filled up to over 200, but I think it could easily have housed upwards of 350 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived in the foyer and was handed a service sheet by a young man with a welcoming hello. However, he immediately returned to excited chatter with his colleague. I later read a sidesman's duties sheet, which includes showing people to their seats. Not to worry, I found a pew towards the back with an excellent view.
Was your pew comfortable?
At the front there were individual wooden seats, and behind these were traditional wooden pews which tiered upwards ensuring all worshippers a good view of proceedings at the front. I was comfortable, especially as I prefer a good hard seat.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was somewhat dominated by a band practising choruses very loudly. They finished about five minutes before the service was due to start, but were replaced by equally loud piped music. However, the atmosphere was one of expectancy and excitement at joining together for worship.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, good morning everyone, and an especially warm welcome to those here for the first time."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used during the service as all songs were displayed on two overhead projector screens. There were Bibles in some of the pews, but not in mine.
What musical instruments were played?
The band comprised of two electric guitars, drums, keyboard and two singers.
Did anything distract you?
I spent some time looking around at the building, the inside of which did not equate with the traditional parish church look from the outside. It was both distracting and inspiring.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service definitely could not have been described as stiff-upper-lip, and though some would describe it as happy clappy, the worship came across as sincere and not for effect. A raised area in the corner was given over to banner waving during the worship songs.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 there was no introduction to the preacher, and with the way this service had been put together I wasn't quite sure if this was going to be the sermon for real.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Right up to the time of the sermon, the service had several interruptions: being told amazing facts; a marathon runner doing 13 circuits of the church in his running gear; and two of the congregation playing chubby bunnies, with marshmallows. The points of these were all drawn together in the sermon, about faith in the unseen. A congregation member had been called out of the service, and when he returned he wouldn't believe these things had happened. This was likened to Thomas, who said he would only believe when he had seen with his eyes and felt with his hands.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Choruses were not sung repeatedly, instead the worship songs flowed easily from one to another. The band was well versed in the changes, which made the singing very easy. Another part of heaven: there were proper mugs for coffee!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Had I not been used to worshipping, I would have found the service extremely overpowering, as I would be unsure of what was going on around me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stayed in my pew for a good 10 minutes after the service. People came and chatted to me, but not one suggested I join them for mug of coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
My thirst eventually got the better of me, and I traced the coffee source to the reception area at the back of the church. Steaming coffee was served in real mugs what a luxury!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 I enjoyed worshipping here, but I feel I would miss the structured liturgy and choir at my own church if I were to stay away too long.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Mugs of coffee and the community atmosphere.