|543: Victoria Baptist, Deal, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Chameleon.
The church: Victoria Baptist, Deal, England.
The building: This is an attractive, high-beamed building, with dark brown woodwork, and mainly white walls. The back wall is a soothing eggshell blue. The balcony runs round three sides, and is tiered, with an interesting red and blue motif fret-worked on to the front panels. The windows are leaded but clear, with an occasional purple diamond, and a green border. Overall an appealing building.
The church: The church runs a lively youth club and a well-attended and highly thought-of playschool. From the evidence littering their foyer, they appear to have a history of active and varied mission work. Their building was used to host a week of prayer recently, and they (as a church) are a part of the united grouping of churches working together to benefit the town.
The cast: The service leader and preacher was un-named, but I later deduced him to be the minister, Chris Hayward. Sheila Porter and Kerry Thorpe (a bloke) also preached and prayed.
What was the name of the service?
7.30pm, On the move.
How full was the building?
Downstairs was about two-thirds full, with 70 or so congregants. Upstairs there were four or five in the balcony, which could easily hold 80 odd.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered the foyer, I was greeted with an enthusiastic "Welcome!" Unfortunately that appeared to be all the greeting I was going to get, so I ushered myself into the church proper, and found myself a seat. A little disappointing I feel.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was as comfortable as unpadded wood can be for the first hour or so. After that I found myself shifting position, and wriggling round trying to ease my back and bottom. Luckily(!) a large part of the second hour was spent standing in prayer, which was at least easier on my back and bum, shame about my feet and legs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a low hum of chatter as friends greeted one another, caught up on their weeks, and commented on others in the congregation. An atmosphere of expectation replaced the buzz at 7.30, almost like an audience quietening down as the lights dim.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening everyone."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
All the songs were put up on an OHP, as were the prayer requests. The reading (1 Corinthians 9:19-27) came from the NIV Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
The worship leader was a competent young lad of around 17 or 18, who sang and played the guitar well. He was ably backed up by a similarly aged guitarist and an even younger drummer.
Did anything distract you?
The woman in the front pew was jangling a tambourine excitedly during the first few songs; what she lacked in timing and musical ability she made up for in enthusiasm. Happily she put this down after a few choruses, and I was able to concentrate on the worship. The building got colder as the night wore on, and even with my coat on I was shivering by the end. It's hard to worship God when your whole body is yearning to be sat in front of a roaring fire in a comfy armchair. There were also several late arrivals, which caught most people's attention, as the back door squeaked horribly whenever it was opened or shut. One man later admitted to everyone that he arrived 20 minutes late and he was one of the vicars organising the service! Finally, about halfway through the service a man called Kerry Thorpe stood up and spoke. I spent the rest of the service wondering on and off whether I had heard his name rightly, and wasn't that a girl's name?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was definitely happy clappy, although I winced as the first song was struck up perceptibly slower than I have ever heard it played before. However the band cranked the speed up gradually, and the congregation responded. There was a lot of clapping, dancing/swaying and declarative hand-waving amongst the congregation, and it was clear that most people were enjoying praising God. The backing guitarist sang some lovely harmonies over and around the main tune.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The passage was all about soul winning. Jesus' purpose on this earth was to seek and to save the lost. Paul was concerned for the lost, becoming all things to all people that he might save some. Great personal sacrifice was involved for Paul, but he felt it was worth it, because of the value of even a single soul. Were we prepared to use all possible means, or even some possible means to save some souls?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The coming together in one body of many different churches in the town, and us all praying together for our town, and for our vicars/ministers/leaders as shepherds of the people. A vivid reminder that we are the corporate body of Christ, and prayer for our town is our collective responsibility. Also the whole-hearted musical worship that was offered by the congregation gave me a taste of heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
For starters, the timing of the service was hellish 7.30 on a Saturday night?! Even if you have no particular plans, there are always good programmes on TV. What's wrong with Sunday evenings for services? Then we were subjected to (shudder) a drama after the sermon. It was cringe-worthy; it was stumbling; it was naff. In its defence it had been originally performed by another group, and the two actors appeared to have been drafted in at the last moment. Three words: Just Say No. Finally we stood and prayed for what seemed like an age (and this was after we had had three sessions of open prayer for various parts of the mission). Prayer is great. Corporate, public prayer is good. But not for that length of time, at the end of the night, in the cold, standing up. There's only so many ways one can ask God for good weather, plenty of team members, and lots of people to turn up.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't really have a chance to look lost, as the service was late finishing (and two hours long), and people disappeared fairly quickly at the end. Some even donned coats and scarves, and walked out during the last song.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no after-service refreshments.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 The music was good, and the preaching was short, to the point, and relevant. However the building was freezing, and the service overran. If these were a regular occurrence, then the score would drop further.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, which is good for a united church service.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The whole congregation, gathered from many churches, standing and praying as the corporate body of Christ for our town and for our ministers.