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554: Lansdowne Baptist, Bournemouth, England
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Lansdowne Baptist, Bournemouth, UK
Mystery Worshipper: Chapelhead.
The church: Lansdowne Baptist, Bournemouth, England.
Denomination: Baptist (this church is not affiliated to the Baptist Union, however).
The building: It had a stone built, early 20th century (I would guess) neo-gothic exterior. The interior is painted in pale green and white with wooden fittings. The nave has a barrel roof and balconies on three sides. The pulpit area is set about eight foot above nave level with a stairway leading to it on either side. This is large enough to seat a handful of people, and the leader and preacher occupied it for the whole service until the sermon when the leader joined the rest of the congregation. Various other people also joined them in the pulpit to give notices, lead prayers etc. Below the pulpit is the octagonal baptismal pool.
The church: This is one of perhaps 10 or 12 baptist churches in the Bournemouth/Poole/Christchurch area, but draws its congregation from a fairly wide area.
The neighbourhood: The church building is close to the town centre and consequently attracts quite a few tourists and overseas students (of whom Bournemouth has many).
The cast: The service was led by Graham Blyth (one of the elders). The preacher was the pastor, Chris Kelly, who was among the more casually dressed, wearing an open-necked shirt beneath a pullover (jacket and tie was much more common for the men).
What was the name of the service?
Morning worship.

How full was the building?
I would estimate over 500 people, making the building almost completely full. Sidespeople were directing the later arrivals to the few spaces on the ground floor, there were a few more spaces in the balconies (where the younger people tended to sit). Services here are also recorded on video as well as audiocassette for the benefit of those who cannot come to the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
In the 10 minutes before the service at least half a dozen people shook my hand, welcomed me, asked me if I was a visitor etc. One handed me a service sheet whilst, after I had sat down, another went off to get me the sheet with the sermon outline (which regulars would have known where to pick up, if they wanted one).

Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly standard pews with long 'cushions' – quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty, with people greeting one another, shaking hands, exchanging news and so on.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A very good morning to everyone."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books as such. A sheet with most of the songs used was given out as I entered (with space on the back page for making notes on the sermon) and the words for two other songs were projected on the OHP. Many in the congregation (including myself – the better to blend in) had taken their own copies of the bible to follow the reading (the NIV was used). As this is a non-liturgical tradition a service book is not necessary.

What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ, guitar, two saxophones, trumpet, flute, drum kit (and a tambourine for one of the songs). There was no choir and the sound balance meant that the instruments overwhelmed the few singers in the music group, leading to some confusion as to when the congregation should join in for the first song.

Did anything distract you?
I kept looking round to see if I could see a cross anywhere in the church decoration. I came to the conclusion that there isn't one – but I wouldn't read anything sinister into this.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly modern evangelical in style, with choruses rather than hymns. During the sermon there were murmurs of approval from the congregation. The surprising thing was the lack of passion in the singing. The problem may have been lack of familiarity with the choruses (or perhaps indifference towards the choruses), but 500 Baptists in a room should be able to make more noise than this!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
36 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – This church has a tradition of fine preaching and the pastor (who has only been there since November 2001) is no exception. His style was passionate and oratorical, with sweeping arm gestures. Fortunately the space in the pulpit allowed for such drama.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Firstly (using the metaphor of Pheidippides running the original Marathon) the church often spends so much time running that it forgets to deliver the message. Secondly our salvation is by grace and this is entirely the work of God. Thirdly we are saved through faith and that faith must be a permanent faith.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hearing a message of such commitment and confidence. It is one of those cases of "I may not believe it, but I am glad someone does".

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The large number of people (too many for my liking, but it is hard to be critical of a church for attracting too many to its services). Also, I had hoped for some rousing hymn-singing (and the sheet with the choruses on it had 'Jesus is Lord', at least) but all the singing was of choruses. I would expect even a small Baptist congregation to raise the roof, but there was a lack of power in the singing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much. The people who had spoken to me before the service seemed to have wandered off, and no one at this point invited me to coffee (although a couple of people had mentioned it before the service). I went through to the coffee shop (owned by the church) next door anyway and found the welcome desk for new people and visitors, where I chatted with a few regulars. I later found that the notice sheet I had been given with the service sheet (and which I had put aside to read later) mentioned the coffee shop and the welcome desk. In a church of this size, where visitors can easily not be spotted, this information needs to be very prominent, however.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Just tea or coffee (instant). Nothing else.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – The sheer size of the congregation would have me looking for a smaller church where I could get to know the rest of the congregation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but mainly because going to church does that anyway.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hard to say – the many handshakes perhaps, or the casually dressed pastor, or the definitely non-conformist look of the building.
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