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658: St Michael le Belfrey, York, England
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St Michael le Belfrey, York
Mystery Worshipper: Bashpoodle.
The church: St Michael le Belfrey, York, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A medieval church, with wooden Georgian pews in small family-size boxes, a rather impressive PA system, and two colourful banners proclaiming "Glory to God in the highest, peace to men on earth" on two pillars near the front. The building is right next door to (and overshadowed by) York Minster.
The church: As it is right in the centre of York, it is often the place of worship for the many tourists that are always in and out of York. It also has a larger congregation during term-time, due to university students' attendance.The church was famous in the 1970s and 80s as a centre of charismatic renewal, when David Watson was the rector.
The neighbourhood: Well, not much, just a rather large and very famous Minster...
The cast: With the help of a leaflet I found in the pew: Leader, Ian Birkinshaw; Readers, Bob Torie (intercessions) and Ro Whiting (lesson) . The preacher, according to the leaflet, was someone called Roger, but it actually turned out to be a young woman that I later heard someone refer to as Ruth.
What was the name of the service?
7.00pm evening service.

How full was the building?
Pretty full, but not bursting, and there was a practically empty balcony.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone said hello and handed me a notice sheet at the door. I spoke to people in my pew when we were encouraged to greet the people in our pews and ask them what they will remember about Christmas 2002 . We were also asked to talk and pray about the challenges we will face in the coming year. The girl next to me, called Lucy, is taking her GCSEs and planning a charity event involving chickens.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, cosy, with a mini door. It had a useful foot rack that I greatly appreciated.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People talking, prayer circle at the front for the band and leaders. Workman in blue overalls wandering around fiddling with wires. People kept disappearing out the fire exit door, then re-emerging. (I later found out that the toilets are through there.)

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Err... we're having a problem with the microphones."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
New International Version of the Bible. The hymns and service words were on an OHP.

What musical instruments were played?
Guitar, bass guitar, violin, keyboard, flute and drums, plus a person singing harmonies ad lib.

Did anything distract you?
The church's Christmas tree was in my side vision and had lights that tinkled at a ridiculous intensity. The guitarist was blocking my view to the OHP screen so I had to keep ducking to read the words. In the last verse of each of the hymns the drummer seemed to get a bit carried away, and I was very tempted to air drum with him (I resisted, thankfully). During the opening prayers, the leader started talking about fire exit doors, and how they are very heavy, which confused me and threw me off track while I was praying. He was saying that sometimes you have to push very hard to get to God and safety, but until I realised this, I was completely lost.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service seemed to be unplanned – there was a sense of not knowing what was meant to happen all the time, but not in a bad way. There was lots of arms-in-the-air worship during the hymns, and much ad lib harmonisation, which was wonderful.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
23 minutes and 34 seconds – including 4 minutes dedicated to reading one of the books in the "Thomas the Tank Engine" series.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Ruth related the lesson (Colossians 1:15-29 and 2:1-5) to Thomas the Tank Engine ("Gordon goes Foreign"), of which she seemed to have an uncanny knowledge.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
About how you have to stick with Christ, and not pick and chose. That you have to resist the temptation to follow the idea that as long as you believe something of Christ it is ok, how you must take it all. That you may have to suffer, but God can help you through.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing. Especially what someone had done with the chorus "O come all ye faithful"; it was repeated with different words each time, which I found refreshing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The singing. Even though I know many modern hymns, I only knew about a half to two-thirds of the songs, so when I was presented with "Lord, I lift your name on high", which I do know, I launched into it rather gustily, a bar or so of the introduction early. And again, when they repeated, I repeated. I also launched into the actions, before realising I was the only one doing so.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The girl named Lucy in my pew asked me if I would like to go to after-service coffee, and accompanied me there and introduced me to a large group of young people, including a rather enthusiastic chap named Ollie who accosted us from the PA booth. We crowded round a table in the church hall, and had a conversation about Saturday jobs and exams.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
What a choice! Tea or coffee or hot chocolate or orange or blackcurrant juice or water. And chocolate digestives.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I was very welcome, and enjoyed it. I also felt that Ollie and his friends would continue to befriend me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Very much so. No one else could talk about Thomas the Tank Engine so seriously and get respect for it.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The drummer, and the colours of the engine in Thomas the Tank Engine.
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