|783: St James, Bream, Gloucestershire, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Timothy.
The church: St James, Bream, Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: An old building refitted after a fire 20 or so years ago. The graveyard looks very full – maybe it's still in use. (Folk don't just love to live here perhaps?) Clever use is made of the banners, with one back-lit by the church window.
The cast: Rev. Alistair Kendall (vicar and celebrant), and Georgina Robinson (youth leader and today's preacher).
What was the name of the service?
10.30am morning worship – summer series.
How full was the building?
Only one-third full at 10.31am, but the main body of the church was full by the 10.35am start. There was a mix of all ages from the three-week-old baby in front of us, to the 70+ year olds behind.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The vicar himself greeted us with "Are you visiting? Welcome". Then two sidesmen both asked the same question, in different ways. And the people in the pews also asked: it seems that either they get a lot of visitors who enjoy the nearby Forest of Dean, or the folk here truly want to show God's love to anyone.
Was your pew comfortable?
All the plastic chairs were fitted with comfy hard-wearing cushions both on the seat and the back, which meant that they were still comfortable an hour and a half later. With the alterations, the old side chapel is now part of the main body of the church, with chairs facing the new eight-foot overhead projector screen.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Bright, friendly and warm. Our children were happy to be there, too. They also enjoyed the Sunday school – French cricket on the newly mown vicarage garden organised by the Sunday school leaders.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone; welcome to Bream on this lovely, sunny summer's day."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns and songs via multimedia projector onto the screen, using "EPiC" software linked to PowerPoint. Key Bible verses (New International Version) and essential elements of the eucharistic prayer (including the Lord's prayer) were projected. We were given their aims, foundations and values pamphlet, as the summer series is looking at each value – this was week four: "Led by the Spirit".
What musical instruments were played?
A guitar, keyboard, drummer and two singers, one of whom produced a tenor recorder during communion. The drummer was also the ad hoc dance leader, enjoying the worship with a full range of different body dance steps – jigs, sways, twists, all the while his golden locks keeping perfect time.
Did anything distract you?
This is a bit picky: the slide show included a fine picture of the church, carefully ghosted in as a "watermark" on each slide- but the iron railings across the perimeter also made the bottom of the picture frame and provided a visual "obstacle". I'd have preferred an "open gate" – or perhaps an aerial view.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
First hymn was "Great is thy faithfulness", played in strict "four-four" time, while the last hymn, "Guide me, O thou great Jehovah" was taken at a varying pace. In between were other songs from the last 20 years; more Radio 2 than Radio 4, I'd say. There was no offertory hymn (gifts in the plate at the start of the service) which made the move from the peace to the eucharistic prayer very quick and surprisingly seamless. Overall, it was relaxed and natural. The songs during communion were sung strongly by most in the congregation – no chattering about the price of jam in the local shop here.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 She was overheard to say afterwards that she was a little nervous, but spoke so naturally and authoritatively that the points came across perfectly clearly. She linked well into other elements of the service, most notably a testimony given earlier. Very good, and appropriate to the situation, especially as she is noted on their pamphlet as the youth leader.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We can't be a perfect church because we're not perfect people. With our different needs church won't be perfect for everyone. We may think that the New Testament church of Acts chapter 2 was perfect – after all, it was led by people who had been with Jesus, but by Acts chapter 6 the complaints start appearing. Paul's letters responded to the disagreements and rows brewing about the best way to do church. It is dangerous to look back to the things that worked in the past, and we should therefore seek to be the church that God wants us to be and be led by the Holy Spirit accordingly.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The natural flow from peace to eucharist was so smooth. Better still was the last of three testimonies, which brought out some purity and kindness that demonstrated sacrificial love in action. The first was about the beauty of creation, especially as the Forest of Dean is rather nice. The second spoke about the need to love single and lone parents and consider their needs far more carefully. Finally, the third came from a humble couple, who made a long trip to the Shetlands to share 10 minutes with a friend in need.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Although the acoustics are good, the vicar had no radio mike and anyone listening on the induction loop would have lost contact during the eucharistic prayer. However, he used the lectern mike with skill at other times in the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The couple behind us wasted no time in offering us coffee (four times!), but a cool drink would have been more welcome on such a hot day. They ended up offering us use of their swimming pool that afternoon.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was described as very average – served in mugs; we hear that filter coffee is served after the evening service.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 I'd be happy bringing friends here.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Totally, yes. Good to be part of a loving family; we wouldn't get overwhelmed or over-pastored there, but treated like normal people. Today's teaching was clear and the pamphlet shows a well thought out plan and way forward for the church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The tousled hair of the drummer· On a more serious note – the preacher's perfectly presented talk on the "perfect" church was so down to earth – a worthy foundation stone.