|818: Heaton Baptist, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Føx.
The church: Heaton Baptist, Heaton Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England.
The building: Red brick, faux-traditional on the outside; pink carpet on the inside, with a balcony level.
The neighbourhood: Heaton Road has seven churches on it. Two Methodist, one Roman Catholic, one Pentecostal, one Baptist, one United Reformed, one Anglican. Oh... and a mosque.
The cast: I assume Phil Lightbody was one of the ministers – no title was outlined on the welcome bulletin. There was also a worship leader, name unknown.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship (plus a Dedication).
How full was the building?
The ground level was mainly full, with around 20 in the balcony – possibly 170 in total, including kids.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two people greeted me with a warm smile and a pleasant handshake in the foyer, politely answering my question as to whether seats were still available at ground level. During the "welcome time" halfway through, a few older ladies shook my hand and said hello.
Was your pew comfortable?
I would be unimpressed if I had to sit on a pew in this day and age, so thankfully I was seated on a very comfortable dark pink padded seat. It was wide enough so most people wouldn't spill over onto the adjacent seats – not that I'm overweight, but I like my personal space.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Cheery and chatty. One lady was very excited to hear about the holiday in Minorca the tanned family in front of me had obviously just come back from.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, good morning, good morning! Sit down! Be quiet!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The song words were projected onto a large screen in the centre of the church, with two monitors either side of the church underneath the balconies for those with restricted viewing. Most people had a Bible with them for the sermon, in various translations.
What musical instruments were played?
Drums, acoustic guitar, grand piano, double bass (very impressive!), flute, trumpet, and a French horn.
Did anything distract you?
As I was seated to the far left on the ground floor, I couldn't see the centre screen, so I had to rely on the monitor attached to the wall. This meant persistently turning my head 90 degrees back and forth, to go from watching the worship team, to checking the song words every line or so. It felt like I was at Wimbledon. Now the following may be a reverse distraction, but during some of the prayers and the sermon, if I shut my eyes I could have been fooled into thinking the building was empty. There was very little participative listening, which caused me to lose concentration a few times.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Mildly evangelical – a couple of arms waving, the odd clapper here and there, but mainly good singing to some fantastic songs. No free worship, although I had the suspicion that the worship leader would have liked to launch into it.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 A well-spoken preacher with a well-thought out sermon, but he would have benefited from a more responsive audience.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Calling out – through proclamation" was the title, from a series about reaching out to non-Christians. He talked about evangelism not being only for specialists, but that it is "Mission Inescapable". We need to follow the Holy Spirit's prompting in normal situations to speak out from what is real in our lives.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When the band faded out towards the end of Tim Hughes' "Light of the World" and left the congregation singing a cappella: beautiful. And when the worship leader (a fantastic Geordie guy) was getting people to sit down after the welcome time, hilarious!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lack of vocal response to some great points during the prayers and sermon.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stayed seated for a few minutes, wondering if the promise of refreshments for new people would materialise, or whether I had to search for them on my own. Then I wandered to the back and slipped out with everyone else. Maybe I looked too comfortable; did I need a badge notifying other people I was new?
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It could have been lovely, but I had no desire to hunt it down! I liked the sound of the curry night they had planned for Tuesday, though. You even got to choose how hot you wanted your curry!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 A bit too quiet for my taste. I guess those who want a bridge between traditional and charismatic would really like it.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
On the whole, yes. On a broader level, it was clear from the news bulletin that the church is active in many areas and is reaching out to the community, which is more important than how successful a morning service they put on.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Geordie worship leader – down to earth!