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1098: Unbelievable, St James, Preston, Lancashire, England
Other reports | Comment on this report
Unbelievable, St James, Preston, Lancashire, England
Photo © Unbelievable, The Worship Gathering, 2005
Mystery Worshipper: Latecomer.
The church: Unbelievable, The Worship Gathering, St James, Preston, Lancashire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
Comment: We have received comments on this report.
The building: A new building with a small worship space, but with old pews and panelling, plus space for chairs. A bit of a mishmash. It looked like design by committee, with a fear of offending people.
The church: The service is run by the diocese, rather than the church, but about half the congregation also attend other things at the church.
The neighbourhood: Sandwiched between an industrial area and a conservation area, the church is on a modern estate with some tower blocks.
The cast: More than half of those present ran the service (nine out of 13, including us), but none introduced themselves or were named in the service sheet. We were introduced later to the vicar, Ann Brookfield. We were told that the main organiser of Unbelievable, Craig Abbot, was away.
What was the name of the service?
Unbelievable: the Worship Gathering.

How full was the building?
Thirteen people were in a space that would seat about 70.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, we were greeted as we walked in. We were given a service sheet and advised to visit the loo, as a fountain was playing all through the service!

Was your pew comfortable?
We had a choice of cushions on the floor, or pews, but opted for plastic chairs, which were fairly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with a bit of chatting. Clearly, everyone knew everyone else and all about their lives. For this type of service, you often get calm, relaxing music beforehand, which I was expecting, but there wasn't any.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Is it time to start yet? It's five past. Hello, and welcome to Unbelievable."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
All the words the congregation needed were on a service sheet, but one reader used The Storyteller's Bible, and other readings were read from photocopied sheets, including a meditation on betrayal. Another meditation (the well-known and much-parodied "Footprints") was projected onto a screen.

What musical instruments were played?
A keyboard and a tenor recorder. No, really, a tenor recorder.

Did anything distract you?
Although there were only a dozen people in the room, and it was only 20 feet across the group, a cordless mike was passed around as each person spoke. This often involved the holder walking all the way across the room between short segments of speech.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly meditative overall. The group describes itself as "multi-sensory" and it's fair to say they are somewhat creative, with a multi-coloured set for the theme, which was the story of Joseph from the Old Testament.

Mystery Worshipper plate
Photo © Unbelievable, The Worship Gathering, 2005

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon, but some discussion sections and a long story session about Joseph. The longest single section of speaking was one person's 10 minute saga of woe about his job, and applying, reapplying, God intervening, etc.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The person who did the story reading was very good at voices and quite entertaining. The person with the redundancy issues was very boring to listen to.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The liturgy was very creatively written, thought provoking, and non-trite. One "symbolic action" – throwing silver coins into the fountain to symbolise our betrayal of others – also made me think, and was much more effective than trying to discuss how we betray others. The chilled music loop during the "Footprints" meditation was also very calming, fortunately, so I could close my eyes and just listen.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The rest of the music, which consisted of fairly typical Songs of Fellowship offerings with the... er... unusual accompaniment. This is not my type of music, and I was very surprised to hear it here, since this type of group usually tries to use things from their life outside church in their worship, and most of the rest of the service did this well. The people I met afterwards didn't strike me as the sort who would listen to 1970s MOR pop music at home. Perhaps the music was chosen to attract people who regularly attend other evangelical types of services, but I doubt it would attract anyone else. One song had the final verse,"Thank you for the cross, thank you for the cross, thank you for the cross, my friend", which then repeats, but I didn't, as I'd lost the will to go on by then.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were warmly welcomed as we walked out, and asked where we were from, how we'd heard about the service, and offered coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was fairly-traded instant coffee, or tea of unknown provenance... and there were rainbow-coloured fairy cakes and biscuits!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – On balance, I think about 7, because it is such a small, welcoming and obviously participatory group. I know it would allow members to introduce their own ideas and bring things in that spoke to them. I am not sure I would feel inspired to visit frequently as an outsider, though.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me feel both glad to be a Christian, that there are people trying to make creative worship and be welcoming, and glad I don't go regularly to a church with that kind of music.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The wonderfully kitsch, rainbow-striped dress, which was displayed as a "coat of many colours".
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