|941: Southmead Hospital Chapel, Bristol, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Leo.
The church: Southmead Hospital Chapel, Bristol, England.
The building: The chapel is literally on the edge of the hospital, between the main reception area and the road. It is housed in a little building that is well used by various groups for prayer and other purposes.
The church: From this building, chaplains visit the wards and carry the sacrament to the patients. There must be about ten thousand patients (of which I was unfortunately one at the time). It is like a small town set in the middle of a city.
The neighbourhood: Southmead is a council estate but this hospital has its own community, with shops, a subsidised restaurant, and familiar faces who live here when on their shifts (but who also have proper homes elsewhere).
The cast: Don Streatfield, a lay reader.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion (actually a service of the word followed by communion from the reserved sacrament).
How full was the building?
About one-third. There were 18 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Everyone was welcomed as they came in, even latecomers. This did not in any way disrupt the flow of the service. Hospitals can be scary places, and the chaplaincy embodies the reassurance of God's welcome and the prayers of the family of God.
Was your pew comfortable?
They were ordinary chairs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were chatting. Some of the congregation seemed to be a sort of welcoming team who were gathering information about the patients.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to this service of Holy Communion."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern; The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Edition; and a special service leaflet.
What musical instruments were played?
The organist had been called away at the last minute so we sang unaccompanied.
Did anything distract you?
I am tempted to say I was distracted when people were invited to choose hymns, but this worked! The atmosphere was informal but definitely not sloppy. It opened my eyes to how worship can be humanised without disintegrating into a sideshow.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Informal, as described above.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Very chatty - you cannot read from a script when the congregation are right in front of you.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Two persons might be engaged in a common task when one would be taken, the other left. We should make the most of whatever life we have left.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Seeing how fulfilling worship led by a layman can be during a time of looming clergy shortage.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
By the same token, Anglicans seem to have taken to the idea of weekly communion but not weekly offering of the holy sacrifice. As there are now approximately as many lay readers as there are priests in the Church of England, it looks as if "communion by extension" is going to become the normal act of worship for many. Has the Oxford Movement failed?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The officiant recognised me as a fellow reader but hadn't known I was a patient at the hospital at that time.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. People had to get back to the wards for lunch.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 I don't want to be ill too often! However, I would consider helping out now and again.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?