|959: Visions Service, St Cuthbert's, York, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Dinghy sailor.
The church: Visions Service, St Cuthbert's, York, England.
Denomination: Officially Anglican, but they don't really like to say.
The building: A smallish, old Anglican church from the outside, which has been reworked on the inside to provide office space for several York church organisations, leaving a third of the area free for the service.
The church: Visions multimedia service is an alt.worship project, officially a congregation of St Michael le Belfry, which is a large evangelical Anglican church in York. Held in St Cuthbert's church, Visions is far smaller, and the regular members run the entire service themselves. They write their own songs, put together all the (very impressive) videos, and generally organise it how they want.
The neighbourhood: Built just inside the city walls, St Cuthbert's was the church where David Watson first moved to York 40 years ago this year, a fact they are celebrating in the summer.
The cast: Visions makes a point of having no overall leader, and members take it in turns to lead different parts of the service. The celebrant at this service was Rev. Jem Clines.
What was the name of the service?
Theme for the week: Seeing the Light.
How full was the building?
I counted 17 people, including myself, a middling sort of size for the amount of space we actually had (that wasn't filled up with TV screens and random bits of kit).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
By the time the service started, I was on first name terms with two people, and had had a very interesting conversation about didactic teaching with an ex-vicar.
Was your pew comfortable?
Visions has beanbags! However, I didn't sit on a beanbag, preferring to perch on one of the plastic chair around the rim of the space. Don't ask me why.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
"Chilled out" would be the right phrase, I think. There was a table of coffee making things if one felt so inclined, but generally people sat around, either in silent contemplation or quietly chatting. Images were faded in and out of each other on several televisions and a projector, ambient and dance tracks were played in the background and dry ice was occasionally added to the dark atmosphere.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello and welcome to Visions. We're especially glad to see you if you're new, or if you haven't been for a long time."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Two Bible readings were done from what I believe to be the New International Version of the Bible, but only the reader had a copy. Song words were projected on one wall.
What musical instruments were played?
At the start, someone was improvising on an acoustic guitar, but apart from that we had various electronic types of music played in the background for the entire service.
Did anything distract you?
At one point, a kid (the son of the guy on the sound desk, I think) decided it would be fun to repeatedly squirt an unsuspecting congregationer with masses of dry ice. While funny, I did feel distinctly asthmatic afterwards. Also, when we did communion, it was to what sounded like fairly standard Common Worship, but with ambient/world music still playing in the background. I admit that was a new one for me. It felt sort of freaky, and certainly different.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
As you've gathered, this was a fairly way out alt.worship service, and the name of Visions is a well applied one: it was certainly one of the prettiest looking, most high tech services I've been to, with hardly an inch of wall devoid of some sort of colour (be that from a drape or a projector). I've heard it termed "the rave church" and while I wouldn't exactly call it that, it was certainly unlike anything I've experienced before. Most of the singing was to dance type tracks, everything was very informal, but it gave a sense of wonder to the service, and was in its own way very reverent. The communion to world music indicates pretty much how the service went. I was also surprised after the service when people randomly wandered up and took chunks off the leftovers of the unleavened loaf. Is this normal anywhere else?
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon, though its place was taken by an interview with someone who'd just been making a documentary about Palestine.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in a church where the walls were a mass of moving colour; also the warm welcome.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Some of the songs seemed to reflect the personal rants of the writer more than anything else. For example, "I want to live in a world free of homophobia." While I have no problem with the sentiment, I don't like defining Christianity by what it's against, especially as being against specific issues. Can't we concentrate on God's love instead?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Being in such a small church, it would have been impossible to go unnoticed. However, one of the strong points of Visions was its welcome. Before I left the building, I'd talked to several other members, learnt about how it was run and been invited for a drink an offer I sadly had to decline. All this in somewhere where I knew absolutely no one beforehand.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
You could make your own Cafedirect at any time during the service, but I chose not to. Afterwards, almost everyone headed off to the pub.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 This service certainly serves a purpose and I don't doubt I'll go back occasionally, but it's very different to what I'm used to. I was also slightly worried by the lack of any really concrete teaching. Though Visions could probably be described as evangelical, the style tended very much towards personal meditation, which is fine, but I feel I need something more.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was a different expression of Christianity to what I'm used to, but a genuine, loving and affirming one nonetheless, which I can definitely learn from.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Communion to ambient music.