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  1181: The New Place, Eastville Park Methodist Centre, Bristol, England

The New Place, Eastville Park Methodist Centre, Bristol

Mystery Worshipper: Leo.
The church: The New Place, Eastville Park Methodist Centre, Bristol, England.
Denomination: Methodist.
The building: A storefront church. There are plain glass windows at the front which are in the process of being converted to part stained glass, part plain. At the end of the service, one of the stained glass panels was dedicated in the presence of its designer and maker. Upstairs there is a meeting room, an office and a children's room.
The church: This congregation decided to sell their church building in 2000 and to move to Fishponds Road, a couple of blocks nearer to the inner city, so as to be more immersed in the community's problems and needs. They refurbished a corner shop for use as their worship space and named it after John Wesley's New Room. They employ a part-time manager to promote use of the facilities as a community centre. The church hosts and is involved in Alcoholics Aonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Easton Multi Agency Project (mainly for children at risk of social exclusion), Contact Matters (a national Children's Homes project arranging contact between estranged parents and children) and Our Place (for foster and adoptive families).
The neighbourhood: Fishponds Road has become one of Bristol's red light districts. It is also very multi-racial. The church is close to a Sikh gurdwara, a black-led Pentecostal church and a halal butcher's shop.
The cast: Rev. Richard Barrett.
The date & time: 18 September 2005, 10.45am.

What was the name of the service?
Harvest Thanksgiving Service.

How full was the building?
There were 31 people, filling the space of the worship area.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The senior steward wished me good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was a padded chair with an armrest.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very chatty.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to this special service once a year when we thank God for all the good things he has made for us."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns and Psalms – the Methodist hymn book.

What musical instruments were played?
An electronic organ.

Did anything distract you?
Yes. While I was taking a photo of the church from the other side of the road, a girl asked me for a cigarette and some change and inquired as to where I was going. I suspect she was "on the game", as when I replied "church" she quickly lost interest. Throughout the service I noticed that she kept walking up and down the road past the church. There were quite a few well-behaved children present at the service who were quietly playing with some toys – these were certainly not a distraction.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Informal. It was a bit like school. People answered various questions put to them by the minister, for example, "What's your favourite fruit?" and "Whom should we pray for?"

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes, equally divided between two five-minute slots.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The minister didn't use any notes but asked various questions and responded flexibly to the answers given.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The first sermon was about fruit and concluded with a prayer thanking God for food. The second called for six volunteers to demonstrate the division between rich and poor in the world. The minister gave some bread to the senior steward to slice, and then gave two-thirds of it to two of the volunteers, representing the one-third of the world's population who are wealthy, and the remaining third to the four remaining volunteers, representing the poor. He alluded to Jesus sharing bread with people and concluded that we should do the same, supporting campaigns like Make Poverty History. We were then all given bread to eat meditatively.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Seeing a wide age group being welcomed and involved. Latecomers had to enter from the front, but the minister simply worked a welcome into what he was saying at the time, rather than embarrass them by making it seem as if they were an interruption to a service in progress.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Just a few slight niggles. I began to suspect that the minister was somewhat hard of hearing, as nearly every time someone answered a question he would say "What?" Also, there was only one very short Bible reading and very little praying compared to what one would usually expect in church.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Somebody offered to show me around. A little boy followed us about and kept hiding.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. They were having a bring-and-share lunch.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I were Methodist and lived nearby. I liked the fact that the service lasted only 50 minutes. I am becoming increasingly bored at my own church's 90 minute services. However, it's too far from where I live, and as an Anglican I appreciate a eucharist every Sunday. Passing bread around during the sermon just isn't the same thing. (There was to be, however, a communion service in the evening on the day I attended.)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The well-behaved children.
 
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