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1538: Jersey United Reformed, Sion, Isle of Jersey
Jersey United Reformed, Sion, Isle of Jersey
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: Jersey United Reformed, Sion, Isle of Jersey.
Denomination: United Reformed Church.
The building: This is the oldest nonconformist building on the island. It is a bright terra cotta building – very simple with two light windows and halls. The church recently closed their Victorian Gothic church in St Helier, which has become home to another Evangelical church. The church at Sion has had a major refurbishing. Before the refurb it had been a basic Protestant "God box." But the pews and pulpit were taken out and the floor removed, and the church was redecorated in a mustard yellow with flexible furniture which can be turned if necessary. The original organ has been replaced with a large three manual digital instrument by the Italian Viscount firm, although some of the pipes have been retained on one of the walls.
The church: This is a gathered congregation, so I guess a central site makes sense. They share their minister with a sister church in Guernsey. They participate in St John's Group of Churches (Anglican, Methodist and URC) and Christians Together in Jersey. They also support Amnesty International and are involved in a large number of local, national and international charities.
The neighbourhood: The largest of the Channel Islands, Jersey sits in the Bay of Mont St Michel off the northwest coast of France. As might be expected, there is a strong French influence in the island's culture. Jersey is not part of the United Kingdom, nor a British colony. However, it owes allegiance to the Crown, which is responsible for the Island's defence and international relations. The village of Sion is dominated by a huge temple of a Methodist church and appears to be a very traditional village, with views across some very French looking land and houses as well as a large cemetery. It was refreshing to note that there are no mainstream supermarkets on the island.
The cast: The Revd Patrick McManus, minister.
The date & time: 17 February 2008, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Service.

How full was the building?
About 40 or so people, which seemed reasonable for the size of the building.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had travelled to Jersey by myself and was feeling a bit lonely, but it has to be said that I felt very much at home in this church after only a few minutes. This is a very welcoming community. I received a huge welcome. Before the service I was greeted by the minister's wife, who as it turns out has relatives near where I live at home. I was taken round to several people in the church. As soon as they found out I was an organist, the minister asked me to play a few things after the service! Nearly everybody came up to me and made me feel welcome. There was a very strong family feeling amongst this congregation.

Was your pew comfortable?
A nice modern comfortable chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived very early, so I went for a bike ride around the lanes. When I finally pulled up at the church, people were chatting outside. Inside, there was some piped orchestra music playing in the background.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to today's service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A leaflet plus Rejoice and Sing, the trusty URC hymn book.

What musical instruments were played?
The massive three manual Viscount organ, played well by the minister's son Richard (who plays in a rock band).

Did anything distract you?
I have never been given such a huge welcome in my life. Usually this Mystery Worshipper is ignored! They even asked me what my home church was, and included it in the prayers.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was traditional without being too staid. Trusty old rousing hymns, without the need for the current doggerel being churned out by the likes of Hill Song, etc. I am sometimes wary of the more obscure inclusions in Rejoice and Sing, but everyone seemed to know these hymns quite well. "Praise to my soul" kicked off the service with a nice bit of solid theology and good tune. None of this "God is my best mate" sort of language which, far from including people, excludes.

Jersey United Reformed, Sion, Isle of Jersey

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pastor McManus demonstrated that he knew his congregation very well. At times it became a two-way conversation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about looking back at the ordinary times which aren't necessarily mentioned in the Bible. The Bible doesn't always have all the answers to everything. Sometimes we just don't know what the Lord has in mind. Look back and take stock.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The welcome was certainly the most heavenly thing about this church. I was introduced to everybody. The next day I was cycling up a hill when a church member stopped her car and invited me for a drink in her garden before I cycled off to Plemont, the beautiful but sometimes dangerous swimming cove on Jersey's north coast.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was very little bad about this service. It would have been nice if there had been an evening service, as my evening visit to another Jersey church was quite a different experience.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was shown straight to the organ and gave a little recital. The minister then introduced me to a few people, including someone who was born in the same nursing home as myself! I also chatted with a charming old gent named Dennis, who was of the opinion that not only was it fitting that Jersey is not part of the UK, but that all of the UK should be part of Normandy! I told him my surname, but he said, "No that's no good. That's from the centre of France."

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had some orange juice, as I can't drink tea or coffee. They list themselves as a fair trade church, however.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – With the huge welcome that I received, I would very much like to make it my home church. However, I was on holiday and a pilgrim. But I will return one day.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It certainly did – but more importantly a welcome pilgrim. I was made to feel so welcome – like a medieval Christian on a pilgrimage! This is a church with a lot of potential. However, sadly like so many other churches, the congregation is becoming elderly and new younger people just aren't getting through the doors. This is especially sad because the United Reformed Church does feel like "the people's church" and has retained the common touch with all its members.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The big welcome. I wish them all the best for their future.
 
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