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1822: Proclaimers, Norwich, England
Proclaimers Church, Norwich, England
Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda.
The church: Proclaimers Church, Norwich, England.
Denomination: Independent, affiliated with Evangelical Alliance.
The building: The church meets in a function room at the Ramada Jarvis hotel, just off the ring road in Norwich. The hotel is a late 20th century brick box with windows, spread over a large site, with extensive car parking. The room itself is pretty featureless, but set up as for a gig, with a stage with lighting rig and PA in one corner, and black drapes. Only the projector screen hints that this is actually a church service.
The church: The church has a large student component, and calls itself "church without the boring bits." They seem to encourage members to become involved, with connect groups, volunteering opportunities and internships. They also run children's groups.
The neighbourhood: Norwich is a lively city in Norfolk in the east of England, close to the popular holiday destination of the Norfolk Broads. It has a large student population, being the home of the University of East Anglia.
The cast: The service was led by Phil Temple, M.D. (Dr Temple works full time at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital), leader of the church's assimilation department. The preacher was Gemma Neil, leader of the people department.
The date & time: 20 September 2009, 12.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Daytime Service.

How full was the building?
The rows of seats were pretty nearly full, maybe around 70 people, though I was seated near the front and couldn't estimate very well.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As i entered the hotel, two young people wearing Proclaimers t-shirts smiled and welcomed me. As I climbed the stairs to the meeting room, a young lady on the stairs also smiled and greeted me. As I walked into the foyer just outside the meeting room, a church member walked up to me and greeted me, asked my name, and introduced herself. She asked me about myself, where I was from, etc.

Was your pew comfortable?
The seating was padded stacking chairs, and quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Loud! Loud, loud, loud! In the foyer everyone was chatting. Then, as you entered the meeting room, the noise hit you. It was also very dark, so you just followed the person in front of you to the rows of chairs and hoped you didn't trip over anything.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I didn't actually catch them due to the volume of noise, but it was something like "Put your hands together" as folk were encouraged to join in the first song.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboards, electric guitars and drums.

Did anything distract you?
I was more disoriented than distracted to begin with. Then there was the volume of the music. I worried about the hearing of the number of small children I noticed in one corner. As I got my bearings, I admired the extensive lighting and PA rig. There was also a dry ice machine.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The church models its worship on Hillsong, so the worship is very lively and consists of a series of rock worship songs, which I believe were all Hillsong compositions. The congregation are constantly encouraged to clap and raise their hands in the air, and there was a certain amount of jumping around. This was followed by a number of notices and announcements, a short talk on giving, and then the sermon.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
31 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Gemma Neil had a very engaging, chatty style, while still being Bible based and focusing on the point she was trying to convey.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was in a series called "The Simple Life" and was on the subject of faith: what is it and how do we acquire it. We may think of faith as something that superspiritual Christians have, and that we need to work at it by studying more or joining in with church activities. But really it is all about the person we put our trust in, i.e. Jesus. We need to take time to study our Bibles so that we grow to know Jesus more, and then we'll develop a robust faith. God never intended faith to be complicated, it's simply believing in God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I think the warmth of the believers I met there was wonderful. Everyone was so friendly.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The air conditioning! It was cold in there! But isn't hell hot? you may ask. Yes, but I suffered in the cold all the same. Also the sheer volume of the music.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As soon as the service finished everyone went off in huddles to chat, and I wandered to the back, thinking. "No one is going to notice me." But after a moment or two, someone came up to me and asked if I was OK. I then went through into the foyer, and was greeted by another woman who made sure I had a coffee and chatted to me for some time. She introduced me to other church members.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were tea, coffee and fruit juice, served from big thermos flasks. The coffee was OK, wet and warm.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I loved a lot about this church, but ultimately I'd worry about my hearing if I went there long term.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did, and I was humbled to think how welcoming everyone was.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That it was the loudest church service I've ever been to.
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