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Baptist, Ventnor, Isle of Wight
The church: Ventnor Baptist, Ventnor, Isle of Wight.
Denomination: Baptist Union of Great Britain, Southern Counties
The building: A typical 19th-century non-conformist building, fairly unobtrusive,
half-hearted Gothic from the outside, and much what one might
expect on the inside as well. The walls are painted white,
though some wood panelling remains at the entrance end. There
is also a gallery, which looked as if it was used for storage.
A display at the back of the church explains that this is
due to be taken out as part of some alterations.
The church: Ventnor Baptist Church is a member of Ventnor Churches Together,
and seems to have various overseas links. Compared with the
stereotypical demographic of the Isle of Wight (white and
aging) the congregation were unusually diverse.
The neighbourhood: Ventnor is the southernmost town on the Isle of Wight, and shares
the slightly-behind-the-times atmosphere, and the poverty
and unemployment, of the rest of the island. A popular holiday
destination in the 19th century, it has been sliding gently
into obscurity, though in the summer it remains a successful
seaside resort. The town rises from the seafront in a series
of steps like a terraced hillside. This, combined with the
mild climate, gives it a Mediterranean feeling.
The cast: The service was led by the minister, the Revd Nigel Cox. Other
people, identified only by first name (Phil, Peter, Karen,
etc.) also took charge of various parts of the service.
The date & time: 11 December 2011, 10.30am.
What was the
name of the service?
How full was
There were about 60 seats; probably three-quarters of them
welcome you personally?
I was greeted at the door as I came in: "Blown in out
of the wind!" When I had sat down several people came over
to talk to me.
Was your pew
It was a comfortable padded stacking chair in an inoffensive shade of
pink. A small ring-shaped bracket had been attached to hold communion
cups. Hanging around after the service, I noticed a complex set of
guidelines explaining which chairs could be stacked on which other
chairs – it all looked very confusing!
How would you
describe the pre-service
Friendly and chatty. Everybody was wandering around talking
to each other, and several people came over to talk to me,
asking if I was a visitor, and so on. The service was a little
late in starting; the lady next to me said that this was because
the preacher had left his notes at home in Sandown and his
wife had driven back to fetch them.
What were the
exact opening words of the
"Morning everyone." We responded, and then the story of Jesus walking
on the water was read.
What books did
the congregation use during the
None – but there was a stack of Bibles (New International
Version) at the back of church for the congregation to pick up and use
if they felt so moved. All the words of the hymns and songs, and the
text of the Bible reading, were shown on a projector screen.
instruments were played?
There was a small band made up of keyboard, guitar, drumkit,
and two vocalists, and hand-held percussion instruments (maracas,
sleigh bells etc.) were distributed around the congregation.
The lady on my right had a small black and white dog who,
while on the whole very well behaved, did fidget a bit and
occasionally came and licked my hand. There was also a banner
at the front of the church showing the nativity scene, with
the wording "Emmanuel – God with us." Unfortunately
the W had dropped off, and I kept finding that my eyes were
drawn back to the gap.
Was the worship
stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Happy clappy turned up to eleven. The service seemed to follow
a predictable format in that, while I didn't know what was
coming next, everyone else seemed to. It began with a short
mime presented by two children, showing the difficulty of
"running the race" from start to finish without Jesus' help.
Then there was a block of songs that flowed into to a session
of prayer, then to more songs. It finished with the sermon.
There was plenty of congregational involvement – raised
arms, flag-waving, and dancing in the songs, and murmurs of
affirmation and "Yes, Jesus!" in the spoken parts. Intercessory
prayer was invited from all the congregation, and many obliged,
bouncing off each other's prayers to raise their concerns.
All in all, a joyful and lively service.
long was the sermon?
32 minutes, though this did incorporate the gospel reading (the birth
of John the Baptist).
On a scale of
1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The preacher had a very animated style, with plenty of
variation in volume and tone. I didn't entirely agree with everything
he said, but he kept my attention through the whole half hour, which
isn't bad going.
In a nutshell,
what was the sermon
God is in control. He doesn't do spontaneous. The miraculous birth of
John the Baptist is part of a series of events stretching all the way
back through the Old Testament and history itself, which culminates in
the birth of Jesus.
Which part of
the service was like being in
In a gap between two scheduled songs, somebody started singing, and
several other people joined in. It was the most beautiful thing I heard
today. Sadly, I didn't know the song, or I'd have joined in too, but
that one spontaneous outburst of worship stands out among many as,
And which part
was like being in... er... the other place?
There were a couple of references, in both the prayers and the sermon,
to equality law and employment law as a tool used to persecute
Christians in this country. That made this bisexual Christian very
when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The little dog came and sat in my lap! When she had climbed
out again, and I had got up to find a coffee, the minister
came and spoke to me: "Are you a visitor? Where are you from?
How long are you down for?" – and so did a couple of
How would you
describe the after-service
Coffee in a cardboard takeaway-style cup. Tasted OK, though I didn't
see the jar. There were also custard creams, mince pies, and Christmas
shortbread being handed around.
How would you
feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
5 – Not really my style, but I did find this a very welcoming
Did the service
make you feel glad to be a
On the whole, yes, though I would hesitate to align myself
with the viewpoint that claims that Christianity in the UK
is persecuted; I find it embarrassing and inaccurate.
What one thing
will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The friendly little black dog.
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