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2896: Sandown Baptist, Isle of Wight
Sandown Baptist, Isle of Wight
Mystery Worshipper: Isla White.
The church: Sandown Baptist, Isle of Wight.
Denomination: Baptist Union of Great Britain, Southern Counties Baptist Association.
The building: The cornerstone was laid in 1882. It's an attractive building from the outside, with a disused cinema next door – what a perfect expansion opportunity. A vestibule was added in the 1980s, making the entrance more useable, and the pews removed 10 years ago. The kitchenette, from which drinks are served, is very awkwardly placed, but the rest of area we saw was well thought out and attractive.
The church: They run a number of activities for children, including an outreach club, mothers and toddlers group, and something called play and praise. For adults they have Bible study and prayer meetings. They serve as a collection point for the Island Foodbank.
The neighbourhood: Sandown, on the southeast coast of the Isle of Wight, is a seaside town noted for its long stretch of sandy beaches. Several fine old hotels along the esplanade lead a visitor to think that the clock has been turned back to Victorian and Edwardian times. Quoting from the church's website: "We are blessed by being at the busy junction of Station Avenue and St John’s Road," just a short walk from the glorious beaches of Sandown.
The cast: Lin Plummer and Michelle Moore, who are church members.
The date & time: Sunday, 26 July 2015, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Family Service.

How full was the building?
Thin on the ground. This was blamed on it being holiday season and to the torrential rain. The proportion of children to adults was high.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were three people standing at the door who smiled and welcomed us. They apologised for the weather, showed us the toilet, and invited us to sit wherever we liked. They asked us nothing about ourselves despite the fact that we had arrived early and hung around listening to their conversation for a bit before going into the main room. Thinking somebody might talk to us, we left the two aisle seats free. Nobody approached us, although several looked across.

Was your pew comfortable?
Single comfortable chairs with a rack holding a Bible, hymn book and an excellent welcome pack. It contained a prayer card to be filled in and put in the supplied envelope, and a laminated card with a suggested prayer to pray in silence. There were separate different coloured cards describing different aspects of the church, and a brochure explaining gift aid.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were chatting, and there was a lot of coming and going at the front. The sound coming from the PA system appeared to be from a radio programme, but not loud enough to hear what was being said between the songs.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everybody and welcome to our morning service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything was on the screen, but books were available at each seat: Songs of Fellowship and The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard only, which appeared to be very slightly out of tune. The player's sense of timing was also a bit off.

Did anything distract you?
An elderly lady was wearing a dress that rode up above her knees when she lifted her hands during the songs.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Mostly repeated modern songs played rather too slowly. There was something wrong about the playing of one line of "Change my heart O God" so that nobody could fit the words to the tune. The congregation couldn't quite make up its mind as to how long to clap during the one song where a particular clapping rhythm was required.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Three separate talks, each involving children. The last was eight minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The whole talk was interactive, with children being given parts and props and told what to do. An adult had prepared beforehand to be a water pump and was dressed ready, with rubbish under his jacket.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus came to make us clean on the inside. Not everything that looks clean is clean. (This was illustrated by a muddy watermelon being wiped clean but, when opened, found to be injected with ink; and an adult dressed as a freshly painted water pump spewing forth rubbish when pumped.) We can't change ourselves. We need Jesus to change us from the inside.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Very good inclusion of children, including two visiting children whose mother accompanied them every time they went forward. The children clearly enjoyed all the different things they were asked to do.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When the congregation were invited to pray, there was a very long silence. Two people then prayed very long prayers (considering there were children present), and there was another fairly long silence before the person leading rounded up. The traditional version of the Lord's Prayer was used the rather than a more modern version that children generally use.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We remained seated for a few minutes before going to get our drinks, but nobody approached us. We then stood in the middle of the foyer. Again, nobody approached us. One man was standing with his back to the exit talking to the visiting family. We left unnoticed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very impressed that they had decaf tea, freshly made and served in proper cups. A child offered us a sweet from those given out during one of the talks.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – This congregation impressed us as being wrapped up in themselves.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was lovely to see the children so involved.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Standing in the middle of the foyer waiting for somebody to talk to us, then leaving without anybody noticing.
 
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