A large mid-Victorian looking temple stuck in a St Helier back street. However, it was nice to see that it has been retained – and quite surprising really. It is a large classical building with a large auditorium inside with some of its original features still in place, including the pews. It looked like a traditional Protestant God box although the communion table is now central.
This is the main Baptist church for the island. They draw their congregation from all over Jersey, as well as from visitors and holiday-makers. They sponsor a number of what they call "action groups," including care and visitation, world ministry, and youth groups, as well as groups to take care of the everyday running of the church (music and worship, sound and technology, etc.).
St Helier, on Jersey's southern coast, is the largest town on the island and the seat of Jersey's government, as well as the site of the island's only significant retail centre. St Helier combines the charm of a small harbour town with many of the characteristics of a vibrant multicultural city and thus is popular with visitors. The church is located amid a maze of back streets filled with scores of shops catering to the recreational boater. A massive French looking Catholic church dominates the whole scene. There are also lots of other churches in the area, some of which have changed hands.
The Revd Tim Welch, senior pastor (in a pink jumpster), led the service. The speaker was the Revd John Woods, pastor of Lancing Tabernacle, the independent evangelical church in West Sussex.
What was the name of the service?Evening Service
How full was the building?
It was a quarter full, with people of all ages and a worship band in the front. The congregation seemed to be decidedly of the professional class – not many working-class people in evidence.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Compared to the welcome I had received that very morning at another Jersey church, the welcome I received here was an icy blast. This is a large church and I guess maybe a new face doesn't always register as being somebody new. One lady from the choir at the front made an effort to start a conversation with me, but everyone else appeared disinterested. I felt a bit lonely, as I was visiting Jersey on my own, and could have used some warmth. But I was just another face in the crowd.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was comfortable enough although it kept creaking – I am sure the person in front was creaking too.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Busy. As with a lot of large evangelical churches, people were fiddling with electrical equipment or playing around with other technology. Anything to avoid extending any kind of warmth to a pilgrim.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello and welcome to Jersey Baptist Church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
It was all on PowerPoint. I quite like PowerPoint when it isn't made to look innovative and modern in that 80s kind of way.
What musical instruments were played?
A very strange mixture of piano, electronic church organ, and worship band. Given that the music was contemporary, it seemed a bit odd! There was also a small group of voices. The music was well presented and well sung for the most part (one of the songs had to be stopped, as no one appeared to know it), but it all seemed rather banal. It would have been nice to have had some traditional music mixed in. Many Christians feel (mistakenly, in my opinion) that church music has moved on since the traditional days and that people don't feel comfortable and can't be brought close to God unless the music is dumbed down with lyrics such as "You're the best" repeated ad nauseam. Perhaps the writers are just reflecting society's lack of imagination!
Did anything distract you?
There was a bloke eating sweets and opening the wrappers loudly. I wanted to stop him but couldn't! Also it seems as though overactive bladder syndrome is endemic among the male population of Jersey, as many men walked out at different times throughout the service, after which one could hear toilets being flushed quite audibly. Maybe it was the cold weather outside! Finally, during the sermon the lovely French bells from the Catholic church up the road began to peal. Wouldn't it have been nice if the preacher had stopped at that moment to listen and offer a prayer for their Catholic neighbours?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It tried to be contemporary in a 1980s kind of way, but I found it all quite unimaginative. The one highlight was an excellent short talk by someone from Kenya who related her faith to what was going on around her. At the end of the sermon, the pastor thanked the visiting preacher and said, "God has spoken." Well, I suppose so, but it sounded rather presumptuous.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Very slick, rather like being at a business presentation. Pastor Woods, the visiting preacher, seemed well-meaning, but I couldn't help feeling that there was an underlying conservative ethos (albeit with a social conscience), and I'm not sure how well his message would have been received in a working class congregation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Ironically, given the lack of warm welcome, Pastor Woods spoke on the "R factor" R for relationships with God, family and people around us. The R factor should affect every aspect of church life. How has Jersey Baptist applied this principle?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I suppose the enthusiasm of the music and one or two conversations after the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
They tried their best to be relevant and contemporary, but the overall feeling was one of cold and, with the congregation drawn from the professional classes, one of "place." There was an overwhelming sense that everyone "had their place" just as surely as robes and vestments separate the clergy from the laity in other churches. And God may well have spoken through the sermon, but I think it should be in our hearts and scripture to ascertain whether that is the case!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Some of the people sitting nearby made a friendly remark or two. Perhaps I'm being unkind, but I felt no warmth. As I filed out into the lobby, I noted that people were greeting the guest preacher as if he were a conquering hero.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – Despite feeling lonely and unwanted, I still thought that this is a church with potential. Remember, guys, this isn't the 1980s. And try to shake off the old UK professional class attitude.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made feel like a very lonely pilgrim. Remember Hebrews 13:2: "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it!" (Not, of course, that I am an angel!)
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
That good music (or in this case the lack thereof) can make or break a worship experience.