The church I went to see is a perfect 18th century chapel, but the service was held in the church hall. This is a new building with a large community space and every modern convenience. It is designed so that you look out on nothing but trees – quite an achievement in the middle of a city. It is very adaptable and suits its community exactly.
Active, evangelical church with many related activities. The congregation seem anxious not to be seen as affluent and uncaring. Redland is more prosperous now than it was when it was built.
Redland, an affluent suburb of Bristol, was once just the Palladian house and its chapel. The house is now a school and the chapel has become too small for a parish church. The 19th century suburb grew up round this nucleus. It is now predominantly white, middle-class commuter-land.
Several members of the team officiated, principally the associate vicar, who preached.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
The hall seats about 200 and it was full. Half that number could have been children, who went out early on but also came back before the end.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Very friendly. Handshake from several people. Handed two booklets about Creationtide.
Was your pew comfortable?
Plastic stacking chair – comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very lively. Children of all ages. More chairs being unfolded.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good morning, Redland!’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. All words were projected on screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Guitar, violin, saxophone (?), percussion.
Did anything distract you?
The children were noisy at times, but parents took them out when they made it impossible to hear.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely Bible-based. The music was very rhythmic but no one danced. Beneath the contemporary dress, it felt conventional. The first ten minutes was a quiz for the children, identifying wild animals on the screen. This was followed by a natural history film. Then some prayers and the children went to their groups. The congregation stood and said the Venite, then sang Psalm 104 (‘Bless the LORD, O my soul!’) to a rhythmic tune, but no one danced. Then a confession with a creation time-theme (modern wording but very orthodox). Next came the Creationtide prayer and a member of the congregation read Psalm 104 vv. 1-9. Then the sermon, followed by three songs of praise (words and music unknown to me). Then prayers led by a member of the congregation, ending with the Lord's Prayer. At the end, two newborns were held up and applauded.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 — A lot of work had gone into it, producing a coherent, well-argued introduction to Creationtide. (Yes, they've invented a new season.) Psalm 104 was rebranded a hymn of Creationtide.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Three wrong ways to view the Creation: (1) Dualism – God is not a dualist. (2) Materialism – We humans are not the centre of the universe. (3) Pantheism – Nature points to him who made everything (CS Lewis). Psalm 104 is a wonderful hymn to the Creator. We have a high place in creation, but with a high place comes high responsibility.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was very enjoyable but nothing like heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Frustration that the preacher (who is a really hard worker) urged us not to take the Bible literally – and then did just that!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people came up and talked, led me to the coffee, went out of their way to include me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I chose tea and it was good.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — I still have to see Redland Chapel.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Glad to be confirmed in my suspicion that I am a pantheist – but I'm not going to make an issue of it. We are all looking in the same direction.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Probably the fact that I really wanted to dance but no one was dancing.