The Holy Shed, Bottom of the Garden, UK


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: The Holy Shed
Location: Bottom of the Garden, UK
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 January 2021, 6:30pm

The building

A garden shed. Or to be more accurate, a shed that has been converted to a study/office with a desk, computer and bookshelves that contained not just books, but a bottle of Laphroaig whisky.

The church

Dave Tomlinson is a semi-retired Church of England priest also well known as a writer and broadcaster. He set up the Holy Shed during lockdown as a space for people to meet and pray online via a live Facebook link.

The neighborhood

I don’t know.

The cast

The Revd Dave Tomlinson.

What was the name of the service?

The Holy Shed.

How full was the building?

Dave was sitting alone. I don’t know how many were joining in online.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, I simply logged on.

Was your pew comfortable?

Sitting on my sofa with a beer, I was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There wasn’t any.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Hi there. Good to see you and good to have you here with me in the Holy Shed.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None, but various prayers were shared on the screen.

What musical instruments were played?

There was no music.

Did anything distract you?

Oddly, nothing. I say oddly, because I usually find it difficult to engage with online worship and get easily distracted by ‘real life’ stuff going on around me, but on this occasion it had my full attention throughout.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Very informal. Dave was wearing a flat cap and an overcoat. The online advertising for this weekly event is to bring a candle and something to drink. After the initial welcome, Dave lit a candle and encouraged everyone else to do the same and said the opening prayer. The main part of the ‘service’ was his talk (more about that below). At the end of the talk came the reason we were asked to bring a drink, as it was time for the ‘sacramental toast.’ We were asked to pour ourselves a drink (I already had a beer on the go, but there was still plenty left) and Dave charged his glass from the bottle of Laphroaig whisky that was on his bookshelf. He raised the glass and proposed a toast to the world, the planet, and to life, ending with the Hebrew toast of l’chaim (to life). The session finished with the blessing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

About 20-25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 — From a regular contributor to BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought and the author of a number of very popular books, I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

There appears to be a different theme each week and this week’s theme was prayer. Dave spoke about how his own prayer life has evolved since his early days in the Brethren church, through the House Church movement and to where he is today. He spoke briefly about why he believes God is a God of interaction rather than intervention, and at length about being in a state of prayerfulness rather than using formal prayers.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Feeling engaged in online worship (that rarely happens to me).

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

In the closing blessing, he used the expression ‘Creator, Liberator, Sustainer.’ I’m probably quite old fashioned when it comes to that, but that choice of words always makes me cringe.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Nothing. I could not feel lost in my own home.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I still had some beer left.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

10 — It was one of the most engaging acts of worship I have ever experienced.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Then very thought provoking talk about prayer.

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