Nondescript. Small 1960s brick-built meeting hall set back between old houses along a narrow lane crossed by a river. The service was actually held in a prefabricated hall in the garden due to a rat problem in the main building.
The website suggests that preaching is done only by men. They have a prayer meeting and Bible study on the second and fourth Wednesday evening of each month, and morning coffee every Wednesday. There are morning and evening services each Sunday, with communion on the second and fourth Sunday mornings.
Carisbrooke is dominated by the massive medieval motte-and-bailey castle on the hill. During the English Civil War, King Charles 1 fled to the Isle of Wight expecting to find support. Instead, he was imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle. An escape plan was hatched, but Charles discovered that the rest of his body was larger than his head so he was unable to get through the bars on the window still visible today. An eyewitness recorded that he stuck "fast between his breast and shoulders ... not able to get forwards or backwards." Whilst remaining a prisoner, Charles invited the Scots to invade England. He was executed for treason in January of the following year.
They have no appointed minister, but their website states that "Bible-believing Christian men from throughout the island are invited to lead our Sunday services." Today's service was led by Paul Carter, who had come from the mainland for a teaching series on Revelation that had been held on Friday and Saturday.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
Only four empty chairs and, incredibly, twice as many men as women. However, the room was extremely small so 16 people filled it.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The gentleman entering before us welcomed us with a handshake, introduced himself, asked our names and provenance, and supplied us with books. Those already seated turned round with delighted smiles and mouthed "Hello." Before the service started, the visiting preacher walked the length of the (very short) room shaking hands with and welcoming everyone.
Was your pew comfortable?
Individual chairs with padded seats, reasonably comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
CD playing quiet worship music in the background. Friendly chatting amongst the congregation, which was so small that everyone was included in the conversation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. We are going to start this morning's service of worship with Psalm 117."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise and The Holy Bible, New International Version, were supplied. However the preacher was reading from the New King James version.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The vertical writing tattooed on the shaved head of a youngish man in the front row. Neither of us could read what it actually said.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
All the songs were traditional hymns sandwiched between readings and prayers. When the preacher made a good point, there were murmurs of affirmation and comments. One of the hymns was the old standby "What a friend we have in Jesus." It rang especially true for me, especially the line "Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?" as I am going through a tough time just now.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes, but so engaging that it seemed much shorter.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Loved his tone of incredulity when he commented on the Jews' reply to Jesus: "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. (John 8:33) His (the preacher's, not Jesus's) reaction: "Hello, what planet were they on?" There was no hellfire or brimstone, but positive encouragement and comfort.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He listed all the nations that had oppressed the Hebrews from the time of Joseph to Jesus, all as a result of their rebellion against God. Virtually all the problems of the world (he said) are caused by humans. We are sinners in need of salvation, all of us. The writers of the New Testament included themselves when saying things such as "Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am the chief." Jesus offers total forgiveness if we will just accept our need for it.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Beautifully sincere and moving prayers from three members of the congregation during a period of open prayer.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The stench of death. There was a handwritten notice outside the main door saying the service was in the back hall. Apparently, when the first person arrived, they realised one or more rats had decomposed in the roof space. Very quickly they had moved furniture and equipment to the back hall.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Immediately after the service ended, one gentleman was called to the front to take numbers for tea and coffee. From that point onwards we were approached by numerous people, all of whom were wonderfully friendly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I proffered my decaffeinated tea bag only to be told that all the tea and coffee provided was decaf. It was served in large mugs together with lots of biscuits and chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies. Everything involved with the refreshments was done by men, leaving the woman to relax.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I loved their friendliness and no-nonsense approach to religion. But setting gallantry aside, women are people too!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
My throat completely seizing up when I tried to sing "Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?"