Widcombe Baptist, Widcombe, Bath, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Widcombe Baptist
Location: Widcombe, Bath, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 September 2019, 10:30am

The building

A pretty Regency castellated building beside the Kennet & Avon Canal, which links London with the Bristol Channel. 'Prepare to meet your God' is painted on the roof. This was more prominent before the road system was changed. The building has original gothick windows but is much changed inside. It was enlarged and modernised in the 19th and 20th centuries. They were formerly called Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, and that name is carved in stone in what was the front (but is now the back) of the building. The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette of Thursday, 11 September 1873, includes an announcement that 'A baptistry has been added to Ebenezer Chapel.' It is unclear when the name was changed, There is some confusion re the name of a holiday cottage called Ebenezer that claims to be in Bath but is nowhere near.

The church

Very active, with a particular mission to children and students. Many well-organised groups and activities.

The neighborhood

Widcombe is a district southeast of Bath’s city centre. It is the area where Bath stone was brought down from the quarry and loaded onto barges, but it has not been an industrial area for at least a century. The area has been carved up by roads. Regency development (and later) extends up the hill.

The cast

Several people led the worship, one taking ex-tempore prayers, one introducing children (who were noticeably articulate and sensible), one reading the lesson. The pastor preached.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Service.

How full was the building?

Pretty full, galleries too. At a very rough guess, the building might hold 500. The congregation are predominantly young, predominantly (but not exclusively) white.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

They were friendly but astonished that they didn't know me. I was given a sheet of news. Everything else was on screens.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. Wooden bench. The seating in the galleries dates from the Victorian refit, I guess.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lively and friendly, with many toddlers and babies.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Welcome, everybody.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None, but there were Bibles (New International Version) in prominent piles. Many people took them and read them, looking up the relevant passage in 1 Peter.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano, organ, violin, guitar, percussion.

Did anything distract you?

The whole service was a series of distractions, as if we weren't expected to have any attention span. The music distracted us from the prayer. The children's report distracted us from the song. The sermon distracted from the children. The screen distracted from the preacher. Distraction was built in!

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

Chatty, inviting audience response, which wasn't always forthcoming. Hymns, prayers, introduction of the week's events, sermon (in two parts), Bible reading all interrupted each other. We sang a lot, but nothing I knew. There was quite a bit of back and forth between music and preaching, then more preaching, which was very long but designed to hop about from point to point.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes (first part) followed later by 30 minutes (second part).

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

4 — It was a PowerPoint presentation, not strong on logic, but stressing the ultimate security of being a Christian.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The preacher’s text was 1 Peter 1-5 (God, through Christ, has given us new birth with an inheritance in heaven). The first part described the world Peter was writing to with pictures and maps on the screen. It was uncomfortable to be a Christian in those days, but worse was to come. The second part gave examples of how it is uncomfortable to be a Christian now – but we are here for a reason. We have to know who we are and where we are going. The world is not our home. If persecution comes, we are on the right side. Don't weaken. Being a Christian is worth it.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The children’s report on their visit to London. Future pastors every one!

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

The sermon, when it harped on the ultimate safety of being a Christian.

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

They would have been friendly and offered me coffee (and even lunch), but I had to go.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I'm sure it would have been good.

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

0 — I enjoyed quite a lot of the service but now I have achieved a life's ambition of seeing the building. I don't need to go again. I don't feel they do the cause of true religion any favours, but they are sincere and well-meaning.

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

Definitely not, if I have to take the Resurrection literally. The preacher insisted on this.

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

The feeling that the preacher was not seeing the same truths I am seeing.

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