Redland Parish Church, Bristol

Redland Parish Church, Bristol, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Redland Parish Church
Location: Bristol, England
Date of visit: Thursday, 14 May 2015, 8:00pm

The building

This Grade I listed building has been described as one of the finest Georgian buildings in Bristol. It was built in 1742 as a private chapel for the local manor and is unusual in not having been dedicated to a patron saint. It became a parish church in 1942. It has baroque plasterwork by the 18th century Bristol architect and stonemason Thomas Paty, with lots of cherubs. The east end is square ended, but a rounded triptych with the Ten Commandments and a painting of Jesus being taken down from cross (covered up by projector screen) makes an optical illusion so that it appears as a rounded apse. The communion table consists of a gilded eagle supporting a marble top. The tiny sanctuary is cluttered with a drum kit, a vase of flowers, and a font the size of a bird bath.

The church

It has a congregation of 230 but the building only seats about 120, so they use a nearby school hall for the monthly family service. On other Sundays, the children meet in the church hall. There's an informal evening service called Ignite. There is a building project underway to put up a modern church hall to replace the current dilapidated one. Among their many weekday activities is an Alpha course. Unusual (but very welcome) is a dads' and toddlers' club. They also run parenting courses based on material produced by the Family Caring Trust, a secular group that provides material with optional Christian or Muslim add-ons. The church recently held meetings to prepare a new vision statement.

The neighborhood

The name Redland may have come from the Old English word rudding, meaning cleared land, but by the 13th century some sources were referring to it as Rede Londe from the red colour of the soil. Today, Redland is a fairly wealthy neighbourhood that includes 20 houses with Grade 2 listed status. There are no nearby shopping centres. Redland Fair, regarded as the best in Bristol, is held on the May Day bank holiday.

The cast

The celebrant was the Revd Steve Trusscott, ordained local minister. The preacher was Claire Nichols, licensed lay minister (reader). The vicar, the Revd Rod Symmons, was away (so I was told) on a trip to Uganda.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

Only 22 people. I was told that the vicar attracts a larger crowd.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

My bus was late; I crept in after the service had already started and so missed the welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. Sturdy, deep and carpeted.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I was late because of the bus and so missed it.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Sorry, I missed them.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A specially produced leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano and organ.

Did anything distract you?

The service itself was a distraction – see below. I knew none of the hymns or worship songs that were sung.

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

It was hardly recognisable as an Anglican liturgy: no Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus or Agnus Dei, no gospel reading (surely illegal?), no preface to the eucharistic prayer, and no fraction (surely also illegal?) except for (sliced) bread being broken for each communicant. And the celebrant didn't wear any robes.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes.

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

6 – The preacher, Claire Nichols, was easy to listen to and gave plenty of anecdotes, though she frequently ended statements with, "Aren't we?" as if she were addressing children.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

We are impatient (aren't we?) when we have to wait, such as being in a phone queue where they play music and occasionally tell you how far down you are in the queue. Children often sit in the back of the car and ask, "Are we nearly there yet?" The disciples had to wait between Good Friday and Ascension Day for God to finish his work. It's like house buying when we're kept from moving in (aren't we?) until the sale is complete. The Ascension is really the birthday of the Church, not Pentecost.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Possibly the organ voluntary at the end, which was an improvisation of the hymn "Hail the day that sees him rise." We hadnt sung that earlier. Also, with the vicar away, it was nice that volunteers had given up their time to help out.

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

The celebrant lost his place and repeated most of the eucharistic prayer, consecrating the bread twice. Also, the consecrated elements were merely left uncovered on the communion table instead of being reverently consumed at the end.

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

Someone said, "Nice to see you."

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I had to miss this in order to get the bus.

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

1 – I wouldn't because they celebrate holy communion only once a fortnight. For a more liturgical style, I'd go to the nearby United Reformed church. However, maybe I am being unfair because the vicar, Rod Symmons, is highly respected and must be doing something right because of the large, regular Sunday congregation.

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

No. I found the whole experience depressing.

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

Feeling depressed.

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