St Nicholas, Bristol, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Nicholas
Location: Bristol, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 October 2019, 10:30am

The building

Georgian body on top of a medieval crypt. It was burnt out in the Second World War and refurbished as a museum. Later it became Council offices. It has been a church again for a year. The interior is simple, with huge gothick windows full of clear glass, white walls, black curtains, stage, two screens.

The church

Not a parish but a part of the HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton) mission. Very active in evangelising the young. Their first Alpha course has just got going.

The neighborhood

This has always been the centre of mercantile Bristol. It is next to Bristol Bridge and the waters of the river sparkle through its windows. The markets thrived right here, and still do in a different way. Retail and tourism have taken over.

The cast

The priest (one of four, I was told, and they are very democratic) led the service, with a visiting preacher. Choir took up most of the stage: two singers, keyboard, three guitars, percussion. Long hymns in pairs, prayer with musical accompaniment.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Service.

How full was the building?

Pretty full, with people coming and going. The building holds probably about 200.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Everyone did. Hello and a friendly smile, right between the eyes.

Was your pew comfortable?

I was alone in the gallery (kind of them to let me stay there). I placed my comfortable stacking chair centre front.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quite busy with lots of young children. If anyone was over 40, they disguised it well. I took photos until I was asked to stop. I never thought. Of course I will delete any that have children in them.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Hello St Nick's’ (I think).

What books did the congregation use during the service?


What musical instruments were played?

Keyboard, three guitars, percussion.

Did anything distract you?

Behind the curtains are three enormous paintings by the 18th century English master William Hogarth. I did look behind after the service, but you can't see them unless the curtains are drawn. I was told they were drawn for a wedding yesterday. The curtains are so effective that unless one knew the Hogarths were there, one could not honestly say they are a distraction.

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

The epitome of happy clappy. Congregation seemed genuinely happy and clapped a lot, in time with the 'music.' Still, no dancing, though some of them shifted from foot to foot. Hand gestures (really symbolic gestures the Hindus call mudras) were led enthusiastically led by the children. Hymns came in pairs and went on a long time. There was a video, and a chance to talk to your neighbour. Since I was alone in the gallery, they came up and talked to me, with prayer and blessing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

About 20 minutes, leaching into prayer. It was not the preacher's fault that I heard about one word in ten. The sound system is not designed for the gallery.

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

7 — PowerPoint Presentation, very accurate and conscientious. His sincerity came over loud and strong.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Text: Acts 2:42-47 (the fellowship of believers). The early church was a holy community, a fearless community, a generous community and a multiplying community. So can we be.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Moving moment when they came up into the gallery to pray with me and bless me.

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

This is a personal opinion, but I do find their hymns to be the opposite of great art – both the words and the music.

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

No chance to hang around. Many people approached me with great goodwill, made me tea, asked me about myself, told me about themselves. They really do act like the early church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Very nice tea, made especially for me.

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

2 — I'd love to see the Hogarths. They don't look like his usual style at all. The crypt too is full of interest, with medieval arches, statues of founders, and puce and purple lights.

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

No, but I warmed to the people.

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

Being moved by their kindness and appalled by their music.

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