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101: South Parade Baptist, Headingley, Leeds, West Yorkshire
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South Parade Baptist, Leeds
Mystery Worshipper: Gemaliel Newchurch.
The church: South Parade Baptist, Headingley, Leeds, West Yorkshire.
Denomination: Baptist Union of Great Britain.
The building: Red-brick Edwardian "Baptist Cathedral". It has recently been refurbished very tastefully. The impressive vaulting, woodwork and massive pipe organ remain. The building retains the best of its old features alongside an improved entrance vestibule and new community centre. It has long assaulted passers-by with "Signs & Blunders" style evangelistic posters – some of the very worst known to humankind.
The neighbourhood: Welcome to Headingley, hallowed home of Yorkshire cricket. The church is virtually opposite the Test and County Cricket ground. Student bedsit land gives way here to suburban semis. George Orwell stayed in one of the terraces nearby en route for Wigan Pier. A mix of the prosaic and the bohemian, Headingley is home to some of the best fish and chip shops in the world.
The cast: Sports-mad David Morris has been head-honcho here since 1984.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Service with baby dedication. Like others who practice believer's baptism, many Baptists have a short dedication ceremony for the infants of church members.

How full was the building?
Pretty full. The church has 500 members meeting in three congregations across North Leeds. Most of the large student contingent were on holiday or in bed awaiting the more celebratory evening bash.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
With the new entrance foyer area has come a highly polished and very sincere welcoming committee. We had toddlers in tow and the stewards were very helpful. We were ushered to a section reserved for visitors to the baby dedication.

Was your pew comfortable?
Fine, thanks. It was a nice new chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A lot of milling around as people found friends and seats. This is a big and busy church.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning on this wonderful morning! It's wonderful to welcome you to our morning service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns and choruses were projected very professionally on a screen. Although redundant, the Baptist Hymn Books were still there.

What musical instruments were played?
The mighty pipe organ for the three hymns chosen by the dedicating parents. Piano, flute and acoustic guitar thereafter.

Did anything distract you?
Being a dedication service, there were plenty of thirtysomethings with kids – the Mystery Worshipper's brood among them. Parents take heart: the creche and Sunday school facilities are excellent.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Warm and convinced although not overtly demonstrative. You have to wait for the evening service if hand-raising is your scene.

South Parade Baptist, Leeds

Exactly how long was the sermon?
23 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – David Morris communicates well in a relaxed and engaging style. Many of the sermon illustrations came from the cricket field. C'mon, this is Headingley...

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
New beginnings.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing two well-chosen hymns selected by the parents of the dedicated child. Reformed in theology and temperament, they had plumped for good, solid, wholesome evangelical hymns of the old school. A good Welsh tune always helps.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Conversely, the third hymn in their chosen repetoire: 'Jesus loves me this I know'. I know they meant it for the kids, but coming after the erudition of the opening numbers, it jarred a bit. I was also accosted afterwards by one of the visitors who recognised me as a former business client. I spent the whole afternoon at the baby's party trying to evade his sales pitch.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After a sturdy theological discussion with an acquaintance who worships there, I collected our eldest from the Sunday School (she'd had a great time) and repaired to the hall for a cuppa.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Decent cuppa. Tea, of course. This is Yorkshire.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
The Mystery Worshipper is already "spoken for" elsewhere, but if he'd just moved into the area he would certainly consider it. I would score it at 8. You won't find anything cutting-edge or outrageous – this is mainstream mildly clappy evangelicalism at its dependable best.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Sure. I had that sense of shared evangelical heritage and identity.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The happy combination of old and new, both in building fabric and worship. I remember many who worshipped within the walls of this church from my student days in Leeds, so it made me a tad nostalgic, too.

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