|130: Moortown Baptist, Leeds, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Gemaliel Newchurch.
The church: Moortown Baptist, Leeds, England.
Denomination: Baptist Union of Great Britain.
The building: A 1950s utilitarian Tardis. In addition to the meeting hall there is a maze of corridors, ante-rooms and small offices.
The neighbourhood: Adjacent to the ring-road, Moortown is made up of 1950s semis and 1960s housing estates. Things aren't as posh as they are t'other side of the ring-road, but it's a reasonably affluent area with small pockets of depravity. The church's windows are a regular target for vandals.
The cast: The Rev. Steve Ibbotson.
What was the name of the service?
Christmas Day Party. Actually, it was a traditional carol/worship service with party-poppers tagged on at the end.
How full was the building?
Packed to suffocation. This is a large and thriving church with about 400 people in four congregations under the "Sharing Life" umbrella.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
It was too full to have more than a handshake and a "merry Christmas" from the stewards.
Was your pew comfortable?
Comfy institutional chair, but way, way back at the rear where there was some air.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Buzzing. Lots of people milling about with Santa hats and kids. The PA guys had Handel's Messiah blaring on the sound system.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to our Christmas celebration." There followed a humourous faux-pas when the minister asked the PA fellas if they could "kill the Messiah". It'd still been playing during his introductory remarks.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
"Hymns for Today's Church", plus hymns, carols and a "Christmas Liturgy" on the overhead projector.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, for the most part. Also a guitar and maybe one or two other instruments I couldn't see, during the party bit at the end.
Did anything distract you?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Warm, sincere and with a nice balance of old and new. We sang an excellent modern carol I've not heard before, as well as some of the old favourites.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Only 8 minutes. This was a party, after all.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
People in the congregation had travelled far to be with relatives this Christmas (for example, from London and Katmandu). God had travelled even farther on the first Christmas to bridge the gap between him and mankind.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The palpable sense of joy and celebration. The hymns were well-chosen and well-sung.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The corny jokes during the party bit of the service. Some of the Christmas ties and jumpers worn by the dads in the congregation were pretty awful, too. These were displayed on cue, in what is obviously an annual Moortown ritual. While we're about it, I found the final celebratory rendition of Graham Kendrick's "Heaven invites you to a party" a bit naff. My three-year old was frightened of the party-poppers, I was more terrified of the jokes.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't hang around. We took a short-cut down one of the corridors and escaped into the fresh air. The minister spotted us and caught us with a hearty "merry Christmas".
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We didn't stay. We had relatives to attend to back home. I've had tea and coffee there before, though, and it's very good.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
The Mystery Worshipper is already spoken for elsewhere, but he'd certainly consider it. I would score it at 8. It is a well-established, thriving Baptist church with a balanced approach to issues currently of concern to evangelicals. It may try just that little bit too hard to please everybody, though. Their pre-Christmas service attempts to represent every single worship tradition known to man. But their Chapel Allerton church plant lays on one of the best open-air carol services I've ever experienced.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Certainly. The central point about the incarnation came through loud and clear.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The message of the hymns and sermon, I hope, rather than the awful ties, jumpers and jokes.