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136: Mutley Baptist Church, Mutley, Plymouth
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Mutley Baptist, Plymouth
Mystery Worshipper: Dick Dastardly.
The church: Mutley Baptist Church, Mutley, Plymouth.
Denomination: Baptist.
The building: "Victorian box-like monstrosity" would sum it up. Tall grey stone box with twin towers at the West End. Tatty on outside – they obviously have other priorities for the church's money.
The neighbourhood: Inner-city Plymouth – KFC and a Pizza Place on the busy road full of shops that passes the towering entrance. There's a (free on Sundays) public car park behind the church where a church volunteer in Day-Glo jacket stands, as if directing traffic.
The cast: The senior minister is Ian Coffey, who was today's preacher. Two lay people ran the service: it was opened by Mr Mike Law, but led by Mrs Pam Williams.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Service, 11.00am.

How full was the building?
About two-thirds full on the ground floor, and a scattering of people in the balcony (including all the teenagers). It was mentioned in the service that many church members were away and there were a lot of visitors.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
They did – a firm handshake and spoken greeting on entry through the main door. Paperwork handed out when moving from lobby to the church itself.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was Victorian pitch pine with a comfortable runner and a tall back. Probably therapeutic for bad backs, to boot.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Low buzz of conversation between groups of two or three people. Almost everyone seemed to be chatting quietly. A friendly atmosphere, with chorus tunes played live on a large Roland keyboard placed prominently on the platform below the 10 foot high pulpit.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. If you have lost a gold chain in the car park, I have it."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service sheet and NIV Bible.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ/synth only. A turbo-charged drum set and tall bongo drums on the platform promised much, but stayed silent during the service.

Did anything distract you?
The balcony is held up by pillars (very narrow as these things go) but I happened to have one in line with the pulpit. Ian Coffey moved back, sideways and forwards within the confines of his pulpit. This was only a couple of feet each way, but enough that I had to keep moving along the pew to see him. (I hope the young lady next to me didn't think I was being funny as I alternately lurched towards her and then swayed away again. It was her first time in church since childhood.)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A song sandwich. The best song was a very worshipful 1996 Stuart Townend version of "The Lord's My Shepherd," which wasn't sung as a solo, but might have been better that way. I felt that Pam Williams led the worship in general and the "quiet reflection and prayers for our world" very well.

Mutley Baptist, Plymouth

Exactly how long was the sermon?
43 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7. Ian Coffey is a softly-spoken Basildon minister and also a bit of an arm waver. Sometimes this was helpful, when he was illustrating how Israel was north of Judah. His sermon was a little too much of a history lesson, but he acknowledged this.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was the first in a series on the prophet Amos, who told the Israelites off for being rich, religious and rotten. There are a lot of bad people in the world, and we're bad, too – but Jesus died for us, so don't panic.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The obvious care for individuals in the congregation and the wide ethnic mix.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being ordered at the very start of the service to share a deep secret with a stranger (even though the secret turned out to be what we most like to eat).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. The other two newcomers next to me were picked up and shepherded to coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Hot, ordinary, in a polystyrene cup.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6. Against: I would find the worship too thin, lacking congregational participation, creed or confession. For: I'm confident that I'd soon feel very loved and part of the church family.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not so much glad, as right.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Here is a church which lives out the fact that in Christ human barriers are broken down. The congregation was a loving mix of young and old of all races and styles of dress.

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