|156: St Barnabas, Swanmore, Hampshire, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Peace.
The church: St Barnabas, Swanmore, Hampshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A 150 year-old parish church, built of the local flint stone, variously added to and taken away by the Victorians. This was a village exhibition weekend, and a model of the church and its various changes was on display at the back of the church.
The neighbourhood: A village of around 2,500 souls. This is a picturesque and expensive part of Hampshire. Most members of the congregation are professional or managerial types, with a sprinkling of retired naval officers. The village is easy commuting from Portsmouth Naval Base.
The cast: Minister Rev. Peter Kelly, who took a small part in the service, as this was led today by the youth group.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Less than half full. The schools were on holiday, so some of the congregation may have gone away (though someone suggested that some may have stayed away because the young people were leading).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Everyone was welcomed with a "good morning" by the two or three ladies who were handing out hymn books. One of the teenagers introduced the Peace and asked everyone to find someone they didn't know to introduce themselves to. Everyone seemed very happy to wander round the church shaking hands. A quite friendly bunch.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pews, quite comfortable as pews go.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
This was family time, so there were many young families and teenagers from the youth group. Everyone seemed to have someone to talk to.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to our service this morning."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New, an order of service and a church newsletter were given out. The first two were unnecessary as the words to the worship songs were all projected at the front. (Pity about the light that obscured the screen for some of the congregation.)
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, flute, and clarinet. Tambourines and rhythm sticks were issued to those members of the congregation willing to take them.
Did anything distract you?
The small children were... small children. It was only distracting during the talk, but the speaker seemed keen for people to interact, so it didn't matter.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This is a traditional Anglican church. This service is meant to be informal for families, and the youth group which organised it this month seemed to have stretched that as far as they could. The worship was lively and the congregation was encouraged to clap, bang their tambourines, etc., but some of the music was unfamiliar. There seemed to be a front-back divide, with the front of the church really active, while the more conservative members of the congregation were located nearer the back and resolutely stuck to singing from their hymnbooks.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
The youth leader told us that he had been instructed to keep his talk short, which he did. The reaction of some of the congregation suggested that he is known for giving long talks.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6. The constraints of time may have cramped his style, but he made his point.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Listening for God speaking to us. It was Education Sunday, and the young people had prepared a service built around Jesus teaching in the temple, and the Pharisees not listening to the wisdom of the teaching.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The worship was lively, the message thought-provoking.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There weren't any really bad bits. The gremlins had got into the sound system, so some microphones didn't seem to work properly. The younger children who did a dramatic reading were difficult to hear because of this.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I know some people in this church, so I was not left alone. The church members try to be friendly. The topic of conversation was mostly the service. The youth group doesn't do this very often, and so this service had been quite radical for some, but an embarrassment for others. The other topic of conversation was the village millennium exhibition which was staged at the back of the church and in the church hall. This is a busy village with lots going on, and the villagers are proud of it.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, proper cups or mugs, hot and with biscuits.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4. I was really pleased with this service, but this was not a normal service. Previous visits to traditional services have been much more of an endurance test.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I was pleased to identify myself with those people who had come with the intention of having a joyful time. The young people who led had obviously put a lot of work into sharing what they wanted to be a powerful message.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The speaker's demonstration that none of us were really listening. This was a visual thing, so difficult to describe, but it was effective.