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187: St Ebbe's, Oxford, England
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St Ebbe's, Oxford
Mystery Worshipper: SpaceMan.
The church: St Ebbe's, Oxford, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Not tremendously appealing outside but very attractive interior – new paint, flash sanctuary with Bible verses and the Ten Commandments. Quite an old building with a very modern interior.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated in between Sainsbury's and a gay pub.
The cast: The service was led by Tony Jones, student curate, and the preacher was Vaughan Roberts, Rector.
What was the name of the service?
The 11:30 am service. Basically Morning Worship without families or communion but with a very high student content.

How full was the building?
Very full indeed out of a capacity of 400ish.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A smile and "good morning" from the people on the door giving out the service sheets. However, nobody came to talk to me personally.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not a pew, but a cushioned chair, which was very comfortable for my bottom. However, my legs were not so pleased because the church is so full they have to pack the rows in tight. This meant there was only a minuscule gap between my chair and the one in front.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of anticipation and gossipy chat. The church filled up quite a bit before the service began, and the atmosphere made me feel at home. There were very few children's noises, however, as the family service with Sunday School was at 9:30. The music group played "I Will Worship" very well, although unfortunately we did not sing it during the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome, especially if you are here for the first time."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only a service sheet for the prayers, creed, etc. Bibles (NIV) were supplied in the front of the chairs and words for all the songs were on the sheets.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, guitar, flute, violin.

Did anything distract you?
There was a lay assistant with an extremely big nose but fortunately I managed to overcome my amusement!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Excellent quality music and very vigorous singing indeed. This is a church which believes in volume! However, extremely reserved with arms tied firmly at waist level. I felt uncomfortable putting my hands in the air but I did anyway. There were a few others waving madly like me but considering that the songs were so lively and the congregation so studenty I was surprised it was so reserved/conservative.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
28 minutes. Felt a lot longer.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8. Excellent evangelistic content, but could have been said in half the time. However, the preacher was amusing and very clear indeed. Anyone, even a totally unchurched person, could have gotten the message.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
John 3:16 – you know the score. It was at the beginning of term, so new people were expected, therefore the preacher hit them with the gospel big time.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A solo sung after the sermon to help us consider its implications. The singer was gorgeous and brilliant.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The student lunch afterwards – the food was okay but the people seemed aggressive and unfriendly. If I hadn't come with friends I think I would have not dared to get lunch.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Couldn't really do this as we wanted lunch! However, after lunch the curate (who had been leading) came and chatted for a bit and tried to get me to come along to various mid-week groups – one called Tavern, for those interested in the Christian faith; and one called Focus for committed Christians to grow with.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't spot any refreshments for non-students, but there were hardly any non-students there, the family service being at 9:30. The food at the lunch was quite nice, however, but in woefully small quanitity!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8. If I was looking for a new church it would be worth going for the preaching alone.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The volume of "And Can It Be?" (the last hymn of the service).
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