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307: The New Jerusalem Church, Bristol, England
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The New Jerusalem Church, Bristol, England
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: The New Jerusalem Church, Cranbrook Road, Bristol, England.
Denomination: The New Jerusalem Church (Swedenborgian).
The building: Small lancet Gothic church. The congregation was established nere in 1791 and the present building dates from 1899. Most "New Churches" are Victorian and very ornate. This one was built to the same design as one in Melbourne, Derbyshire. Inside, it has an altar and reredos.
The church: This is a very small church with a membership of six. Some of the teachings are a little unusual, but on the whole seems pretty much like any other nonconfomist church. Three of the ladies are nearly 90, while the other three were a little younger.
The neighbourhood: None of the congregation live nearby in this very affluent Bristol suburb.
The cast: Rev. John Sutton, president of the New Church Conference and minister of the Derby New Church, which apparently has more members.
What was the name of the service?
Evening worship.

How full was the building?
Four, including the organist and minister – and this is apparently the only service here on Sunday.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A very warm welcome from Rev. Sutton who had just driven down from Derby to take the services at the Bath and Bristol New Churches. Also from a lay preacher who spoke about replacing the chapel windows... but one sensed an air of desperation in this friendly but badly attended church.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was an ancient chair which looked as though it would collapse when I went to sit on it.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It looked quite hurried as every one turned up at the last moment and we actually started 10 minutes late. This was partly because the minister and lay preacher were welcomming me.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"To Jesus Christ be all power and dominion. He is the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end." Apparently this is said at the opening of all services.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New Church Prayer Book. The New Church is suprisingly liturgical and is quite akin to the Lutheran tradition. The hymnbook had a mixture of old and new hymns and even one or two choruses.

What musical instruments were played?
A small, two-manual pipe organ which had a handle sticking out for someone to pump air into it.

Did anything distract you?
Because the church was empty, the slightest noise made an echo. Also, because the church is set in a small garden, I kept wanting to look out of the frosted glass, but couldn't see anything.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was quite formal, prayer book style. The minister wore robes and had a stole and looked rather Anglican. The lack of people meant that when the minister stopped singing, everyone else stopped, and the hymn continued as an instrumental solo.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The minister adopted a friendly, down-to-earth style and seemed to tie in what he was saying with daily life.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about "letting our light shine as a candle". Rev. Sutton looked at the challenges posed by a unbelieving world to the Christian.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The friendly atmosphere, and the organ playing a piece by Mozart at the end.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lack of people. One couldn't help wondering what the church would have looked like with a few more people inside it! I also had the sense of impeneding closure. According to the Rev. Sutton, the New Church has only 30 churches and nine ministers left. There are large congregations in Manchester and Yorkshire, but most churches have less than 20 members, who are mostly elderly.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was greeted at the back of the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee, but the church is bravely trying to buy an urn as they do occasionally get visitors.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did, although a pretty worried one, given the numbers here.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The friendly and quiet atmosphere of this church bravely soldering on.
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