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350: Heslington Church, Heslington, York, England
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Heslington Church, Heslington, York, England
Mystery Worshipper: Alguhas.
The church: Heslington Church, Heslington, York, England.
Denomination: Anglican and Methodist.
The building: Located on the opposite side of the road to the campus of York University, Heslington Church appears at first sight to epitomise what a parish church ought to look like: a church with a spire set back from the road across a field of green grass and landscaped nicely about with trees. However, a closer investigation reveals something very strange about the building. The north side of the church (invisible from the road) is missing and has been replaced by a modern addition. Once, inside the changes become more noticeable: the sanctuary is closed off and everyone sits in a semicircle facing an altar on the north side.
The church: As well as serving the student community, the church is a joint Anglican-Methodist project and services are led by representatives from both denominations.
The neighbourhood: Nearly every other building near the church is part of York University.
The cast: Nancy Eckersley (Anglican) and Graham Jones (Methodist).
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
About two thirds full. There were 80 people but still plenty of room for more.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The standard hello with a hymnbook.

Was your pew comfortable?
Average with not too many corrugations afterwards.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
All around me were whispered conversations about what the anthem was, as sheets of of music were passed around. It was only then that I realized that I must have sat in the pew usually reserved for the choir. Since they were dressed identically to the rest of the congregation, this made advance identification rather difficult.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to this service of Holy Communion."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
An Alternative Service Book (ASB) and a hymnbook.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Having to re-remember the words of the ASB Communion Service after six months of using the new Common Worship. That and a very attractive multi-coloured appliquéd banner depicting the Tree of Glory which hung behind the altar.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard, average, middle-of-the-road communion service with no particular highs or lows.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
4 minutes and 15 seconds. There were two sermons – one for the children and one for the adults – both of which were preached by the Methodist celebrant.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 and 5 (the children's sermon was more memorable than the adult one, which rambled on over several subjects without reaching a definite conclusion).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In the children's sermon the preacher used the visual aid of a very shiny cloth (which he had brought back from India) to illustrate how we should all witness what we have seen. The subject of the adult sermon was rather more difficult to pin down. He started off with Doubting Thomas, then we went to India and it ended up with some advice about lions.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I did like the Tree of Glory banner.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Finding myself in the middle of the choir who were obviously wondering what on earth I was doing there and were rather half-hearted in passing the peace.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. The Anglican vicar shook my hand on the way out, but that was it.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. Heslington Church doesn't seem to believe in coffee after church.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4. I didn't find it particularly welcoming and the lack of any refreshments or social contact afterwards didn't help.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not particularly.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Waking up screaming after a nightmare in which I find myself accidently sitting with the choir.
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