|411: Manvers Street Baptist, Bath, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Voyeur.
The church: Manvers Street Baptist, Bath, England.
The building: A facade at the grander end of nonconformist Gothic faces the street, concealing a rambling complex of rooms and halls. Once inside, the attractive but unusually purple sanctuary could be seen through a glass door and was filled with scaffolding and undergoing renovation and redecoration.
The church: Manvers Street is a city centre church which runs the Open House café and drop-in centre. The complex is home to several other welfare organizations.
The neighbourhood: The church is sandwiched between two stations: rail and police. Thankfully the noticeboard is informative and resists the lure of corny posters with slogans about stations of the cross or similar attempts to play on words.
The cast: Rev. Sarah Kinch (usually part of a team with Rev. John Rackley, who was away); we were also welcomed by Alison Bull.
What was the name of the service?
10.30am, the Lord's Supper.
How full was the building?
The church hall was practically full, about 100 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
My hand was shaken by three separate welcomers stationed at key points on the tortuous route from the entrance to the hall, which may or may not have been more or less under the scaffolding-filled sanctuary. Once seated, a neighbour leaned over and said hello, asking where I was from and informing me that he had recently cancelled a visit to my home town.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a surprisingly comfortable but very bright orange stacking chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A faint sound of singing could be heard issuing from a distant corner of the complex, otherwise there was the expectant buzz of a community gathering together as the hall filled. There was plenty of grey hair in evidence but a wide mix of ages and several ethnic groups were represented, dressed in styles ranging from the trendy to the formal.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to worship at Manvers Street Baptist this morning", followed by "Hello Ali" from a lone voice in the second row.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Good News Bible, Baptist Praise and Worship and a printed notice/service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
A piano led the worship and provided rather jarring background music during a meditative part of the communion service.
Did anything distract you?
The hall had been decorated by some unusual and brightly coloured tapestry banners. I soon worked out that these represented the four seasons but was intrigued by the enormously detailed natural motifs and Christian iconography on each one. A random buzz of the sort produced mid-service by temperamental PA systems was a less pleasant distraction.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was eclectic non-conformist worship. Songs were drawn from a variety of sources from a traditional hymn through an Iona song to a spiritual. Being a Baptist communion service there was little formal liturgy, but Rev. Sarah led us through the words of institution and a deacon eloquently prayed intercessions after we had taken bread and wine.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There were two short sermons of 10 and 12 minutes respectively.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Rev. Sarah spoke in a particularly clear voice and did not need to refer to her notes. It was difficult not to hang on every word, despite the best efforts of the tapestries behind her.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The story of Noah reminds us of God's covenant commitment to his people. We need to work out what it means to be his people and express this relationship in the place to which he has called us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The communion itself was a beautifully simple and clear reminder of God's costly commitment, constant in all times and spaces.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The were two painful moments, the first when I dropped my discreet pre-sermon mint, which hit the ground audibly and proceeded to roll under my seat. The second was my failure to pass on the tissue used to wipe the 18th century communion cup as it was passed from person to person; I had been too interested in attempting to read the verse and inscription engraved on the chalice.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My neighbour invited me to coffee immediately.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was fairly traded, hot and served in china cups. I didn't notice any biscuits.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 Manvers Street would be high on my list if I were moving to Bath. It seemed to be a diverse mix of people and to avoid being superficial or over-comfortable in its worship or its commitment to the community. It would be good to visit again once the church is reinstalled in the calmer colours of its redecorated sanctuary.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I wandered out into the sunlight feeling warmed by the service and the people.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Rev. Sarah's clear tones carrying over the mix of colours in the chairs, congregation and tapestries as she spoke of the rainbow after the flood.