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413: Church of the Good Shepherd, Bishopston, Bristol, England
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Church of the Good Shepherd, Bishopston, Bristol
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: Church of the Good Shepherd, Bishopston, Bristol, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: This is a 1950s modern interpretation of Gothic and is on a very prominent site overlooking the Victorian suburbs of Redland and Bishopston. It is built in a yellowy Bath stone and has a very steeply pitched roof with low walls. The interior has a nightmarish Gothic chancel arch but is light and airy. The fittings are all Victorian Gothic including choir stalls and organ case – these came from an earlier 1920s building.
The church: The parish is united with St Bartholomew's and St Michael's church parishes to form the Bishopston parish. It is a friendly, very much local church, as opposed to trendy gathered congregations which seem to draw people away from their communities. It is basically traditional in its worship.
The neighbourhood: This parish seems to be an area of closed church buildings which sometimes gives people the impression that the church has upped and left. It is largely a middle-class parish but on the Gloucester Road you will see beggars. The road has an interesting mixture of charity shops, antiques and "hippy" shops.
The cast: Rev. Peter Bailey took the service and Mr Tim Overton preached.
What was the name of the service?
Evensong at 6.30pm.

How full was the building?
Practically empty. There were four in the congregation and a choir of about 10 people. It seemed really a sad pointer to the demise of the Church of England and one wonders what the future holds for these local congregations.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes – the churchwarden who I had to ask for directions to the loo. Unfortunately the church building does not have one so you have to travel up through the chancel to get to the halls at the back – which is very hard to do discreetly! I also chatted to the organist.

Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was a windy autumn night and everyone was awaiting news of the strikes on Afghanistan. The organ music was lovely and the choir processed in.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to this evening's service..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Evening Prayer and Hymns Ancient and Modern.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ. This recently has been very tastefully extended from almost a chamber organ. The new section replicates the old Gothic case and the decorated pipe work.

Did anything distract you?
The rather scary chancel arch which looked as though it had been taken from Dracula's castle. Also the lack of an east window ruined the Gothic effect of the church. The choir was brilliant but at one point during the psalms they struggled with the pointing.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I usually prefer a "hymn sandwich" type of service, but the words of evening prayer combine a beauty of language with a very down-to-earth approach. For example, "defend us from all perils of this night," and, "we have erred and strayed from our ways like lost sheep" seem to say infinitely more than some extemporary prayer I have heard. It also lets the individual worshipper speak.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Although a little lengthy, Tom Overton's style combined a mixture of biblical teaching, illustrations from his own experience, and comments on world affairs.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon seemed to lead on from the singing of "Lead Kindly Light", and he approached the Christian dilemma with conflict and how parts of that hymn related to it. President Bush had just announced the strikes on Afghanistan and Tim mentioned that while America had to strike Afghanistan it was good to be dropping food and other provisions. He then went on to say that such conflict is not new and has happened throughout history, which I thought was good as often preachers cash in on texts from Revelation to show we are in the end times.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in a well-lit modern church on a stormy October night and on the eve of serious world events. The words, "Lead Kindly Light," seemed to reverberate around the building.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not being used to evening prayer I was lost in the prayer book a few times. Also the lack of people seemed to show how sidelined the Church of England has become.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had a quick word with the minister, but everyone seemed anxious to get home and learn about what was going on.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None, unfortunately.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I am not really a traditionalist in terms of liturgy but I gather the morning service is more of a "hymn sandwich" type, so I would feel at home here.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The beauty of the hymn, "Lead Kindly Light".
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