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592: St Matthew's, Tipton, England
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St Matthew's, Tipton
Mystery Worshipper: Hermione.
The church: St Matthew's, Tipton, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: There was a brick, apsidal east end, with altar for eastward celebration (which had a cross, two lots of flowers and two unlit candles on it). The chancel did not have any stalls in it, and there appeared to be a nave altar pushed off to one side. The nave had two side aisles which were simply aisles.
The church: It appears to be in interregnum at the moment; certainly the wardens and pastoral care team seemed to be in charge. The one thing I did notice, was the fact that they were having anointing with oil at their parish communion that evening, which struck me as unusual for what appeared to be an evangelical church.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated in an ex-industrial area, deep in the black country.
The cast: Mick Atkins – one of the team leaders of the pastoral care team; might have been a reader but not vested as such, although he did say he was less dressed up than usual.
What was the name of the service?
Morning prayer. From the deanery site we had been led to believe it would be parish communion, but that was happening in the evening (perhaps due to the interregnum) and was being led by the Rev. Charles Raven (and we wondered whether the Bishop of Lichfield was aware of this). Personally I'd have called the service morning worship rather than morning prayer as, to me, this implies a more liturgical service than it actually was.

How full was the building?
30-40 people in a building which could hold many more. I did wonder whether some of the usual congregation were going to come tonight instead for the parish communion and anointing.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, there were hellos from people in cars as we went from the car park to the church and the man who gave me my bulletin even gave me a kiss.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not too bad for a pew. There were some cushions around, so we sat on them on the pew which probably made them a lot more comfortable than usual!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet but not hugely reverential. We were chatting amongst ourselves and there were various other conversations going on and a sound check at one point.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good Morning. (The congregation responded "Good morning".) Can you hear me?"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were given a weekly bulletin on entering. Scattered about, there were copies of Common Worship Order 1 (for the communion service, but I'd seen by then from the bulletin that it wasn't, so I guessed this service wasn't going to be very liturgical); Mission Praise (the white combined edition); and Good News Bibles.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ for the first hymn ("To God be the glory") and then a keyboard accompanied the music group. They were welcomed to the front to sing to us, but they did in fact lead us in worship. This consisted of various choruses, some of which I knew, and some I didn't. These included a Graham Kendrick ("Send your power, O Lord") with a bizarre rhythm with which I had lots of problems. My dad's comment afterwards was 'Why do choruses have to go on, and why can't Graham Kendrick write a cadence?"

Did anything distract you?
I was amused by the reader saying "We pray for those who are sick of this church," and then correcting himself; not sure if this was deliberate. I was also distracted by my habit of counting the number of "just's" and "Lord's" in evangelicals' prayers. In the main set of prayers, I counted 30 "Lords" of which five to ten were in good places in the sentence and a vocative was suitable there. There were also three "justs" in there (although my dad counted 10 in the service as a whole) and four "We do pray's". There came a point when I'd run out of fingers!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The calm end of happy-clappy. One of the worship group (who were sat a couple of rows in front of us) raised her hands during the first hymn, and there was clapping in "We want to see Jesus", but no actions, to my dad's relief.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
35 mins I think; I was a bit late starting timing. There was also a 4 or 5 minute mini sermon on the value of prayer before the prayers.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – "How good at what?" was my dad's comment when I asked for a view of that. Telling stories? 10; knowing when to stop? 0; Linking to the reading? 3.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The reading had been from 1 Corinthians, the bit about the foolishness of God, and the wisdom of the wise, which was neither the lectionary reading nor the one stated on the bulletin. The preacher had disappeared into the vestry during the worship time and came out with a workbench, tool belt and mobile phone, chatting to God on the phone. He then used the idea of God's tool box to tell Old Testament stories (Noah (saw, mallet drill), Moses (his staff), David (pebbles and sling), Samson (the jawbone of an ass), Elijah (flour and oil), and mustard seeds. He ended each section with a comment on the apparent foolishness of these, but that was the only link to the reading, which as it had come after the first hymn and before the prayers and worship session was some time before. The story telling was very good, but our feeling was one story was enough, possibly two but six was excessive. But it was good hearing a sermon preached naturally in the local dialect; no unnatural accents here!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Nothing really moved me, no fantastic hymns. "To God be the Glory" is ok, but nothing special and I was disappointed anyway by its not being communion. This was particularly annoying as it was the second week running I've turned up to a service expecting communion, and then finding it isn't.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not hugely hellish, but the end was a bit of an anti-climax. He finished the sermon with a prayer and the grace and "'Good morning and God bless" before being reminded of the offering, which was done non-conformistly without a hymn and then we left. I'm a liturgical animal and found the whole service a bit lacking. No creed or prayers of penitence. Arguably, as the evening service was the principal service, they didn't have to have them, but it shouldn't be about having the minimum with which you can get away. And the opening psalm was lost, as he read to the Bible and not to the congregation.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't hang around long. None of it had really impressed us and as there wasn't coffee we didn't see the point. We did, however, get the impression that it was a friendly place, and we were told that it was nice to see new faces. My mum's comment as we left was it served us right for avoiding Forward in Faith churches, as when we'd been looking at the Lichfield site to find somewhere to go, we ruled various places out because the were FinF, but at least we'd have got solid liturgy and communion there!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, as they were having it after the evening service that day (indication that they regarded it as the principal service) which would have been a long time to hang around, and we couldn't have gone to the evening service anyway, given it was Charles Raven (of Kidderminster we presume) presiding.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – They were very friendly but it's not my type of church. Someone who likes choruses and not much liturgy would probably enjoy it a lot more.

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?
The apsidal east end.
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