|646: Shrewsbury United Reformed, Shrewsbury, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Benny Diction.
The church: Shrewsbury United Reformed, Shrewsbury, UK.
The building: This was a large non-conformist church. It is a very traditional building with many old fashioned pews, and dominated by a large pipe organ. There were side and rear galleries, with what appeared to be several attached rooms or halls. Some of the windows were of stained glass with biblical scenes. Dotted around the walls were some banners. There were also a number of memorial plaques to the great and the good of past years.
The church: From the large numbers of children and youth at the service we attended, the church seems to be very active in youth work. Also during the summer holidays the church had run a very successful holiday club.
The neighbourhood: The church stands on one of the banks of the River Severn and has been known to flood. We were told on a recent occasion fish were found in the cellar! The church could be described as being on an island as it is in the middle of a one way system.
The cast: Ms Viv Randells (who is training as a URC minister).
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Just over half full. The downstairs appeared to be full but as far as we could tell there was no one in the galleries upstairs. Probably around 150 people were present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, we were welcomed by several people who were keen to thrust hymn books, newsletters and notices into our paws. Several people smiled at us as we waited for service to begin.
Was your pew comfortable?
As late 19th century wooden pews go, this one was fairly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy! But in a pleasant way people exchanging news and generally chatting. There was a very friendly atmosphere. About 10 minutes before the service started a worship group started to play some of works by St Graham of Kendrick. Unfortunately because of all the chitchat no one really noticed the worship group until they started their second song. The worship group seemed to be hampered by a lack of an audio system, which didn't help things.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to Shrewsbury URC."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Rejoice & Sing, and Sing Aloud, a collection of the blessed Graham's works put together by the church.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
In a pew in front of us was a family of younger children. One child (about two years old) kept climbing up and peering at all and sundry in a disconcerting way. Said child at one point made a bolt for freedom by trying to vault into the adjacent pew only to have mum catch him by the ankles.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was a good mixture of traditional non-conformist and some happy clappy elements, which worked well. There were some good extempore prayers from the preacher. The gospel reading was dramatised, and during the offertory small colourful buckets (as found on the beach) were passed round in addition to the collection plates. Members of the congregation were encouraged to put additional gifts in the buckets for youth work.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 As part of the dramatized Bible reading the altar and a large chair had been placed slightly off centre. The preacher perched on the arm of the chair for her sermon. It sounds naff, but in fact this very relaxed style was extremely effective. She preached without notes and the sermon was peppered with many topical and sometimes amusing illustrations.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on Romans 14. The theme of the sermon was: we can sometimes end up putting tradition in the way of worshipping God and in the way of what God wants. There is a danger that at times within the Church we say that "you are only a Christian if you are like me". But God loves us all. We are all equal in his eyes. We need to beware that what we like and what we are comfortable with can become what we think is acceptable to God. We have no right to judge one another. We all belong to God and we must accept people on their terms for what they are.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon. I don't often think of heaven as a place of sermons but this sermon was certainly heavenly.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pianissimo worship group.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A number of people talked to us. We had a long and interesting chat with the preacher as well.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Rather surprisingly given how family-oriented the church seemed to be, there wasn't any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 The church seemed to get the balance right. It was welcoming for families but this was not all-age worship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?