|821: Trinity United Reformed, Lancaster, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Latecomer.
The church: Trinity United Reformed, Lancaster, England.
Denomination: United Reformed Church.
The building: A dark stone building in a very traditional 18th century non-conformist style, with a well-kept interior. The congregation fortunately seem not to have had enough money to rip out the pews in the 1970s. The paintwork and the stained glass are clean and bright.
The church: There was nobody in the congregation under 50 apart from myself, my partner, and the minister, who was probably the youngest person there. She looked about 16 but was probably in her late 20s or early 30s. The church building rents space to several community organisations.
The neighbourhood: The church is in a city centre location, but with residential streets and two very popular schools adjoining. Lots of families and students live close by.
The cast: The minister, who also led the prayers and preached, was the Rev. Anne Claar Thomasson-Kosingh.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About a third full – not embarassingly empty, but with room to sit down.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not at the start, as we were a little late, but we were given a hymn book, Bible and service sheet. We were spoken to at the end of the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – although the ladies in front of us commented immediately after the end of the service that they were concerned it wouldn't be comfortable, as it had an extra high back. It also had a cushion.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As we were a little late, we didn't experience it, but the service sheet asked for "a few moments of silent reflection to prepare for worship to begin".
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The pew Bible was the Revised English Version, and the hymn book was Rejoice and Sing, the United Reformed Church hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Just a very nice organ.
Did anything distract you?
The clock was ticking loudly in the quiet bits, and the Dutch minister's intonation occasionally made me think she'd stopped talking in the middle of a sentence.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was old-fashioned and respectful, with good rousing hymns, including some cheesy links to the story of Jonah, the theme of the service (e.g. "Will your anchor hold?")
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 She tended to laugh at her own jokes before she had told them!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jonah, and how funny his story is. She drew parallels between this story and the gospel: for example, sleeping and being woken by God, death for three days and the resurrection. Finally, she mentioned our calling as individuals and said that God can bring about good things even if we ignore his call.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The building, the stained glass and the organ.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
An excruciating moment when the minister gave a "family talk", despite the fact that there were no children in the church and she was the youngest person in the building.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
About five people talked to us in a very friendly and welcoming way, and told us a little about the church. One helpful person told us that the evening service, in another part of town, has about 15 children and several other non-elderly people, but a similar style of worship.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It appeared to be fairly traded, and was in a proper cup and saucer, but it was brewed with about 90 per cent milk, which I found absolutely disgusting! We didn't notice any biscuits or other food.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – In combination with the evening service it could work.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
On balance, the service did – but the composition of the congregation was pretty offputting.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The lovely building.