|845: Jesmond Parish Church, Jesmond, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Føx.
The church: Jesmond Parish Church, Jesmond, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: It was designed by celebrated Newcastle architect, John Dobson. To non-architects like me, it looks like a big traditional church with a big tower.
The church: This is probably the number one student church in Newcastle. The main minister, Rev. David Holloway, is a member of the ultra-conservative Christian Institute, which leads to the church getting press coverage every now and then.
The neighbourhood: Kindly referred to by some as "The Splendid Suburb", Jesmond is the posh part of Newcastle, and it's a world away from the majority of the city. Expect to mingle with wealthy families, young professionals, and university students from rich families. Underneath the church is a metro line and immediately to the south is a motorway.
The cast: Rev. Jonathan Redfearn led the service. Rev. David Holloway preached.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
At a rough count, around 300. I was told that if the students were around it would have been almost double (this was during Easter vacation).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A couple of girls handing out the service sheets at the door gave me a pleasant smile. I instantly got the impression that this wasn't the sort of place you would expect to receive a hearty "Hello, it's wonderful to have you here!" or a big bear hug.
Was your pew comfortable?
No – it was wooden. Plenty of leg room, I'll give them that, but I found it difficult to stand up as my jumper was sticking to the back of the pew. After 40 minutes, my back was hurting, and it was still hurting a day later!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A pleasant English hubbub.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
I missed the first few words, as the sound system wasn't loud enough.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
New International Version Bibles were placed in the pews and we followed a service sheet for the prayers and songs.
What musical instruments were played?
Some hymns were accompanied by a very grand sounding organ. Others were led by a decent band with keyboards, bongos, drums, bass guitar and saxophone.
Did anything distract you?
The shaky camera work. TV screens were strategically placed around the church so those behind columns could view what was happening on the stage area. I also couldn't cope with all the stand-up-sit-down every few minutes, especially as I had to struggle prising my jumper off the pew.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
We had two things going on with the worship. The organ-backed hymns were traditional and sung in a very British manner. The others included songs by Graham Kendrick and Paul Oakley – these were a bit better and the sound system carried off the band almost in an Andrew Lloyd-Webber sort of way. But because the words were on service sheets, everybody was looking down when singing (not good for singing decently, let alone passionately) and their hands were occupied. Maybe this let everyone off the hook from raising their hands in worship. Overall, it was rather suffocating for me.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 I expected something much better from David Holloway. He is an outspoken member of the Christian Institute, which has led to the church being vandalised and branded as bigotted by certain minority groups. Whether you agree with his conservative stand on ethical and social subjects or not, the very fact he is so well-known for them led me to believe he would be quite the orator. Not so. I attempted making notes, but it was really quite bland.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
I still can't figure out exactly what the point of it was.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Seeing lots of people come together as church on a Sunday evening. That is always amazing!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the end of the service they said the blessing. All went quiet. The floor started to rumble. It wasn't a metro passing underneath, but the organ had cranked up a big bass note. I surreptitiously glanced around at everyone else, but no one moved. Heads remained bowed. Then the three clergymen in their robes swooshed down from the stage and marched down the aisle to the back. All of a sudden, everyone came back to life and I learned from the friend who had come with me that the service had now finished. It was truly disturbing.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I perused the book stand, the welcome stand (which I had to hunt down as it was very poorly signposted) and the literature stand. They had a good-looking stand on giving – the leaflet said they need £810,000 a year to maintain their activities. I wondered why they don't take up the tithes and offerings during the service. There's just a box at the door to put money in.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don't drink coffee or tea, so when my turn came in the queue and I asked for a hot chocolate, I received some retort that I didn't quite understand. It was all meant in jest, I think. So I drank watery juice in a branded Jesmond Parish Church mug and ate a reasonably nice rock bun.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 It was bearable for one sitting, but I'd be suffocated if I had to go every week. I can appreciate why others would go, but it really, really wasn't for me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Err... in a weird way, yes, in the sense that wherever I go I'm glad to be a Christian. But if this was my home church, I wouldn't be proud to bring people. It just seems to echo people's current perceptions of church. To me, it isn't culturally relevant or exciting.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The floor rumbling at the end of the service.