|848: St Nicholas, Elmdon, Solihull, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Steam Ship Wesley.
The church: St Nicholas, Elmdon, Solihull, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: There was no information about the church available on site, but I later found out that the main building dates from the 17th century, although there has been a place of worship on the site since 1297. The main feature is that the south wall has been almost completely removed and a new church building incorporated. This is known as the Wilberforce extension and includes a worship area, vestibule and kitchen.
The neighbourhood: The church is in the middle of nowhere, in Elmdon Park, which is at the back of the Rover car factory and very near to Birmingham International Airport. Fortunately, the car park is very large.
The cast: The preacher and officiant was Paul Carter. An unnamed lady gave the introduction and notices, and led some of the prayers. She was robed and was possibly a lay reader.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship and Baptism.
How full was the building?
The worship area of the Wilberforce extension was full, with probably about 150 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, I was handed the books by a man who was talking animatedly to the person in front of me.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were chairs with padded seats, which were perfectly acceptable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty, but not out of control.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome. Lovely to see so many visitors in all their finery."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Complete Mission Praise, baptism service book, notice sheet. The page numbers of the Bible readings were given out, but no Bibles were provided.
What musical instruments were played?
A small organ, which was not really powerful enough to cope with the numbers. There was also an oboeist. I didn't realise he was there until I saw him at the end packing up his instrument.
Did anything distract you?
The sight of the original church, with all its stained glass, plaques, etc. I couldn't understand why we were not in there.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Laid back, middle of the road. They use the "new" words to the Lord's Prayer.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The sermon was good, and quite scholarly. However, for a congregation which contained a lot of small children and (I'm making an assumption based on observation here) adults unused to regular churchgoing, he could have made it more accessible.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
What difference does Jesus make for us today? And what difference will he make for today's baptismal children? This was based on the reading we'd had from John 20:19-31. We have the peace of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness through Jesus' death. He made great play of the fact that Jesus cannot forgive us, and the priest is not forgiving us during the service – only God can do that. He used cue cards only.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The fact that all the children were so well behaved.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
One of the hymns, words and music, was completely unknown to me and, seemingly, to everyone in the congregation except the (tiny) choir. I am an experienced church chorister and the tune was really difficult for me to pick up. Given the make-up of this congregation, I would have thought that really well-known tunes should have been chosen. Of course, this could have been the choice of one of the baptism families but, from the lack of singing, I don't think it was.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't hang about for long, but I was looking for information about the church on the bookstall and leaflet stand. No one came to help me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nobody directed us to refreshments, although they must have been there because I saw someone wandering around with a cup of tea.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 This was clearly not the standard Sunday morning eucharist, so I find this question difficult to answer. There seems to be a lot going on and, if there was no other choice, I would be more pro-active at getting myself noticed.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was such a family-oriented service and it really seemed like a rite of passage for the children.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That beautiful old church building we were not using. It did occur to me afterwards that it might not be safe, but it was certainly distracting in a nice way.