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1139: St Ebbe's, Oxford, England
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St Ebbe's, Oxford, England
Mystery Worshipper: The Invergelator.
The church: St Ebbe's, Oxford, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A small stone Gothic parish church, in a crowded Oxford neighbourhood, opened in 1816 and expanded in the middle of the 19th century. The interior seating is comprised of movable chairs set around a platform. The chancel is used for overflow seating. The pulpit is a movable metal lectern more suited to a modern lecture hall than an old church like this one.
The church: St Ebbe's is known as one of Oxford's foremost evangelical churches, and it has a large and active student population drawn from Oxford's many colleges.
The neighbourhood: Quite pleasant and attractive, as is most of Oxford.
The cast: The service was led by one Aneirin Glyn, international student minister, and the preacher was the Rev. Vaughan Roberts, rector.
What was the name of the service?
"The 11.30", the service most commonly frequented by students.

How full was the building?
The building was nearly completely full, including the overflow seating in the chancel.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted by an usher who handed me an order paper and showed me to a seat behind the music ensemble. At the mid-service break I was welcomed warmly by a student seated in front of me, and we had a friendly little chat.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a quite comfortable, padded cathedral-style chair. It was quite close to the band, however.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Many people were filing in and talking amongst themselves. It was the last Sunday service of the academic year, so many students were preparing to leave for the summer and were exchanging animated good-byes with each other.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the Gospel of John, we find..." The leader went on to quote John 3:16.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the New International Version of the Bible in addition to the order paper.

What musical instruments were played?
The musical ensemble included a keyboardist, a drummer, and three flautists.

Did anything distract you?
Interestingly, directly in front of me, across the church on the opposite side of the dais sat a young man from my home church far from Oxford. However, he did not notice me, so my cover was not blown! To my right, a closed-captioned TV was positioned to allow those in the restricted-viewing area of the chancel to have a view of the speaker. I found myself looking over to see what it was showing occasionally.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was an eclectic evangelical mix of styles, from praise choruses like "Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing", to hymns such as "When this passing world is done" by M'Cheyne. We used a prayer-book confession and the Apostles' Creed. The atmosphere was informal, with many in short trousers and t-shirts, and the rector tie-less.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
38 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Rev. Roberts frequently (and well) used self-deprecating humour, which was very warmly received.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was from James 2:1-13, admonishing Christians against favouritism and partiality. Don't go the way of the world in showing partiality; rather, follow the way of the Word of God. Why? Because favouritism contradicts divine election, it disobeys God's law, and it invites God's judgment. God cares for the material plight of the poor, which the Make Poverty History campaign addresses in a most favourable way.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We also heard from a missionary named Roseanne Jones, who is on furlough from teaching the Bible in Japan. Her words were encouraging, and it was so exciting and uplifting to see the Gospel being extended to the ends of the earth – as heaven will one day be full of the worldwide Christian community.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being seated behind the musical ensemble was a bit unpleasant, as the accompaniment tended to overwhelm the singing, and modern musical instruments aren't always the most aesthetically pleasing things to see between oneself and the pulpit.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have time to do this, unfortunately, as I had to rush off to a lunch with a friend. Rev. Roberts was at the door, however, greeting newcomers and wishing well to the leavers.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I'm afraid I didn't stay for this either!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I loved the energy, preaching and evangelistic spirit of St Ebbe's!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely! Quibbles about style would not overcome the essence of the Gospel on display here.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Rev. Roberts' good jokes at his own expense!
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