|944: Horfield Baptist, Horfield, Bristol, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Leo.
The church: Horfield Baptist, Gloucester Road, Horfield, Bristol, England.
The building: The building is an imposing, tall edifice overlooking the all-day-long rush hour traffic passing slowly by. It cost £2,500 to build in 1901, and has room for 500 persons, plus a baptistry and organ.
The church: The church opened to lively debate between those favouring a "strict and particular" cause and others convinced that an open membership was better. Today, everyone is welcome to come along, whether they see themselves as a Christian, a Baptist, or not, and is encouraged to feel at home and find friendship, care and a place to discover and develop their faith. The church hosts various organisations for adults and children throughout the week, e.g. for toddlers, parents and those wishing to explore Christian basics. The community also supports Christian Aid, Refugee Action, Christians Against Torture, Amnesty International and BMS World Mission.
The neighbourhood: The Gloucester Road is a major artery of the city and part of its vibrant, 24 hour bustle. When the church was first built, it was near a gate and a stile into fields extending away to Muller's Orphan Houses in Ashley Down which was then a small hamlet consisting of a few houses.
The cast: The service was led by Rachel Haig (the minister) and the sermon was given by former minister Graham Sparkes. Supporting tributes in this memorial service were given by Stella Ellis (the daughter of the departed), Sidney Bevan (the younger brother), Reg Gwilliam (a former pupil) and Martin Robinson ( a fellow CND member).
What was the name of the service?
Memorial service for Rosalind Rusbridge, a former member of the church.
How full was the building?
About 90 people. I had expected more, but then realised that the woman whose life we were celebrating had, by the age of 89, outlived most of her contemporaries and that many of "her" young people were living out the ideas she had inspired many miles away in other continents.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received a warm welcome and a firm handshake, and was given an order of service. Another man held the door open and told me the best place for my companion to sit if she was to get the full benefit of the loop system.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, lots of kneeling room for an Anglican like me requiring it, and also a cushion to sit on, which was thick enough for someone unaccustomed to sitting for more than a 10 minute sermon.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Exciting and expectant. This was a reunion of people who had not met for several years. People were noting who hadn't changed, and who had aged terribly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, let me welcome you all to this memorial service..." delivered with a broad smile and followed by a reminder that we are "surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses".
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A special order of service booklet, though I did see some copies of Mission Praise lurking about.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
A dishevelled man came in, talking to himself, towards the end. He received the same warm smile of welcome as we had earlier. (Had I been leading the service, I would have been thinking, "Not him again. I wonder what he'll do this time?").
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A typical free church hymn sandwich, with thick, meaty fillings in the form of tributes to and memories of her lifelong Christian socialism.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
6 minutes, with a further 22 minutes of tributes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Our departed sister was "the conscience of this church". She would stand up at meetings and demand that we support a cause, sign a petition, etc., to show that the Christian faith must be lived outside the walls of the church. It's not bishops and clergy talking, it's everyone doing. Supporting tributes recalled her scary driving, "because there are more interesting things to concentrate on", illegible handwriting, terse telephone manner, fire-watching with sixth formers during the war with fish and chips and a copy of the New Statesman, her RE lessons about CND marches, and a school report which said, "She talks too much."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing "God is our strength and refuge", with its assurance that "Wars will cease across the world when He shatters the spear!" Ironically, we sang this to the Dambusters tune. Also, if I may be allowed a second coming, listening to an imposing bass soloist singing the Russian kontakion of the departed praying for the dead in a Protestant church!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Midway between purgatory and heaven was the tearful singing of the hymn, "In heavenly love abiding", as the tune cranked up to the line, "My hope I cannot measure..." This was my mother's favourite hymn, but as I was ignorant of the Baptist Hymn Book at the time of her funeral, a family friend suggested we sing, "O happy day". Twenty-five years later, two very special women got the right hymn!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A retired URC minister from Dorset clambered over the pews to greet me and talk about old times in the Christian Socialist Movement.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea and sandwiches, which only free church people know how to do abundantly.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 While my denomination is inward-looking and pulls itself apart over marginal issues, this church is outward looking. Were I able to overcome my visceral Anglo-catholic scruples and the tedious bus journey, I'd be in the front pew here every Sunday.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
You bet! As the minister (well, St Paul) said, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and they were all here, loving and departed, bidding us carry the torch they handed us.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
For a whole life, I shall remember she who was sacked from a teaching post in South Wales because her pacifism was a bad influence on the young.