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1858: Rising Brook Baptist, Stafford, England
Rising Brook Baptist, Stafford, England
Mystery Worshipper: Harry Lewjah.
The church: Rising Brook Baptist, Stafford, England.
Denomination: Baptist Union of Great Britain.
The building: A large, modern building with main hall and several other meeting rooms. The words "Rising Brook Baptist Church" appear in large letters on the side. It looks like a church and is tastefully decorated. There was carpeting throughout. There were several stage areas separated from each other. It looked as though the stages could be pushed together to form a large stage for normal church use. The overall lighting was dim, as this was a candlelight service, but the stages were spot-lit and there were several displays of candles all around the room. These provided an ambient glow that added to the atmosphere of the service.
The church: They are involved in dozens of ministries and outreaches too numerous to mention here. The reader is respectfully referred to their website for details.
The neighbourhood: Stafford is a small market town and is the county town of Staffordshire. There are quite a few amenities in the town, including a leisure centre, bowling, restaurants, clubs and pubs, a cinema, and several technology (industrial) parks. There is also a campus of Staffordshire University. The Staffordshire County Showground is situated a couple of miles outside the town and is a venue for county shows, fairs, exhibitions, etc. Some might call Stafford boring, but it has enough to get by. Of course, it can't compete with the bright lights of Birmingham and Wolverhampton, each about 20 miles away.
The cast: The Revd Martin Young, senior minister and team leader.
The date & time: Sunday, 20 December 2009, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Christmas Carol Service.

How full was the building?
The building was full, about 300 to 350 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lovely lady on the door introduced herself and welcomed me with a handshake and a smile. I noticed she welcomed most people this way. Others whom she knew better she greeted with a kiss.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable padded seats.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A good buzz with people greeting each other. There seemed to be quite a few returning to the church who had been away, from the general conversations I could hear. People were gathering in the foyer with a mad rush for the seats when the doors were opened.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening. Can we all stand and we'll sing 'O Come All Ye Faithful'."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. All the words were projected onto a large screen that dominated.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, violin, electric guitar, bass guitar, trumpet, sax, and drums.

Did anything distract you?
The only thing that distracted me was halfway through the service a baby had a coughing fit. The mother did take the baby out after a few minutes. The auditorium was a little too warm, but it was full, so maybe that was a factor. Better too warm than too cold!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The carols were played in a classical, traditional style with the full band and a choir of about 30 people. The choir was not miked up so they were lost in the singing of the congregation. The band was very good and played confidently, especially the trumpet player. The drummer was quite sensitive as well. Drummers can dominate in some worship services. But unlike your traditional carol service, there was a lot of multi-media input. Too much, in fact. The filming had obviously been done in-house and was very good, but there was a lot of it and not enough human content to the service. There was a drama that tried to depict the three wise men getting into Israel through the passport control. I thought this was quite irreverent and not in keeping with the rest of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The preacher tried to put a lot into the short time he preached. He didn't use any notes and seemed to have rehearsed what he was going to say as if it was a performance.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The shepherds and kings were all on a journey. We are also on a journey, to encounter God, just like the disciples on the Emmaus road. And just like those disciples, our hearts could burn within us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was very heavenly, especially singing "Silent Night."

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The stampede to get in when the doors opened, the barrage of multi-media, the skit about the wise men. Also, the hall where refreshments were served afterwards was quite cold compared to the warm main hall.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A lot of people were renewing relationships in their own little groups. A couple of people did come over and talk to me for a few minutes and told me a little about the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fruity, warm mulled wine (non-alcoholic). It was quite pleasant. There were mince pies as well, but I didn't partake of those. Squash was available for the children.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – This service was too impersonal, but probably not a typical service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The singing did, but not the stampede at the start.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Silent Night."
 
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