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2672: Riverside Church, Southwell, England
Riverside Church, Southwell (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda.
The church: Riverside Church, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, England.
Denomination: Independent. They are a member of the Evangelical Alliance.
The building: The church meets in the Minster School in Southwell. The building is large and sprawling and in immaculate condition. They meet in the hall, a large space painted cream, quite plain but with a small sanctuary area on one side, and a raised platform and lectern, from which the preacher speaks.
The church: Riverside Church seems to have had a big impact locally and attracts a large congregation. They run many small groups, including children's groups for all ages, and support many missionary enterprises.
The neighbourhood: Southwell is a very attractive Nottinghamshire town, mainly known for Southwell Minster, the cathedral church of the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham.
The cast: The service was overseen by Steve Wendels, senior pastor. The worship was led by Andy King, the worship pastor, and the preacher was another pastor, Helen King.
The date & time: 23 March 2014, 10.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Morning Meeting.

How full was the building?
Pretty full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was with a friend who introduced me to the person on the welcome desk, one of the pastors. He greeted me and gave me a notice sheet and welcome pack. As we were early, we went to get a drink before the service, and in the hospitality area I was greeted by two other people who enquired if I was new and welcomed me.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were stacking chairs with padded seats – quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very, very chatty. There was also lots of loud socialising coming from some other groups that were also using space at the school that morning. The worship pastor seemed to have a little trouble getting everyone's attention, as he had to make two attempts before he was able to start the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let's stand together and pray and worship together."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No service books or Bibles; the song words and various points of the sermon were projected.

What musical instruments were played?
Full worship band: keyboards, electric guitars, drums, and what may have been a clarinet.

Did anything distract you?
As we started the service by singing worship songs, the chatter from other groups using the space continued to waft into the hall. Also, people came and went in and out of the hall during the service.

Riverside Church, Southwell (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was no liturgy. First, there was about half an hour of worship singing, followed by a five minute shot when people were invited forward for the laying on of hands. This was followed by a half hour sermon. During the worship singing, many people were very animated, with arms in the air and clapping, but others were more subdued.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
36 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Pastor Helen spoke clearly and peppered the sermon with many personal anecdotes. The aim of the sermon seemed to be to encourage the congregation to get more involved in that particular church by joining house groups, or helping in the church's ministry.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"The Church: God's Master Plan." The Church was God's idea, not humanity's. The Church is God's dwelling, God's design and our destiny.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The worship band was very, very good. Their standard of musicianship was exceptional.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was extremely warm in the building, which got a bit much for me. Also I personally found the intensity of some of the elements of the service a bit much.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one spoke to me, but as I was with a friend who was deep in conversation with someone she knew, this was understandable.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Drinks were available both before and after the service, and I had a coffee, which was unexciting and served in a polystyrene cup, which I dislike. However, I was cheered up by the vast selection of biscuits also on offer.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I appreciated the sincere and friendly welcome, the good worship music, and the upbeat and thought-provoking preaching. But from what I can gather, they have a very conservative slant on theology. Even as a fellow evangelical, this is not quite on my wavelength.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me feel somewhat more uncomfortable than glad.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
It was a beautiful sunny spring day as we drove to the service, which filled me with joy at God's creation.
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