Mystery Worshipper: St. Hilda
Church: Malton Baptist
Location: Malton, North Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 January 2008, 10:15am
A cream painted box-like brick building, flush to the pavement and sandwiched in between two conventional-looking church structures, one of which serves as a social hall. The interior is beautifully maintained, and as far as I can gather unchanged structurally.
The church appears to have a small membership, but does have some impact in the life of Malton. They run a once a month lunch that raises money for charity and they allow outside groups to use their hall.
Malton is a small North Yorkshire town that still retains a genuine market town atmosphere. Attractions include an ancient Roman fort, a Gilbertine priory (the Gilbertines, who died out during Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries, were the only true English order), and many old stone houses. The completion of a trunk road bypass in 1979 had, paradoxically, a salutary effect – no longer bogged down with motorcars, the market area became accessible once again. The town is full of shops catering to farmers or equestrian interests. I love it.
The service was led by the pastors, the Revds John and Jenny Boxwell.
What was the name of the service?Family Worship.
How full was the building?
The name of the service proved deceptive, as there were no children or young people there. I reckoned there were about 15-20 adults present. Even though it is not a particularly large building, there was plenty of space for more.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the door greeted me with "Welcome! Are you a visitor?" He enquired where I was from and handed me a Bible and hymn book. As I walked inside he said, "Sit anywhere, and make yourself at home." What a wonderful introduction to my experience of this church!
Was your pew comfortable?
About average. There were pew cushions that matched the fetching green and cream colour scheme, and the pews were quite bearable for an hour.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service atmosphere was incredibly quiet. No chatter whatsoever. I felt immediately taken into worship. The pew sheet encouraged us to read the psalm printed therein.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord." (Psalm 40:3, as printed on the pew sheet.)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version, and the Mission Praise songbook.
What musical instruments were played?
Electric organ or piano, with discreet tambourine accompaniment provided by whichever of the pastoral couple was not officiating at that point.
Did anything distract you?
Everyone in the congregation seemed to be a regular who knew all the others well. This distracted me, as I realised early on that I would not be a very "mysterious" Mystery Worshipper. I wondered whether I could get out of signing their visitors' book (no, I couldn't). Also, as the building was so close to the road, there was quite a bit of traffic noise, especially from a lorry or bus that went speeding past the church and made the most amazing racket.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The songs were mostly from Mission Praise. One was an old hymn, but they were mostly of 70s and 80s vintage. The congregation sang with proper nonconformist gusto, insofar as they were able (see below).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — Pastor John Boxwell delivered a lively sermon that managed to touch upon almost everything else that had happened in the service. It didn't exactly send me out wanting to change the world for God, but I may be being unkind here as I was suffering from Mystery Worshipper stress.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about journeying with God. The preacher pulled together passages from Psalm 40, John 1 and Isaiah 49. He spoke of moving from being in a difficult place to worshipping God, then to telling others about Christ and moving on as a church.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I found the worshipful attitude of the whole congregation very uplifting. There was also some laughter and comments made by the congregation to the pastors, but everything that went on seemed appropriate for the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
One or two of the songs were pretty embarrassing. None of the congregation seemed familiar with "O Lord you've done great things," and as for "We shall stand," I don't think Graham Kendrick would have recognised it as one of his. However, the pastor carried it off with good humour.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have the chance. Almost the moment the service finished, two people invited me to stay for coffee. Everyone was very welcoming. I think I spoke to at least half the people who attended, including both pastors, and had a genuinely good time (except for worrying that they'd work out who had dropped the Mystery Worship calling card in the plate).
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
They are listed as a fair trade church. The coffee was served in proper cups and was quite tasty. A plate of malted milk biscuits and jaffa cakes circulated the room twice. There were also some chocolates on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 — I was surprised how much I enjoyed the service, as it's not a style I would seek out.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It certainly did. The worshipful atmosphere and the welcome I received were both great.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The welcoming attitude of the congregation. This church gets full marks for hospitality.