St John's, Fishponds, Bristol, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John's
Location: Fishponds, Bristol, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 March 2020, 10:30am

The building

Photo: © Derek Harper and used under license Plans for the present building, replacing an earlier structure, were drawn up in 1910 and the church was consecrated on Ascension Day 1911. Sadly, their vicar at the time, who had lobbied diligently for the new building, died shortly before its consecration; his funeral was the first to be held there. It has a traditional 1910 type layout for a Church of England building: rather plain, but lofty and spacious. Original wooden pews and an attractive sanctuary area. There has been some reordering over the years.

The church

It is part of the King's Way Benefice, a group of three churches working together. They have several small groups, (quoting from their website) ‘a vital and evolving part of the life and vibrancy of St Johns … a great way to form friendships and receive support.’ They offer a CAP (Christians Against Poverty) money course (again quoting from their website) ‘that teaches people … to get more in control of their finances.’ There is also an Alpha course. Their Sunday worship service varies by the week – see their website for details. They also have morning prayer on Tuesdays and a said communion service on Thursdays.

The neighborhood

St John's is situated on a busy main road in the east of Bristol. The neighbourhood consists of many houses along the main road and in adjacent side roads, a variety of shops, and a nearby primary school. The name Fishponds refers to several ponds that remained after former quarries in the area were filled. All of the ponds except one have now been filled in also, and the one that remains is owned by a private angling club.

The cast

The priest-in charge of the benefice led the service, assisted by two ministers.

What was the name of the service?

Family Communion.

How full was the building?

About 40 people in the congregation. The building seemed about half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

On entering I was welcomed personally by a member of the congregation serving as sidesperson, who gave me a hymn book and service leaflet.

Was your pew comfortable?

Original wooden pews, but not uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet conversation and pleasant gentle background music from a keyboard. Generally a friendly atmosphere with hellos as people arrived.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘The Lord be with you. Please take your seats.’ Then an announcement of a recent death of a member of the congregation and short prayer.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Leaflet: Holy Communion for Sundays in Lent; Mission Praise. Also three overhead screens with hymn words during the service.

What musical instruments were played?

Alternating keyboard and guitar. The musician playing them was accomplished and played very well, accompanying a small singing group.

Did anything distract you?

The atmosphere within the service did not lend itself to distraction: the congregation were very quiet throughout!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The style of worship was an interesting mix of traditional and contemporary. The service was well led by the priest-in-charge. Clearly spoken, with a friendly manner, she had a ‘conversational’ way of talking to the congregation that was effective. People listened. The hymns were well led by a small group of singers from behind the altar, with keyboard or guitar accompaniment. The singing group’s voices were well balanced and blended well within the building. In the current coronavirus situation, it was recommended that we place our hands over our hearts, rather than shake hands, at the exchange of peace. However, a communal cup was used!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

4 — I found the sermon disappointing, as it seemed rather disjointed and general in content, with no biblical links. Many points were listed but none developed. Couldn’t the priest have focused on just one or two specific points?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It’s the Second Sunday in Lent and International Women's Day – a day to proclaim equality. What does communion mean? Why do we take it? How do you define communion? Do we actually ‘proclaim the Lord’ afterwards? We were invited to think about all this during the coming week.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The prayers (intercessions) were read with sensitivity, with a quiet contemplative delivery. I found this effective and suspect the congregation did as well.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Despite the musicians’ best efforts, the congregational contribution to the hymn singing was almost inaudible. They either didn't know (or didn't want!) the hymns chosen.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

A few people invited me to have tea, coffee or cake. Friendly people.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Refreshments nicely served. China cups and saucers.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 — A member of the congregation told me that St John's offers a variety of services between modern/informal and more traditional. On that basis a return visit would be likely.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The intercessions, but also the seemingly contradictory advice re coronavirus.

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