Mystery Worshipper: The Yam Yam, accompanied by Mrs Yam, the Yamlet and Yamaletto
Church: All Saints
Location: Worcester, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 May 2011, 10:30am
One of several medieval churches in the city of Worcester, All Saints was rebuilt in the 1740s. It retains some medieval work in its western parts, but is a commodious and light Georgian building. Much of the interior was, however, "restored" in Victorian times and "redecorated" in the 1960s.
All Saints was re-launched a decade ago as a base for an evangelical Anglican congregation. It has grown steadily and seems to be outward looking in its ministry. It was formerly part of a team ministry with other Anglican churches in the city, but the closure of churches and the distinctiveness of those surviving has led to this team ministry dwindling, if not ending. All Saints has three Sunday services catering to differing congregations.
Worcester remains the "county town", although it is now overshadowed in the West Midlands by various larger towns. In medieval times there were many parish churches within the city walls, as well as the cathedral. Much of All Saints' parish was subject to slum clearance in the 19th and 20th centuries, and an arterial road was driven through. Now, the remains of three churches survive amongst 1960s municipal buildings along the main road in the shadow of the cathedral, in what would have once have been a densely populated residential area.
"Laura", whose surname was not given and who is not identified on their website even though she is one of the leadership team, led the service. The Revd Dr Richard ("Rich") Johnson preached and presided over communion.
What was the name of the service?Informal Family Service.
How full was the building?
I would say there were a little over 100 people present, comfortably spread without feeling full. At the end, I was told numbers fluctuate but that today was at the lower end of things.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was helped as I tried to batter my way through the wrong entrance with a pushchair. Once in, we were greeted by a welcomer called Jennifer, who shook my hand and welcomed the Yamaletto and me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Fine. I noticed it more for aesthetic reasons, wondering if it was a cut-down box pew of the 1800s or a late-Victorian lookey-likey.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Relaxed. There were people sitting quietly, but many stood, chatting and drinking coffee.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Would you like to take your seats?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Bibles and a notice sheet. Songs and prayer responses were on a screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, played by "Tom" (again no surname and not identified on website), who also led worship. I think there is normally a band and choir.
Did anything distract you?
The fittings of the church. It is a fine building dating back to 1740 and a number of fittings are preserved from this time, such as the reredos and panelling. The church was altered in the later 1800s, but with interesting fitments that caught the eye of a church anorak such as myself.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Anglican happy-clappy. The service was relaxed, with people sitting at the back drinking coffee. The music was modern worship music, played in an ethereal style, which I loved. There was an opening sung worship, during which one lady danced around the aisles. The Yamlet spontaneously jumped up and copied her. Is that not how we are meant to follow Jesus? (Mrs Yam took the Yamlet and Yamaletto to their respective groups after sung worship was over, but these were simply rooms where parents stayed with their children rather than any organised activity. I'll mention this again later on.) There were liturgical elements: abbreviated eucharistic prayer, Lord's Prayer with modern language. Laura (the service leader) led us in prayer a few times and there were intercessory prayers. Some might call this style of worship lacking in reverence, but the service is stated to be informal after all.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Rich used PowerPoint slides to highlight his main points. His sermon was the final one in a series. In previous sermons he had debunked three common but erroneous beliefs: (1) Sickness has a higher purpose (disease is not part of God's plan for us; it differs from suffering). (2) Lack of healing means that one has insufficient faith (this is where praying for others comes in). (3) There is no hope (the Kingdom is both now and not-yet).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Does God still heal? The answer is yes, but not all the time. He made three main points: (1) Healing is an expression of restored creation, a pointer to the Kingdom of God. We are authorised, in fact we are commanded, to pray for the sick and not only that, but we are empowered to minister to them. The Church as a whole was encouraged to lay hands on others and pray for healing as a matter of course. (2) Healing may not always follow prayer, but we do not take the blame for this any more than we should take the credit for when it does. It's not a lake inside you; it's a river pouring through you. (3) We should embrace the tension of faith and hope and not try to explain away the mystery (Jesus didn't in Mark 11:29).
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
After the sermon, the congregation had the chance to ask for healing and for those around them to pray for them. Prayer is so important. Doing it in a group is a bit scary if you're not used to it. I thought it was a wonderful thing to have encouraged and to join in with.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Someone engaged me in conversation and introduced me to some other members of the congregation. I was very well looked after and had several enjoyable chats.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nice coffee in a paper cup.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – There was plenty to like.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?