Mystery Worshipper: anchovy
Church: Verwood Family Church
Location: Verwood, Dorset, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 February 2023, 10:15am
The church meets in a postwar memorial hall, which is used for a variety of events, including this church. It has a stage, used by the church for the projection screen, and moveable chairs, with a range of events advertised on noticeboards on the walls.
They seemed to encompass a broad cross-section of the local neighbourhood, as well as being engaged in building relationship with each other and the wider community.
The church is right next to a sports field, in a town that is growing rapidly. There is nothing very obvious or interesting that I noticed about the immediate neighbourhood.
One of the male elders opened the service and closed it, with the service in between pretty much running itself on standard free evangelical church lines, with a big block of worship, a big preach, and a closing prayer. The female worship leader (who might have been another elder, or maybe the wife of an elder if the elders have to be men) led enthusiastically. Another woman encouraged people to come on summer camp.
What was the name of the service?I don’t know – it wasn’t announced, or evident.
How full was the building?
About half full, with maybe 40 people. They got out another row of chairs for some late arrivals.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, soon after we entered and got some coffee. Tea, coffee and biscuits were offered before the service. Someone came up and said hello, and asked who we were and where we‘d come from.
Was your pew comfortable?
We sat in separate chairs. I don‘t remember them being uncomfortable – maybe they were plastic, or maybe I was just enraptured by the worship.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of people were chatting, and everyone seemed to know everyone else. There was a projected slide saying, in unadorned form, ‘Welcome to church’.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘I feel like Billy no-mates, with no one around me. Welcome on this beautiful, sunny day.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books used, apart from personal Bibles that many of the congregation had brought with them.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard (using just piano voice), cajun and one vocalist.
Did anything distract you?
I realised how ‘woke’ I was, in the pre-service coffee, when I mistook the title on a beautiful appliqued picture, understanding that it was made by the Associated Guild of Transwomen. I realised they were, of course, Townswomen. There were no transwomen to be seen, either on the artwork, or in the church – although I only saw the few folk in front of me as soon as we started church. That thought distracted me a bit during the service, along with the (unrealised) opportunity for someone to appear on the dark stage beyond the projection screen and distract us all. It never happened, but I was tempted!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Towards the happy clappy end of the spectrum. Most folk engaged enthusiastically in worship, with their hands in the second position (just below waist level). One big block of worship, with contemporary songs, was led too slowly for my liking, and a couple of the songs were pitched a bit low for my range.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — The church is merging with (or possibly being taken over by) another church, and the sermon was given by an elder from the ‘acquiring’ church, laying out stage 1 (of 3) of their vision for the work in Verwood, and the two other sites that the new, bigger church will cover. He spoke well, but I wondered whether some of the vision and mission language might have felt too much like business-speak for some?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He said that the vision was God’s vision – missio Dei, although he didn’t use that language – and that our job is to ask how we can be in partnership with what God is doing. The sermon finished with a charge to the church family to join him in this vision.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I enjoyed the worship. It wasn’t quite my normal style, and wasn't quite as charismatic as it could have been, but it was great to be worshipping with others.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I felt doubly uncomfortable when the visiting elder asked everyone to stand at the end to join in with the vision. As a visitor, I decided not to, but still felt uncomfortable; but also, I was acutely aware of those that might not be able to stand. There was someone in a reclining disability chair just in front of me, and other older congregants who either chose not to stand, or weren’t able.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung around briefly, but the welcome and coffee had been pre-service, so I left. Those who stayed longer looked like they were busy chatting, and if I had hung around longer, I might have been approached.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was fine. Nothing to write home about (instant coffee), and some biscuits out on a plate.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 — I would be ready to visit again. If I lived locally, I would be confident of being roped into something before too long!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I think so. The service reminded me of a slightly narrower theology that I've left behind, but I was happy to be joining with others in worship, and encouraged that people in that congregation were keen to join in with God’s work of mission.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I was struck by the offering, which was ‘African’ style, with people one by one taking up their gifts to put in a plate at the front. I sent Mrs Mystery Worshipper to take up our offering, but it’s the only time I've seen that in the UK.