Mystery Worshipper: Max
Church: Welton Baptist
Location: Midsomer Norton, Somerset, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 July 2006, 10:30am
Having outgrown their chapel at Welton, the congregation meets in a hall at the side of Norton Hill School, a large ex-grammar school with a Victorian red-brick frontage. They occasionally meet at the nearby Somervale School as well.
This church has grown significantly in the past few decades from a small congregation of a few elderly people to a large group encompassing all ages. They sponsor missions in (among other places) India, Pakistan, Nepal and Kenya, as well as the Five Loaves and Two Fishes Ministry at St Paul's, Bristol. They have organised housegroups that meet in area homes during the week, and a hiking group called the Welton Wanderers.
Originally called Norton Canonicorum, the town became known as Midsomeres Norton after the midsummer festival of St John the Baptist. However, by the time John Wesley first visited in September 1767, the spelling had changed to Midsummer Norton. Put off by the very bad roads in the area, Wesley wrote in his journal: "It is so called, I suppose, because formerly it was accessible at no other time of the year!"
Rob Addicott, one of the church elders, led the service. The duty deacon was a guy called Chris – I don't think we saw him during the service. A lady whose name was not given played the piano and also led us in worship at the beginning. Two people called Jo and Andy read the notices.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service.
How full was the building?
I would estimate about 100-150. It appeared quite full, but I noticed that most of the seats around me were empty.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady asked me if I was a first time visitor, and upon my answering yes, she whisked me off to a man standing nearby and said, "He's a first time visitor." The man seemed not to know what he was supposed to do. Finally I asked if I should sit anywhere, and he showed me to a seat.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a horrible blue plastic school chair with chewing gum underneath, and it was uncomfortable because it was hot. My back started to ache during the sermon.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy. Everybody was walking around chatting, lots of hugging, people praying with each other, band practice, even a game of catch being played on the stage! Absolutely hectic!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. How are you all?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Some people had Bibles, but otherwise it was all on a projector.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, several guitars, bass guitar, drums, tambourine and singers.
Did anything distract you?
It was so noisy! There were some children playing throughout the beginning part of the service. After they left the only thing that was distracting me was the horribly uncomfortable chair.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Evangelical charismatic happy-clappy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – Rob Addicott had a very informal, chatty style. Overall he was pretty good until toward the end, when everything suddenly fell apart.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began by talking about his combine harvester (he's a farmer) and linked it with how God is so faithful. God is like a farmer who wants to see his crop bear fruit. In 1 Samuel 15 we see how Saul disappointed God after God had made him king. God anoints us to do things, and we must do what God asks us to do and not what we ourselves want to do. But then ... things went downhill. "My father-in-law is going to hell! My brother-in-law is going to hell! Why? Because they haven't been saved!" Neighbours and friends will go to hell no matter how lovely they are, because they haven't accepted Christ. He then linked that with digging a ditch, and how we should try to save these people no matter how difficult that might be.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful music. I love happy clappy music and the church was incredibly friendly!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon. It made me so angry that I could easily have walked out. I don't believe it's up to us to say whether or not somebody is going to hell. I felt this was a very wrong thing to put into a sermon. I would've given him a 7 if he hadn't said that!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Within a few minutes of the service ending, someone handed me a cup of coffee and asked me where I had come from. The guy was very friendly and seemed to know a lot about my own church tradition. We could have spoken a lot longer if he hadn't had a job to do, serving more coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Well, the guy who served it warned me that it tasted awful and he was right. It was coffee-flavoured hot water in a polystyrene cup. I have no idea whether it was fairly traded or not, but it was horrible. But I don't go to church for coffee anyway!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The music was great, the teaching was awful. During the service I was thinking to myself that I could quite easily make this my regular, but after that sermon I was put right off this church. It also was a little noisy for my liking.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes and no. The music really uplifted me and I felt moved by some of the prayers that were offered. But the sermon made me feel ashamed of being a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Being told that people who aren't "saved" by becoming a Christian will be condemned to hell for eternity.