Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda
Church: Aylestone Baptist
Location: Leicester, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 June 2009, 10:30am
The building dates from 1955, with later additions and alterations. It is a low brick building, with a pleasingly symmetrical frontage. The interior is quite minimalist, with pale pink walls. There is a platform that accommodates the worship team. The focal point is a plum coloured area of wall with a cross hanging in it, below which is the projector screen.
The congregation dates from the 19th century, when they were a daughter church of Belvoir Street Chapel in the centre of Leicester. Over the years the church has become an independent entity and has moved once when the previous building became too small. The church appears to be thriving today, with a variety of children's groups, house groups, and a fortnightly lunch club for the elderly.
Aylestone was formerly a village, but is now a suburb of Leicester, a city in the East Midlands renowned for its large Asian origin population.
The service was led by the minister, the Revd Tim Fergusson.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service.
How full was the building?
The building was over half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered, several people said hello, and as I passed through the lounge area to the worship area, I was greeted by a woman handing out Bibles and news sheets. She asked my name and enquired whether I lived locally.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seating consisted of padded wooden chairs, which were moderately comfortable. All the chairs had a mystery hole on the right hand side of the back. Of course, as I discovered later, this was where you put your little cup of grape juice after you had drunk it during the communion.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was quite a lot of noise when I entered. Most people were chatting and the worship group were rehearsing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
(Spoken by Maxine, the person who had greeted me by the door) "Good morning everybody. It's very quiet this morning!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Good News Bible. The songs were projected on the screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Guitars, violin and drums.
Did anything distract you?
I was very distracted by the vivid outfit of one of the singers in the worship team. She wore a bright yellow cardigan, a navy dress and white leggings. The theme of the service was "shining lights in a dark world" and I did wonder if she was enacting it literally. Also, during the communion, I happened to glance up and noticed that all the light fittings were triangular. Also the ceiling fans were tripartite. I wondered if this was a deliberate reference to the Trinity, and I also thought they would be great illustrations for teaching about the Trinity.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service did not follow a printed format. It consisted of a worship time, some prayers, the sermon and then the communion. The worship time was lively and loud, but not overly enthusiastic.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I liked the minister's style. He first briefly expounded on the meaning of the passage, then looked at how we can apply the teaching therein to our lives. He spoke clearly and didn't waffle or digress.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The text was Philippians 2:12-18 (do everything without complaint, as God is working through you), and the theme was being shining lights in a dark world. The preacher looked at a particular example with some topical relevance, that of assisted suicide, and he asked whether it is ever right before God to end your own life. His answer was that as Christians we are free agents, but have suspended some of our freedom to follow Jesus. As life is a gift of God, it is up to him to take it away. This is one way we can shine in the world, in our attitude toward death.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I enjoyed the worship and sermon, but what stood out for me was a real sense of caring and community. At the end of the service the minister invited anyone who had found the issues he had raised difficult to have prayer, and there was a prayerful atmosphere when the service finished.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a children's slot in the service, led by a young couple. They told a story that seemed to offer a version of prosperity theology for very young children which I found appalling. A child wants a toy on holiday, prays to God, and then finds a trail of toys on the beach the next morning. It seemed to confuse "needs" and "wants" badly, in a way that seemed to emanate from the other place.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service many people sat around thoughtfully. I was sitting in the middle of a row with only one exit, trapped by one such person. So I sat quietly for quite a while contemplating the fact that I actually needed to get out of the church pretty promptly, due to a prior engagement. After about five minutes the person in front of me turned round and asked me if I was OK. I said yes and stood up, which prompted the person blocking me in to move also. As I left, someone else introduced himself and invited me to have a coffee, which I unfortunately had to decline. The minister also chatted briefly with me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Due to time constraints I was unable to indulge on this occasion, though I noticed tea and coffee were available and supplied in mugs.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I felt very much at home in the church. My only reservation is I would hate to live in this area.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very glad, and it gave me some food for thought and a good understanding of the Christian perspective on euthanasia.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
One song sung by the worship team, "Lead me to the rock," which I enjoyed so much I have now bought the CD from which it was taken.