Mystery Worshipper: Dee Cyple
Church: Laird Street Baptist
Location: Birkenhead, Wirral, England
Date of visit: Saturday, 31 October 2015, 3:00pm
A plain, rather forlorn 1953 building that replaces the original building bombed out in World War II. A nondescript grey building, it looks like it could have been abandoned on an industrial estate. Poor thing! Stark exterior. Inside, the eye falls on the stained glass sunburst east window above the big dark wooden pulpit with stairs up to it either side, which fills the whole of the east end. It stands on a raised dais, blue carpeted. Purple pulpit fall. Russet roses and yellow chrysanthemum floral arrangements. Central oak table in front of pulpit, with carved embellishment that reminded me of a smiling face. Deacon's wooden chair. Bible on wooden book rest stands on holy table. Banners: "Come, Holy Spirit," "I am the Light of the World," and others. Information boards at back. Parish hall of corrugated iron adjoins the church.
The emphasis is very much on the three Fs: family, friendship and fun. They have one service each Sunday, with the Lord's Supper on the first and third Sunday of each month. They say that they are the focus of a lively Christian fellowship and a growing community, but you wouldn't know it from perusing their website no mention of groups, activities, etc.
Laird Street Baptist Church is there, a beacon of hope in an otherwise somewhat neglected area. But it does seem that the area is enjoying a revival. There has been a clearance of the red bricked terraces, which have been replaced with brand new town houses. Nearby is Birkenhead Park, whose impressive stone portico was a pattern for Central Park in New York. Many of the local shops are boarded up, but Colonel Sanders was doing a roaring trade, as was the co-op and the Turkish barbers opposite.
The Revd Phil Jump, regional minister for the North Western Baptist Association and chair of the Industrial Christian Fellowship.
What was the name of the service?Service of Recognition of Kathy Buntin as the new pastor. They had been without a permanent minister for a long time several years.
How full was the building?
Very full: 80 people crammed in, with extra chairs fetched in for latecomers. Standing room only at the back.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smiling lady welcomed me. It was very friendly and everyone was greeting one another with hugging and kissing. We were ready and waiting for the service to begin but still they came.
Was your pew comfortable?
Blue padded seat with backrest in light wood. Also available were green or red tubular stacking chairs with padded seats; moderately comfortable. Service lasted one hour and forty-five minutes, so I was flagging toward the end!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A few lads were loafing around near the church, chucking fireworks at each other (see more below). Inside, an air of expectancy pervaded the building. It was also rather warm, steamy even. No one was really saying very much and there was no music played, apart from accompanying the songs.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to Laird Street Baptist Church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Printed order of service with everything in it you needed to know and sing in it. They use Mission Praise and Complete Mission Praise (on shelves at back of church).
What musical instruments were played?
Guitar, tambourine, bongo drum.
Did anything distract you?
The constant swish of traffic up Laird Street - the door had been left open.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy but not clappy: voices and hands raised in praise. Also, we had been given paper leaves in our service sheet to write what our missionary aspirations for Laird Street were. During the last song (I didn't know any of the six songs - all with choruses) we were asked to bring up our leaves and tie them on the tree of life a bunch of twigs in a pot. I noticed a few people had torn out pages from their service sheet and written on them. A good idea! The emphasis was on the Word. Kathy Laird was interviewed by the church secretary about what had brought her on her journey to ministry. There was a great deal being said, so you had to listen hard.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The Revd Phil Jump is well qualified; he knows what he is talking about, scripture-wise. He spoke straight from the horse's mouth, without notes. He knows his Bible inside out, and back to front! He walked about quite a lot.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
St Paul's message and the impact it has on our lives. We should be a people whose lives proclaim Jesus: be a Jesus people!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When an African gent came in dressed in his magnificent robes: black, grey and silver beautiful! His dazzling smile lit up the room.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were fireworks exploding outside and emergency vehicles whipping up and down Laird Street with sirens blaring. It was not the most relaxing service! Also, in spite if the banner" I am the Light of the World," it was difficult to see toward the end of the service. It was late in the afternoon the light was fading and the
lighting inside was not good.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were told that refreshments were being served in the parish hall, so we made our way through to a corrugated hut. It was brilliant! All the food and drinks were laid out. There were bunches of balloons and a celebration cake, complete with Bible and Ten Commandments in marzipan. A lady in a green woolly jumper poured out the tea amid a hubbub of noise and laughter.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Sandwiches and puff pastries, mini pork pies, crisps, pizza slices, wraps, pineapple on sticks, cakes, tea and orange squash all carried on paper plates back through to the church. A real family atmosphere. Kathy Buntin was presented with floral bouquets and a round of applause.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I wouldn't mind coming here sometime. It is a real family orientated place.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did. They really do want to know you. They are very friendly and welcoming.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The packed church.