Mystery Worshipper: Gwiwer Girl
Church: Longton Community Church
Location: Penwortham, Lancashire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 January 2012, 11:20am
They meet in a high school in Higher Penwortham near Preston. The main meeting is in the school hall and there are refreshments (apparently) in another room. The children meet in another set of rooms and join the adults for the last ten minutes or so of the service.
Their website is full of information about what they are doing. It is a little bit confusing, as they are called Longton Community Church and do a lot of their work in Longton (a small town outside Preston) but meet in Penwortham (a suburb) and reach out to the people in the city of Preston. Some members are bused in for services on the "Longton Lift" bus.
Penwortham faces the city of Preston, Lancashire, on the bank of the River Ribble at the most westerly crossing point of the river. Archeological evidence suggests that the river was forded here even in prehistoric times. For all intents and purposes, the area has now nearly merged with Preston.
Speaker - Des Wadsworth, lead pastor. No idea who anyone else was, as they weren't introduced and weren't mentioned in the bulletin.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Morning Service
How full was the building?
The school hall seats about 300 but was very empty when I arrived half an hour early. By the time the service started it was half full, and fairly full by about half an hour in as people wandered in and took their seats. It was very full by the time the children joined us for the last ten minutes or so.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady at the door said "Morning" as she handed me a notice bulletin.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews, but blue, plastic school chairs set out in rows. They were fairly well spaced sideways with plenty of backside space but a bit tight for leg room. Crossing and uncrossing my legs was a bit of a problem and I had to twist sideways to achieve this and I dont have the longest legs in the world. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable by the end of the service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
An earlier service was letting out as I arrived, and so there was a lot of coming and going. Inside, there was loud music playing over the speaker system, some chatting and giggling by groups of teens and twenties, some older people sitting in seats, and a few children using the seats as obstacles for a game of tag. There was also quite a bit of tweaking of wires and flashing of lights by people sorting out the PA/lighting. I later learned that there was coffee and tea available in another room, but there didn't appear to be any indication of this in the main hall where I sat waiting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everybody. Do you want to stand to your feet?" (Spoken over a heavy drum beat that led into the first song).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used in the service. The words to songs were displayed on the screen with good contrasting lettering, fairly easy to read but could have done with being a little bit bigger. People were expected to bring their own Bibles. A joke was made about those who had a Bible but had not brought it, and apparently if you dont own a Bible someone near you would help you out. Luckily I had a Bible with me.
What musical instruments were played?
Two keyboards, one semi-acoustic guitar, one electric guitar, one bass guitar, drums, two singers. All the music was pretty LOUD!
Did anything distract you?
Oooh where to begin? The very blonde, flicky hair of the girl leading worship, as well as her shiny brown boots. Overwhelming perfume worn by a woman in the row behind me. The uneasy feeling of old age creeping over my shoulder like some kind of evil mugger, as I looked round at all the young, shiny faces in the congregation. The confusing instructions about envelopes, gift aid and buckets that accompanied the offering, although this made it very easy to leave my calling card. And (best distraction of all) the exceedingly beautiful baby who sat with his mum at the end of my row when the children joined the service. Aahhhh, cute!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was slick. It was loud. It was contemporary. It was quite like being at a concert where the audience is encouraged to sing along. There was music, an offering, a sermon, music, prayers, and more music. The children had their own programme. If you like Hillsong albums, you will like this church (probably).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
35 minutes. There was an enormous clock at the back of the hall, which I assume was there to inform the speaker of how long he had been talking.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – The speaker was quite shouty. He also told me that he loved me quite a few times and that is why he was preaching this sermon (which made me raise an eyebrow or two since we have never been formally introduced).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Revelation 2:12-17 (harsh words for the church in Pergamum). It was a warning to under 18s. First the speaker compared Pergamum to Preston, noting the (tenuous at best) parallels between the two. Then we were told to keep the marriage bed pure because it is Gods number one priority. So dont have sex before marriage, dont look at pornography, and dont have an affair. If you have done any of these, then repent, get married, and stay married. (Whereupon the congregation applauded.)
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was lovely to see so many young people worshipping together and playing in the band. The music was polished and well produced and the two lead singers had voices that would have been fantastic to listen to on an MP3 player.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Sitting on my own for half an hour at the beginning of the service with nobody speaking to me or pointing the way to the coffee lounge. Looking lost at the end of the service and having no one (except one lady on the way out who smiled I think that was her job) making eye contact with me. Also, the lights were dimmed during the majority of the service which added to the performance ambience of the experience and made it very difficult for me to read the small print in my Bible - old age creeping up on me again?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. I hung around looking lost and then made my way out. As noted above, one woman smiled at me. There was a welcome desk, which I would have gone to if I had any intention of going to this church again. This had been mentioned during the service and was easy to see as I came out of the hall. Pity I hadnt noticed it as I went in I might have been offered a drink!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didnt get coffee today.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – On todays performance (and it did feel quite like a performance, albeit a well rehearsed one) for me it was pretty woeful. If you love Hillsong and dont mind being ignored, this might be a good place for you. Or if you are more willing than I was today to make your presence felt by the welcome team, you might find a home here, as there seemed to be lots of things going on during the week that you might get involved with.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really I felt pretty old and quite insignificant.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Sitting for half an hour at the beginning of the service on my own and no one speaking to me. Oh, and maybe the cute baby (he really was very cute indeed).