Mystery Worshipper: The Thornbury Crawler
Church: Upton Baptist
Location: Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 14 July 2013, 6:30pm
It's a very interesting building hidden up an alley in a street full of old houses. It is of the old meeting-house type with a hipped roof. The doors were wide open so I decided to look inside, where I discovered a lovely Georgian interior, including some cardboard cut-out Georgians in the pulpit and an 1830s organ and lovely old balcony. Notable were the fine 18th-century wall memorials most unusual for a nonconformist chapel. A new two-storey hall containing the schoolroom was opened in 2003.
The congregation was established on this site in 1734 and grew throughout the 19th century to the point where the church was expanded. It dwindled in the 20th century, and has since grown to about 50 members. They offer an Alpha course, Messy Church, an e-mail prayer chain, and various activities in the church, including a weekly coffee morning and a summer "holiday at home" for the elderly.
Upon-upon-Severn is a small town on the River Severn near the Malvern Hills in the heart of England. The area has strong links with the composer Edward Elgar, and Upton itself has a lovely boating marina and the only bridge across the river between Worcester and Tewkesbury. It is full of historic buildings of the half-timbered sort and has a distinctive landmark in the form of an old church tower with a clock and a copper cupola. It really is a beautiful place with lots of antique shops. I was bemused to see a shop selling seaside gifts!
The Revd Paul McCabe, pastor, was present, and his wife Lorraine McCabe led the service.
What was the name of the service?Evening service after Ladies' Tea. (I was not at the tea!!!)
How full was the building?
It was in the burial ground of the chapel, where the graves had been put against the wall.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was initially greeted by Pastor McCabe, who warmly welcomed me and kindly let me play the little old organ before service. The rest of the service took place outside. Several people chatted to me, including the retired minister, and they offered me tea and scones.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a garden seat!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Cheerful and peaceful in a small garden. People were chatting after a "ladies' afternoon". I initially felt I had intruded but I was made welcome.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening. Can you hear me? I don't have a microphone."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Songs of Fellowship and chorus sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
I had a little try on the 1830 chamber organ, which was a real delight with just five stops with copper-plate writing on and a very sweet sound.
Did anything distract you?
Not a distraction as such, but the peacefulness of the garden and the hidden nature of the 18th century chapel. There were two whopping great big 18th century tombstones near the wall and I wondered who they belonged to.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Generally reverent with a bit of happy-clappy, which fitted well with the theme of praise.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
The length of the service, worked in with the songs in a meaningful way.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Very engaging. Mrs McCabe managed to work the songs and readings into the theme of the service very well.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about praise, and the different types of praise were linked to Joshua and the walls of Jericho. The preacher kept saying to look up and praise and also kneel in praise. Stand in praise and walk in praise. The last song was "We will walk in the way of the Lord".
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Chatting to the various members of the congregation. I had quite clearly intruded on a social act of worship linked to an afternoon, but they were very welcoming and friendly and also gave me a tambourine for the last song!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was one of the hottest days of the year and my hay fever was getting to my eyes! My only problem with the service was that I didn't know a couple of the songs, but I was able to belt out "Crown him with many crowns"!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was invited to stay for more tea and scones.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I wanted to see the boating marina one last time before heading back via the Malverns, so I missed out on the refreshments.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – But it would have to be indoor services as I suffer from hay fever!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very cheerful and grateful to be a Christian. Also mindful of those other people who have left such a beautiful legacy in the building and music.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The friendliness and the history of the place.