Mystery Worshipper: Isla White
Church: Ventnor Baptist
Location: Ventnor, Isle of Wight
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 October 2015, 10:30am
The typical Victorian facade camouflages the fact that there is so much more to the building than what appears from the narrow entrance. The main room is extremely cramped, especially when the serving hatch is in use. But in fact the congregation are in the middle of renovating, having already installed a mezzanine, so that services will eventually be held in the upper room. There are several rooms in the building behind (not visible from the road) and the church also owns the property next door. This is used by Ventnor Churches Together to run a youth cafe and food bank.
They appear very involved in the local community. The downstairs room is used for a local market, with all the banners proclaiming such things as Jesus being the only way. The food bank is well stocked and run twice a week by numerous volunteers.
Ventnor has recently been placed within the worst 10 per cent of areas of deprivation in the UK despite its beautiful location on the south of the island. A subtropical microclimate allows plants from the Mediterranean, Japan and New Zealand to grow. It also has the largest British colony of common wall lizards.
The Revd Michael Jefferson (visiting preacher; the church is currently in interregnum). The service was led by the church secretary, John Walker.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service.
How full was the building?
So full we were squashed against the seats of the row in front, which moved even further back when the people in front played musical chairs (without the music) as more people joined them. The age range was impressive.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Loads of people welcomed us with handshakes and smiles, particularly those sitting in the row in front. One elderly lady said she knew she would forget our names the moment she turned round, so, during a lull in the service, she turned back and was delighted to find she had remembered them. Numerous people invited us to stay for the free lunch.
Was your pew comfortable?
Padded single chairs rather too close for comfort.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
No music, loud chatting. A mother behind us loudly told her daughter to "Stop arguing with me!" Admittedly what the girl said was incorrect, but she had been talking reasonably and it was the mother who was arguing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to Ventnor Baptist. Sorry if you got blown in like I did this corner catches the wind."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Everything was on the screen. Unfortunately the Bible reading was from a different version from that on display.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, guitar and clarinet. There were also an unused drum kit and two pianos on the stage.
Did anything distract you?
A man with obvious learning difficulties had been given the job of writing down on an official looking clipboard how many people were in the service. He was clearly immensely proud to have been given this responsibility. He was tall, standing immediately in front of us, and turned round to recheck his calculations several time. It was lovely to see him welcomed with a big hug by a tiny elderly lady.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Modern songs with streamers available for anyone to pick up and use (although nobody did). One lady stood at the front in the middle aisle not quite dancing, but turning and making hand gestures in time to the music. The final two hymns were traditional, played slightly fast on the guitar. The keyboard player sometimes played quietly whilst people were talking.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Michael Jefferson's talk was clear, relevant and practical, with personal examples. The subject matter led to him telling how his toe had recently been amputated without his knowledge or anesthetic (don't worry, it was already dead so he didn't feel anything). The doctor held it up, saying, "That saved theatre time!"
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
When Jesus said we should cut off a hand or foot or pluck out our eye, it was for our benefit and not to be taken literally. The things we need to avoid may be innocent or even good things in themselves, but not right for us. What one person needs to avoid may be just what somebody else should be doing. We need the Holy Spirit's guidance.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Having a delicious lunch with about 20 people ranging in age from 2 to 82, with varying levels of physical and mental ability, and a guide dog in training for the blind (although I suppose in heaven there wont be any disabilities nor any need for guide dogs).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I needed badly to use the facilities, but the door was locked! I repeatedly tried the handle, not sure if it was simply stiff or there was only one toilet and somebody was in there (which turned out to be the case).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Numerous people came and spoke to us, even during the half hour while lunch was being prepared.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Freshly brewed fair trade tea and coffee in proper mugs with biscuits, followed by a full cooked meal. Unfortunately we had to leave just as a huge selection of desserts was brought out, so we missed them, and communion which was to follow.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – The room became so cramped that I had to keep pushing the chair in front of me forward every time we rose to sing. But there is so much more to the building, which is in the middle of being renovated. There is no doubt in my mind that when the renovations are done, this will be a lovely church indeed, and I would be happy to attend regularly if only I could manage the trip down to Ventnor every Sunday.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was wonderful to see the age range and commitment of the members.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
That here is a congregation with a vision and potential.