Mystery Worshipper: Benny Diction
Church: Wensleydale Evangelical
Location: Leyburn, Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 23 August 2009, 11:00am
They meet in a former Congregational church dating from 1875 that is a typical Victorian grey stone chapel. At various times over the years, the building has been used as a warehouse, a stable hands' centre, and community hall. What fascinates me is that the congregation obtained the building in 2001 from the local council. The inside consists of a large room with a high ceiling, long thin windows and fairly plain decor, painted in a pretty shade of yellow (pronounced to be primrose yellow by Mrs Diction).
The congregation appears to have grown out of several small house churches in the area. They hold a fellowship lunch once each month and sponsor a Discovery Club for children. They also conduct ministries in various nursing homes in the area. In addition to a morning and evening service each Sunday, with the Lord's Supper celebrated once each month, they also hold a Question Time type meeting during the week, when the members can put questions on Bible related topics to the church leaders.
Wensleydale Evangelical Church is situated in the market town of Leyburn in the Yorkshire Dales. The Dales are a series of very beautiful valleys that are for the most part agricultural (sheep farming). Nowadays, though, the area as a whole is very popular with tourists and walkers. Leyburn claims to be the gateway to one of the most famous Dales: Wensleydale, noted for its mild, crumbly cheese of the same name, as any fan of the animated clay motion picture figures Wallace and Gromit will be able to tell you. (Wallace, you see, is quite the cheese fancier.) Leyburn is a small market town that has a good selection of shops and pubs serving this rural community.
The service was led by the Revd Noel Ramsey, pastor, though this wasn't made clear at the time. It's only through seeing the pastor's photo on the church's website that we knew who he was. In addition, as will be explained below, an elder or deacon resplendent in a bow tie also played a small walk-on role.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Worship
How full was the building?
A quick count before the service suggested there were seats for about 60 people. Around 25 were present. How typical this was of the size of the congregation is hard to say – this is still holiday season in the UK so some regulars may have been away.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Pastor Noel was on the door giving out hymn books and Bibles. He shook us by the hand and briefly spoke to us and told us to sit anywhere we liked. Just after we sat down, a lady in the row in front of us turned round and nodded, and a lady at the end of our row also wished us a good morning. (It should be noted that Yorkshire Dales people have a reputation of being people of few words, so a nod can be regarded as a warm greeting.)
Was your pew comfortable?
We had chairs and they were very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People chatted beforehand. The atmosphere was friendly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The elder in the bow tie said: "Good morning, and welcome to our morning worship. A special welcome to visitors or those worshipping with us for the first time." But this was in fact a red herring, as Elder Bow Tie then proceeded to give out a series of church notices. Pastor Noel then read a few verses of scripture, though I didn't work out what they were.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were given a hymn book called Grace Hymns (which is a Baptist hymnal) and The Holy Bible, New International Version.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
I'm almost ashamed to say this, but a lady two or three rows in front of us was wearing a very smart outfit but her jacket was very creased. And I thought several times it could do with an iron.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I had thought that a service at an evangelical church would be lively. But in fact the four hymns were traditional and the service had a hymn sandwich quality about it. That said, it felt solid, and Pastor Noel's prayers of praise and confession (ex tempore) were very good. But he didn't offer any prayers of thanksgiving or intercession.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Noel comes from Northern Ireland originally and still has a strong accent. At first it was a little difficult to follow him, but I soon tuned in. Occasionally, though, an odd word made him sound like the Revd Ian Paisley. He also found it difficult to make eye contact at first, and this was slightly off-putting. But as his sermon progressed, this changed.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This was the last in a series of sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, and treated Acts 28. Paul could have been killed by the people of Melita when he was shipwrecked there, but they had received him kindly even though they were pagans. Even pagans have a sense of right and wrong. But because Paul had survived snakebite, they thought him to be a god. They missed the point that God was in control, not Paul. We need to understand who God is and that God is in control. We can be smug when all is going well and think it is due to us, but it is in fact due to God. And just because things are going well, don't assume that God is pleased with you. When Paul arrived at Rome, his task was to declare the gospel and to seek and convince people of its truth. We today are afraid to do this. But we must do it, as it is the only way to bring spiritually dead people back to life. Whether we are believed or not, we must preach the word. The Acts of the Apostles ends almost as if Luke didn't finish it, but isn't that the point? The story continues today through us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Pastor Noel's sermon was very challenging and firmly gospel based. Many preachers could learn from him!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were only a couple of children in the congregation and Pastor Noel gave a good talk based upon the upcoming Wensleydale Livestock show and judging. But after he'd finished this, he suddenly turned to one little girl and put her on the spot, asking her if she remembered this week's catechism. The poor little girl was taken by surprise and seemed unsure. He then asked the congregation if we could remember it!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A man with a wonderful Dales accent spoke to us for awhile and asked where we staying, etc. Then on our way out, Pastor Noel grabbed us and spoke to us. He made us sign the visitors book, and I confess I felt I couldn't lie to him about my identity. So if he read my entry, he already knows that his church was blessed by a visit from the Mystery Worshipper and who that masked man was!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any. Apparently (according to Elder Bow Tie) there would be tea or coffee and cake after the evening service.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I'm sitting on the fence a bit. I suspect that in this area there wouldn't be much choice (though there is a Methodist church and an Anglican church in Leyburn). I found the worship a bit stilted though the pastor is a a good preacher.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I didn't come away feeling uplifted, but I came away challenged. So I'm not sure if I felt glad to be a Christian so much as aware of what is expected of me as a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
My feeling of discomfort when Pastor Noel asked about the catechism!