Mystery Worshipper: Sagacious
Church: Woodside Church of the Nazarene
Location: Watford, Hertfordshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 December 2005, 10:30am
The church is a single storey, brown brick building. One enters at a corner through glass doors etched with biblical scenes, and immediately finds oneself in a sunken auditorium with a large seating area. The walls are glazed from floor to ceiling, giving the building a light airy feel. A library and reading space are incorporated into the auditorium, and a serving hatch opens into a kitchen with all modern appointments. Adjoining the church at the rear of the main building is a sizeable steel-framed hall, and in fact this is where the service started on the morning I was there. Unbeknowst to me, the day of my visit coincided with the opening of the renovated church building. The work had taken a year to complete after a fire had severely damaged the premises the previous January, and the new church was looking very spiffy.
According to their website, the Church of the Nazarene has been part of the community for over 40 years and is always looking for ways to be of practical help to the local residents. Currently the church offers various programmes and clubs for children, youth, adults and seniors. They keep a youth worker on staff and sponsor a homework club and lunchtime club. They are also actively involved in mission work.
Watford is Hertfordshire's largest town and only a 20 minute train journey from London's Euston station. It is a busy, prosperous town with good shopping and a large amount of industry and business, along with large residential areas. Nearby is the village of Bedmond, where Nicholas Breakspear (elected Pope Adrian IV in 1584, the only Englishman ever to become pope) was born.
The Revd Geoff Austin, pastor.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service, with a presentation of the popular Christmas musical Hosanna Rock by the children of the church.
How full was the building?
There were about 100 people in the congregation, not counting the children presenting the musical. It was completely packed – so packed, in fact, that behind me there was a lady sitting on a man's knee!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
When I arrived, someone in the car park pointed out that I had to go to the hall behind the church for the service. Once I was inside, a man shook my hand and showed me to a seat. As I was maneuvering into said seat, an elderly lady in front of me turned round and said good morning before asking me if I had a child in the play.
Was your pew comfortable?
Chairs had been set up in the church hall sort of catch-as-catch-can. The row in front of me consisted of a traditional wooden pew, but there was also an abundance of those plastic stacking seats. And, as I mentioned earlier, someone behind me had a knee to sit on. I managed to secure a lovely padded conference style seat.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a great air of anticipation and quiet but excited chatter. The church was very full and some people were busily sorting out chairs for late arrivers, whilst others made last minute adjustments to sound equipment. I always feel happiest at a church where there is a pre-service buzz!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"It's lovely to see so many people at church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A copy of Songs of Fellowship was handed out at the door on the way in, plus a Day by Day announcement sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
I think there was a live keyboard, but tape-recorded music accompanied the children's presentation.
Did anything distract you?
It is always fantastic to watch kids taking part in church, and this was no exception. There was one boy whose enthusiasm for what he was doing completely stole the show. He was a great performer who gave good value for the money – you know exactly the type I mean! I was completely captivated by him.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a very informal service, and probably not the best to judge the feel of the usual worship style. As it was the Sunday before Christmas, we sang a couple of traditional Christmas carols and then were treated to the Hosanna Rock presentation. At the end of that, we were invited to make our way into the new building. As we did so, we were asked (rather tongue in cheek) not to touch the glass doors or brass appointments or to tread on the carpet. Apart from that we were very welcome (but see below).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon. The morning consisted of the presentation, which lasted about 25 minutes, and which I score as a 10.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Ah, nativity plays – you either love 'em or hate 'em! I fall into the former category. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the children enjoying themselves as they led the church in worship. I even enjoyed joining in the last chorus, and I think I may even have mimicked some of the acting.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the end of Hosanna Rock we were all invited to see the new church. In order to gain access we had to go outside and stand whilst the minister made a very short speech and then said a lovely, truly appropriate prayer commissioning the building. The problem with all of this is that it was 30 degrees Celsius outside, and as I had not anticipated an outdoor service, I had omitted to wear either my thermal underwear or my mountaineering jacket. By the time we came to sing the commissioning hymn (which was, appropriately enough "We Will Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving in our Hearts") I was frozen to the core! And I hate being cold!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The situation was a bit confusing for everyone concerned. Those associated with the church were milling around excitedly in the new building, and although I did my best to look interested, no one paid me any mind. It was only when I decided to leave and was actually heading out the door that someone stopped me and asked me if I would like a coffee. I completely understand this, as seeing your newly renovated church for the first time is much more exciting than seeing a strange face, especially when that face is mine! After I warmed myself up with coffee, several churchmembers began to engage me in conversation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very welcome hot instant coffee (tea was also available) and mince pies.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It is difficult to get a feel for a church on such an unusual morning. However, I do think I would enjoy being part of this congregation. Certainly the service and events that morning ticked a lot of boxes for me!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
It's been three weeks now, but I'm still singing "Hosanna rock, hosanna roll, from the heavens above to the earth below..."