|20: Hamilton Square Baptist Church, San Francisco|
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Mystery Worshipper: UK Grockle.
The church: Hamilton Square Baptist Church, San Francisco.
Denomination: Fundamentalist Baptist, associated with the Northern California Fellowship of Fundamental Baptists.
The building: It was described to me as Mission-Revival. Delightful building with strong Mexican hints. You approach the front door through a small courtyard with a tinkly fountain. The interior is plain, but the wooden ceiling is very simple and extremely impressive. It was spoilt only by a brown covered monstrosity which I assume housed the sound system for the organ.
The neighbourhood: Just a couple of minutes walk is the huge modern concrete structure of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption. Knocks Liverpool's RC cathedral into a cocked hat.
The cast: Pastor: David C. Innes. Preacher: Rev. Tim Sneedon. The program read: 'ministers: all members'.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About two-thirds full. Mixed ethnic make-up, including WASPs, Chinese and Hispanics.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We ran the gauntlet and were welcomed with handshakes at the front door, greeted twice with handshakes in the short walk to the sanctuary and then ushered to our seat. Friendly, but not as overpowering as I was expecting.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Very deep. Obviously designed for the larger American botty.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quieter than some Baptist churches I have attended. The organ was playing old favourite gospel songs. It must have been computer controlled, as the organist appeared to be doing other things.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Good morning all of you. Isn't it a lovely day?' (It was 80f outside.)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Bible: KJV the question 'is there any other version?' hung heavily in the atmosphere. Hymnbook: Music version of 'Favorite Hymns', which reminded me of the old 'Golden Bells' hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano.
Did anything distract you?
No. In spite of the high temperatures outside, the building, which had no air-conditioning, was delighfully cool.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A traditional kind of Baptist service that I remember from about 30 years ago. The choir sang a song that wouldn't have been out of place in a 1960s Billy Graham Crusade straight four-part harmony.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6. The church is looking for an assistant pastor and Tim Sneedon was one of the candidates. This was a good 'preaching with a view' sermon. For me, after spending the last 13 years in a charismatic community church, it was like a cold shower to hear the words 'sin', 'sinner' and 'repentance' mentioned so often. Liberally studded with scripture quotations. There was a 'get up out of your seats' altar call at the end.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The four weapons used at the crucifixion of Christ: the scourge, the crown of thorns, the nails and the spear. In spite of saying many times, 'I don't want to be gory', he did dwell on the physical actions of the weapons.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Would have been my idea of heaven 30 years ago.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The duet during the offering. It was a bit like a duet from a 1930s 'B' movie musical. Some people might have liked it. I squirmed.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were collared immediately by the church historian and archivist and given a conducted tour of the building. He told us that the church has been in existence for around 150 years, although only 50 years on the present site.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had a very cold, refreshing fruit punch. Also spinach pinwheel sandwiches.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0, as it's too far from where we live. I'd give it a 2 if I lived near, as my ideas on style of worship have changed.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Funnily enough, yes. It was so good to be reminded of the fundamentals of our faith and our place before God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The venerability of the worship style.