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Eastgate Baptist, Lewes, Sussex, England
|Mystery Worshipper: Salskov.
The church: Eastgate
Baptist, Lewes, Sussex, England.
Union of Great Britain.
The building: There have been Baptists in Lewes since before 1741, but the
present church was opened in 1843. It now presents a slightly
schizophrenic appearance, being 19th century flint and
brick construction with a modern yellow brick addition
on its left hand side. There is a memorial to the 17 who
died at the stake during the Marian persecution of 1554-7.
The original pepper box tower was reconstructed as a pyramid
shape in 1915 for safety reasons. The annex, fairly hideous
from the outside, is very pleasant within. The overall
effect is bright and cheerful.
The church: The website records many church groups for all ages. The old
Boys' Brigade and Girl Guides have given way to more contemporary
formations. There are meetings in local pubs, visits to
the proms, and groups for those who are not Baptist, or
necessarily even Christian. There seems to be a strong
awareness that participation is possible without full
commitment to the church, and this is catered for quite
tactfully, even to the point of telling visitors at the
service that the collection is purely for church member
contributions. The church also has a long-standing interest
in foreign missions, and various members pay visits to
the countries involved.
The neighbourhood: Eastgate is at one side
of the town
centre, within hailing distance of the Harveys Brewery, and well placed
for local involvement. Lewes is a town
with a strong and living sense of its
own history, as witnessed by the martyrs' plaque and the yearly
ceremonies surrounding November 5th, whose torchlit processions require
The cast: The Revd Tim Mitchell, associate minister.
The date & time: 8 August 2010, 10.30am.
What was the
name of the service?
How full was the
Pretty full. I estimated 50+ people of all ages. With
the gallery, there is probably seating for around 120.
The first to gather were the elderly, many of whom had
organisational jobs to do, but families with children
and young people rolled up close to starting time. The
church loses some of its Glyndebourne contingent during
the year, and its young members who are studying elsewhere.
These it recaptures in the summer holidays, together with
some of the many visitors to the town.
Did anyone welcome
Now this has never happened to me before, but as I was
examining the plaque recording the reconstruction of the
church tower, which is on an outside wall, a lady asked
me if I needed help. I said I was planning to attend the
service, and asked her if the tower replacement was war
damage related. She promptly took me into the church and
introduced me to an elderly gentleman who gave me the
story. I was passed from hand to hand, asked if I was
a visitor, how long I was staying, and where I came from.
The chap sitting next to me also started a conversation
before the service which he continued afterwards... You
could say they were friendly!
Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable modern chairs. The interior of the building
was revamped two years ago, carpeted, and new seating
of generously sized upholstered chairs installed.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
It was busy and chatty in a cheerful, not over-loud, way. There were
lots of preparations going on, and the ex-plumber working the
mechanical magic was testing a DVD. Notices were projected before the
service, which struck me as a good time-saving idea.
What were the
exact opening words of the
"Good morning, everybody, and welcome. It's good to see you."
What books did
the congregation use during the
Songs of Fellowship
and The Holy Bible, New
International Version were on the slatted
shelf beneath each chair. We did use the Bible, but song texts were
projected onto the screens.
What musical instruments
Digital organ and electric piano, courtesy of a visiting
friend of the organist. In the 1870s an organ was bought
from Seaford Parish Church. It was pronounced too expensive
to repair, so in 1976 an Allen computer organ was added,
though the original attractive pipework remains.
Did anything distract
After the first hymn, a "welcome" screen saver was in
operation. I hoped that it would not be bouncing round
the screens for the whole service, and fortunately it
Was the worship
stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy minus the clappy. Brisk, lively. Longish prayers
and sermon, but otherwise down to earth. The first part
of the service included a DVD in which a young convert
for Islam testified. There was no opportunity to leave
a calling card, so I was reduced to posting it.
Exactly how long
was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
5 — Too long! Mr Mitchell is a one time scientist, and
devoted an inordinate amount of time to "proving" the
historicity and authenticity of the Bible reading. See
below. I'm doubtful of attempts to prove something that
in my view is essentially a matter of faith.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
He talked about believing the unbelievable, with an amusing
reference to Alice in Wonderland, but then went
on to prove the reliability of the New Testament passage
Acts 1:1-11 (describing the many witnesses to Christ after
the Resurrection, and then the Ascension). One of his
arguments was the number of eye witnesses — a group of
people often described by the police as notoriously unreliable.
Which part of
the service was like being in
I'm not a fan of projected texts, but the modern hymns were well
crafted, and there were some traditional ones as well. Lots of singing,
in fact. And the organ and piano were well played and complemented each
other. Also, and rather naughtily, just as I thought that we had
another half an hour of service after the sermon, as would happen in
the Church of England, and which would have given us a service length
of an hour and
a half, there was a blessing and a hymn and finish!
And which part
was like being in... er... the other place?
I was uncomfortable with the Islamic convert's apparently
genuine belief that he was destined to hell before his
conversion to Christianity. There seemed to be some enormous
theological holes in the way he presented his experience,
and I wonder how members of the congregation felt about
this. Not something I felt I could broach over tea!
when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My pew neighbour continued chatting to me, showed me where the kitchen
bar was, and introduced me to a couple of others. They get a few
congregants from Glyndebourne, so their musical experience is rich.
How would you
describe the after-service
Tea, coffee, in real mugs, though one lady asked for, and got, a cup
and saucer. The chocolate cake had gone by the time I was served, but
the biscuits were good. There was a book and card stall where fair
trade was mentioned, so maybe the tea and coffee were fairly traded. I
could have stayed chatting for much longer, but had to leave
How would you
feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
6 — The welcome was spectacularly warm — not intrusive,
but genuine. These are lovely people. I don't know, however,
how they would take to my rather pared down ideas of doctrine.
Probably there is as great a spread of belief in this
church as in any other, but I grew up in the Roman Catholic
Church with too great an emphasis on purgatory to want
to consider hell as a possibility.
Did the service
make you feel glad to be a
What one thing
will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The lady approaching me outside the church to see if I
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