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2229: Purbeck Gateway Church, Wareham, Dorset, England
Purbeck Gateway, Wareham
Mystery Worshipper: Benny Diction.
The church: Purbeck Gateway Church, Wareham, Dorset, England.
Denomination: Independent.
The building: A small wooden hall with a brick built extension at the back. It is typical of the many thousands of halls found in the UK that are sometimes used as village meeting places, scout huts, etc.
The church: They are quite active in the small town of Wareham. On the day of our visit, they were preparing to welcome an 18 year old youth worker who was going to help run a holiday club for children during the school holidays. The young man was the son of missionaries in China with whom the church has a link. They are also closely involved with the Purbeck Family of Churches (a grouping of Christians in the area). The following weekend the Family of Churches was going to be running a Christian festival, and Purbeck Gateway Church was closely involved in that.
The neighbourhood: Wareham is a very pretty small town of about 5000 residents in Dorset in the south of England, although during the summer it becomes very busy with tourists visiting the many nearby attractions such as the world heritage site of the Jurassic Coast or the Arne nature reserve. Wareham grew in importance during the middle ages when it became a port. It is situated on the rivers Frome and Piddle (cue sniggering from generations of British schoolboys). As these rivers drain into the large natural harbour of Poole on the English channel, it is clear to see why the town had historical importance. The church is set at the end of a small residential street which itself is off the main street.
The cast: An unnamed worship leader and the pastor, the Revd Paul Shepperd.
The date & time: 10 July 2011, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
It was about three-quarters full, around 40 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We weren't sure about attending this church at first, but as we were walking along the street we were given a cheery "Good morning" and a warm smile by a lady who was just about to enter. And so we decided to check it out. We were met by an elderly gentleman who said "Good morning" and gave us an order of service. He took it upon himself to kiss all the women arriving, including a somewhat surprised Mrs Diction!

Was your pew comfortable?
We sat in chairs. These were of the metal stacking variety, but they were padded so were quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly noisy and chaotic but very friendly. In fact, a couple called John and Margaret came and spoke to us at length and made us feel very much at home.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The worship leader said, "Good morning, everyone. Has everyone come through from the back?"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books. All the words to the songs were projected onto the wall. Most people had brought their own well-thumbed Bibles. There were no pew Bibles available. We each had an order of service and a notice sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
None. From the music stands and microphone stands it was clear that usually there is a small worship band. However, it appeared from what the worship leader said that they were all on holiday. Music was therefore provided by midi files played from a laptop.

Did anything distract you?
As I'll explain in a moment, the order of service was slightly back to front from what I'm used to. Consequently the children remained in the service until much later. In front of us was a father who was feeding crisps to his two small boys, who were loudly munching on them whilst noisily crumbling up some paper they had been given to draw on. Then behind us we had a lady who had clearly recently seen the film When Harry met Sally, as she kept repeating "Oh Jesus! Oh Jesus!" in a somewhat alarming manner for church!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was very much contemporary praise with many modern songs, but it was good. We knew most of the songs but one or two were new to us. And I must say these were excellent, with good theology in them.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
32 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Pastor Paul seemed a bit nervous. But he clearly preached from the heart and was very engaging. He employed a technique favoured by some preachers (including this Mystery Worshipper) of mentioning three or four themes he could have preached on, but then said, "But I don't want to talk about that."

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He preached on Joshua 10:1-15 (the sun stood still while Joshua fought the Canaanites). From comments he made to some members of the congregation, it seemed as if he'd been asked to preach on the passage by them specifically. He explored the historical context of the passage for a while, and then said that there are different ways in which we can approach Bible passages, from the fundamentalist to those who would cut out anything they don't understand or like. But the Bible is inspired by God. We should rely on the Holy Spirit to help us interpret God's word for today and remember that God has given us brains to think!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was a time of prayer when we were asked to watch some images and listen to a song called "There is a day" by the Christian band Phatfish. I found this time of prayer very helpful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The breathy "Oh Jesus! Oh Jesus!" coming from behind us put some very strange thoughts in my mind!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After about 45 minutes, one of the elders passed out a notice sheet and it seemed as though the service had come to an end. As we prepared to leave, we both thought it slightly odd that there hadn't been a sermon. But then John and Margaret came and invited us for coffee. It became clear that coffee hour was merely an interval, and that Pastor Paul would preach after we'd had coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was instant and not the best, but the chat was pleasant.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The welcome was second to none. And certainly if we visit Wareham again (which we may well do, as we liked the area to holiday in) we'd come again.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warmth of the welcome.
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