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3218: London Street United Reformed, Basingstoke, England
London Street URC, Basingstoke (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Isla White.
The church: London Street United Reformed, Basingstoke, England.
Denomination: United Reformed Church, Wessex Synod.
The building: Imposing and traditional (consecrated 1801) but with an adjoining modern cafe and suite of rooms in daily use by numerous organisations. Sited within the pedestrian precinct, and the base for Basingstoke Street Pastors, it is easily recognisable and well known.
The church: Very involved in community outreach, with a Brazilian Portuguese service held on Sunday afternoons. There appears to be a Welsh connection, with daily prayers following the the Ffald-y-Brenin "Rhythm of Prayer."
The neighbourhood: Basingstoke is an old market town, the largest town in Hampshire, in south central England. Novelist Jane Austen, the 200th anniversary of whose death is currently being celebrated, frequently visited Basingstoke when living in nearby Steventon and Chawton. Numerous events and art installations celebrating her life and novels are scattered throughout the town. Basingstoke expanded massively during the 1960s. People jokingly say that the planner, who was drinking coffee when designing the road layout, kept putting his cup down on the map. He then drew round the resulting stain, creating the vast number of roundabouts. For the same reason, Basingstoke is often nicknamed "Doughnut City."
The cast: The Revd Kay Blackwell, minister; Ian Rees, organist.
The date & time: 6 August 2017, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
Fairly full. There appeared to be a large proportion of vulnerable (challenged) adults in the congregation, some of whom called out comments, laughed loudly, or talked during the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A very smartly dressed elderly lady shook my hand at the door. She asked me from whence I came and ensured that I had the hymn book and notice sheet. She made me feel really welcome. When I sat down, another lady, who had been talking to the minister, came and greeted me, saying she was the elder today.

Was your pew comfortable?
Individual padded chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Passionate organ playing, plus many people chatting. The vulnerable adults in the row immediately behind me were particularly loud. As the notices were announced, a woman joined those behind me, pushing the chair at the end of my row so violently that several items fell on the floor. She left someone else to straighten the chair and pick up the books, and then proceeded to put a cup of coffee on the seat next to me. Unfortunately I don’t like the smell of coffee.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good morning, everyone. Welcome to London Street.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version; Rejoice and Sing, which includes several hymns in Welsh.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, an opus of Copeman Hart Church Organ Builders of Shaw, Lancashire. Rather oddly, the keyboard was placed at an angle to the dais in the aisle at the front of the church. This meant that the organist’s footwork (and interesting shoes) were visible.

London Street URC, Basingstoke (Organ)

Did anything distract you?
The set-up of the projector was very poor. It was balanced on several books on a portable lectern, with the equipment carry-cases visible through the legs of the table. The welcome slide included the task bar (which meant I could see the seconds advancing on the computer’s clock) and an update dialogue box entitled Improve System Performance. When this was finally noticed and removed, I still found the set-up distracting. Part of the screen was blacked out by the shadow of the lectern. The projector was at an angle and had not been aligned to the screen. Pictures illustrating the children’s talk included Jesus standing on top of a hill, but his head was cut off, and the final screen ended with “Join us for."

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Hymn prayer sandwich, all traditional hymns apart from the banal "One more step along the world I go," which preceded the children leaving for their classes. The Lord's Prayer and congregational response to the prayers of concern were printed in the bulletin sheet. The final hymn, announced as "Guide me O thou great Jehovah," was in Welsh! However, the English translation was given below, and thankfully we did sing it in English.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The minister very movingly described her recent experience when out at night on a Street Pastors patrol. However, it was so long and detailed, and accompanied by interpretation, that when she ended the story I thought it was the end of the sermon. In fact, it was just the introduction! The sermon proper had not yet started.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
She said that many of those contacted by the Street Pastors told her she was wasting her time, and one had even called her a fool! Another had quoted at length from Job, saying he was an angel sent to give her this message. There is both emotional and intellectual wisdom. Solomon flip-flopped in his wisdom, asking for discernment (the Hebrew word for which means "a listening heart") yet worshipping at the high places. Biblical wisdom is about one’s relationship with God as well as living it out in relationship with others.

London Street URC, Basingstoke (Preacher)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful welcome given by the lady at the door. Having attended services where hymns and readings are on the screen, I had forgotten the pleasure of using books, thus being able to read round the verses referred to in the sermon.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
However, it did make me realise why most churches now project everything. It’s much easier for newcomers. I found it difficult to find the hymns quickly enough, and why do we restart the Bible’s page numbering at the New Testament? An announcement was made that there was to be a "collection," even though it was called "offertory" in the bulletin. Then we were presented with an open plate so other people could see how much you had given.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people talked to me. As I tried to slip out of the door whilst the pastor was talking to someone else, she literally ran after me. She later joined me in the café and encouraged a deep conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair trade tea and coffee in proper cups, but nothing to eat. Refreshments were in the adjoining church café, which operates during the week, and included a Traidcraft stall.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – This is a church with a great presence in the community and is clearly making a difference, particularly to the lives of vulnerable people.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The shock of possibly being required to sing a hymn in Welsh.
 
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