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2897: Bethany Evangelical, Newport, Isle of Wight
Bethany Evangelical, Newport, Isle of Wight
Mystery Worshipper: Isla White.
The church: Bethany Evangelical, Newport, Isle of Wight.
Denomination: Independent. They appear to have Brethren roots.
The building: Dating from 1976, it's their second building. Their original building is now used by an Elim group. It's utilitarian, clean, flexible, with sliding partitions between the main and auxiliary room. Well equipped toilets – body lotion provided.
The church: They visit several wards at the local hospital each week to conduct services. There is a daytime prayer meeting during the week plus meetings of the Victorious Life ladies' group. They also have a fellowship meeting for the visually impaired. They sponsor home groups (quoting from their website) "where friendship, fellowship and Bible knowledge can be nurtured together with an opportunity for a shared life and shared prayer." They have two services each Sunday: Breaking of Bread and an All-Age Service.
The neighbourhood: Newport is a town slightly to the north of centre of the Isle of Wight. Newport's suburb of Parkhurst is home to two of Her Majesty's prisons: Albany and Parkhurst. The latter, known as one of the toughest prisons in the system, has housed the likes of the Kray Twins and the Yorkshire Ripper, among others, and in the 19th century served as a collection point for child prisoners being transported to Australia. In 1822 a nine year old chimney sweep named Valentine Gray was found dead in the filthy hovel where he lived, his body horribly abused. Public outrage over the incident gave rise to legislation to protect the rights of children. Today, the town's central location makes it the island's main shopping hub and centre for public services. Bethany Evangelical Church is located near to where Valentine Gray's body was found.
The cast: There was no official leader. Various members of the congregation suggested hymns, commented on Bible verses, and prayed. One person conducted a very simple communion.
The date & time: Sunday, 2 August 2015, 9.45am.

What was the name of the service?
Breaking of Bread.

How full was the building?
One-quarter full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was nobody in the foyer when we arrived 20 minutes before the start, so we decided to go for a walk and went back out. A couple had just driven into the car park. They immediately welcomed us and accompanied us back in. By this time there were several other people in the foyer. They gave us hymnbooks, shook hands, and asked our names and where we were from. One lady came and sat with us.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable padded chairs that were drawn up in small groups around a coffee table. It was explained that this was not usual and had been done in preparation for another meeting.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People chatted quietly. There was no background music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"As we gather around the Lordís table this morning, albeit in a slightly different layout, let us sing hymn number 243."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Complete Mission Praise. A second book called Hymns of Light and Love was given to us but not used. I only recognised a handful of the hymns it contained.

What musical instruments were played?
None. Someone started singing the hymn and everyone joined in. There were a piano and digital keyboard that went unused.

Did anything distract you?
Peopleís feet. After the first hymn we all sat down, and nothing whatever happened for several minutes. We had no idea what was going to happen. Eventually someone shared a thought, which was again followed by a very long silence. During these repeated silences it was difficult not to look at the feet of those around. Somebodyís foot kept moving. One gentleman was wearing odd socks.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A cappella old hymns, well sung with good timing and pitched not too high. I really enjoyed this, but it must be very difficult for those who don't know them or who are unable to sing in tune. Long periods of silence with no explanation. Two people stood up at different times and read Bible verses relating to the first hymn, and then shared their thoughts on these verses.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon. Two people shared thoughts on verses, each for about two minutes.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being welcomed by name, even though the person doing the announcements was not the person who had asked our names before the service. Sharing in communion: wine from a common cup. Being used to grape juice in tiny cups, it made me think more deeply about what it meant, especially as I donít normally drink alcohol.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Feeling totally lost because I had no idea what was happening or what to expect. At least I knew that "Breaking of Bread" referred to communion. Apparently the Family Service is more directed.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people took it in turns to come and talk to us. They showed us into the room where coffee was being served. As soon as I finished talking to someone in the coffee room, another lady beckoned me across to sit with her and her friend. We discussed how communion is ministered in various churches. When another friend joined us, I was introduced. When those three ladies left for the hospital service ,another lady joined me. Everyone was really friendly. It was wonderful!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Water, squash and biscuits were laid out for people to help themselves. Freshly made tea and coffee were served. They happily made me a decaf tea from my own tea bag.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Although this is not the type of service Iím used to, the friendliness of the people means Iíd be willing to change styles.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The smiles on their faces, and the taste of the wine.
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