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3138: Bath Abbey, Bath, England
Bath Abbey (Exterior)
Photo: © Nikater and used under license
Mystery Worshipper: Hephzibah.
The church: Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul, Bath, Somerset, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Bath and Wells.
The building: Bath Abbey is an impressive building of pale cream Bath stone, which is characteristic of the architecture of the city of Bath. It has been described as “the last great medieval cathedral to be built in England.” One of its most interesting features is the stone sculpture on the exterior of the west end depicting angels ascending and descending Jacob’s Ladder into heaven.
The church: The Abbey receives around 500,000 visitors every year from all over the world. The church community offers a ministry to its visitors in many different ways: through its services, events, art exhibitions and concerts, and social outreach projects such as the Lifeline Centre, which offers a welcome to homeless and vulnerably housed people in Bath. The ministry is seen as a modern continuation of the welcome given to all pilgrims and visitors throughout the Abbey’s long history.
The neighbourhood: The Abbey occupies a central position in the city of Bath, just a stone’s throw from the pump rooms made famous by the novels of Jane Austen, where the wealthy and respectable classes came to "take the waters," and the much older Roman baths underneath.
The cast: Revd Evelyn Lee-Barber, self-supporting curate. The preacher was, I believe, someone who works in the Abbey bookshop but was not named.
The date & time: Sunday, 19 March 2017, 6.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Begin The Week (also called BTW) – billed on their website as "an informal evening service" in which worshippers "create a time and space to review the past week, to reflect on some aspect of Christian teaching and be renewed by the Spirit of God for what lies ahead in the coming week."

How full was the building?
Not full at all – perhaps a tenth of the available seats were filled. It is a large building.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone giving out the service sheets welcomed me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not very – hard wooden pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, reflective.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Well, a very warm welcome and good evening to everyone here.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. There was an order of service but this was not really needed, as the words of songs and prayers were displayed on a screen.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, guitars, violin, clarinet, French horn.

Did anything distract you?
A gentleman a few pews in front of me, swaying and jerking to the music, caught my attention. I wouldn’t necessarily say that was a distraction – I was touched by his response to the worship.

Bath Abbey (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Heartfelt, musical, reflective, sincere, accomplished, contemporary. The leader of the service spoke about how we can recognise the presence of the Holy Spirit, and stated with confidence that there was a strong sense of the Spirit's presence in the service that evening.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The preacher was competent and clear. It was all terribly serious, however, and I felt some touches of humour wouldn't have gone amiss, just to lighten it up a little.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus the Prophet and his warnings that we need to listen to.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Sitting quietly in my pew gazing at the very beautiful soaring arches and fan vaulting above the nave, listening to the music group.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Feeling very very lonely in my pew by myself, wishing I had someone to talk to.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing happened. Some people were chatting in twos and threes but no one approached me. Most people left quite quickly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no refreshments offered.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I would definitely consider it based on this service – it met me where I was and I loved the atmosphere and the style of worship. The only problem area I could foresee would be getting lost in such a large church (though the congregation was small on this occasion) and finding it difficult to feel connected and as if I belonged.

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

Bath Abbey (Interior)
Photo: © Brian Robert Marshall and used under license

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Being assured of the presence of the Holy Spirit. This chimed in with what I was sensing at that time as well.
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