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3266: St Edyth's, Sea Mills, Bristol, England
St Edyth's, Bristol
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: St Edyth's, Sea Mills, Bristol, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Bristol.
The building: A beautiful large lancet style church opened in 1928 and designed by Sir George Oatley, who also designed some very notable Bristol buildings such as the University tower and buildings. The church remained unfinished for decades, with a rather ugly barricade being substituted for the west wall. That was finally replaced in 1994 with a more aesthetically pleasing wall. The building is quite monumental in size but has a lovely stone interior with low aisles, barrel vaulted ceilings and great height. The tower is a local landmark.
The church: St Edyth's is an evangelical church and ministers to a proud local estate. They have various groups and outreaches all well documented on their website. I'll just mention "Prayer on the Square," which involves (quoting from their website) "a couple of the Prayer Ministry Team sitting outside Sea Mills post office twice a month offering prayer for anyone who wants it." There is a said holy communion each Sunday plus an informal service.
The neighbourhood: The Sea Mills suburb of Bristol was once a Roman port and served as a harbour until the late 18th century. Although no longer in commercial service, the harbour is still used by pleasure craft. Some Roman ruins can still be seen in the harbour area and elsewhere. The church is in the center of a small square with some pleasant houses and a large council estate nearby. There are views over to the river Avon.
The cast: The Revd John Monagan, vicar; Liz Fry, licensed lay minister.
The date & time: Christmas Eve, 24 December 2017, 4.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Christingle Service with Carols.

How full was the building?
Every seat was taken. The church was filled with children, grandparents and parents!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A few people nodded hello but it was difficult to know who was church or not. Most people said hello and Merry Christmas.

Was your pew comfortable?
A pleasant church chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quite noisy, with lots of excited children and a pianist wearing reindeer horns playing carols.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Can you hear me?" A fiddle around with the sound system and then "Hello and welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
It was all on overhead projector.

What musical instruments were played?
A digital piano, well played by the reindeer-horned lady. The large organ remained silent. It was hard to hear the piano, as singing was so loud!

Did anything distract you?
Hundreds of Christingle candles in the dark when the lights went off, which contrasted with the tall lancets of the church. Very magical and the children could get a sense of the divine. Also, the rather long safety advice before we picked up the candles; this ran rather like an airplane safety briefing: "Over here are the sand buckets; over here are the first aiders." However, it was all necessary due to the amount of long hair and candles!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was clearly an evangelical version of a Christingle service, yet everybody seemed happy with this. The announcement on their website described it as "a relaxed service for all the family." I did hear some mention of wanting to hear a few more familiar traditional carols. However, we sang "Away in a Manager" and "Silent Night."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The vicar engaged the children a lot, although with some persuasion! He appeared cheerful and the children appeared to respond well to him.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He had given all the children letters with numbers on and called out sequences of numbers that the children had to move about to so that the letters spelled words. For example, he called out letters that spelled the word Christmas and then came up with various other words, some of which were a bit curious – such as trash!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At one point the children went up to the chancel to receive a Christingle, and then processed back to their seats and the lights went out. The light from the candles and the darkness of the tall lancets just seemed to create an awesome moment that I think probably had the most spiritual feeling for young and old a like.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Playing around with a stubborn sound system at the start of the service. Also, during all the happiness of Christmas there sometimes seems to be an element of sadness in some of the carols.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everybody said Merry Christmas after the candles were blown out.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Noisy and friendly.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I would like some organ music now and again, though!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and lovely to see all the children enjoying their experience of Christingle service.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The moment the lights went out.
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