Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Swaythling Methodist Church, Burgess Road, Southampton

Just to note that we haven't forgotten about hte churches visited prior to this one according to the list on the right, they are merely being written up out of order.

Taken from AnneHouse.com

Swaythling Methodist Church, Burgess Road, Southampton. Visited 11th May 2008.

Swaythling Methodist Church,

284 Burgess Road,



Holy Communion Service for Pentecost- 10:30am

The Review

On a glorious sunny day, we turned up just in time for the 1030am service. The building is a large 1930's building in the Central Hall style, in an octagon shape and a big green dome. There are lovely wall paintings in the entrance hall and on the wall above the altar. The artist Anne House was holding an exhibition in the church of her silk paintings, and these were displayed in a semi circle around the main hall. Due to this, the seats were arranged in a circle, with the altar and the lectern taking up a space in the circle. There was a small table in the middle that contained one of the art exhibits.

We were greeted in the foyer, and given a copy of the Hymns and Psalms hymnbook, and a service sheet for 'Holy Communion for Pentecost and times of renewal'. We took the only seats left in the circle next to the lectern. We should point out at this point that this review may be slightly less impartial than usual as we know the minister of this church. The Rev. Peter McNeill appeared, and opened the service.

There was a time of "News Time" when the microphone was passed to what appeared to be a well known gentleman, who gave a few notices. He asked visitors to introduce themselves and say a little about themselves, which we were happy to do, but the other visitor seemed a little embarrassed by this. The microphone was then sent round for prayer requests, and many were requested. This was a nice touch and showed how involved the church was with the local community. Looking around the congregation at this point, we noticed many of the congregation were elderly.

It was a hymn sandwhich style of service. The hymns being: 307 Lord We Believe to Us and Ours, 279 Born by the Holy Spirit's Breath, 291 I want the Spirit of Power Within, 298 Come Thou Everlasting Spirit, 300 Father of Everlasting Grace. The Hymns were fantastic examples of Wesley's, however they were a little obscure, and clearly somewhat unknown to the congragation as a whole, which lead to a somewhat mumbled performance.

The filling of the sandwhich consisted of three readings, taken from the NRSV, 1 Corinthian 12v 1 - 14, Acts 2v 1 - 16, and a reading from the book of Joel, and understandably were about Pentecost. The next bit of filling was the sermon, which was 20 of minutes long. The minister began the sermon asking why things like the Florida and Durham revival do not happen everywhere, before going on to talk about the gifts of the spirit in the mainstream churches, noting that we all have spiritual gifts. He stated revival begins in our hearts, and asked if we felt if we had the holy spirit. If the answer was no, does that mean God is lying? If yes, why are there not thousands of people joining the church every day? Why are we apparently so ineffective? We need to let God be God and do what he wants in his timing. Some of it us wanting God to do it our way, when it's not our work, it's God's work. He went on to talk about inadequacy being a standard qualification to do God's work, and that believing God is the most important aspect. The church needs to be the body of Christ to serve as God calls us to, doing it in God's strength. He then explained Ephesians 5v8, "be filled with the Spirit". The greek uses the tense the present passive imperative, meaning that the filling is now, the filling is happening to us and the filling must happen. So, we must be filled now. The next bit of hymn sandwhich filling were the intersessional prayers, lead by another member of congregation, which included all the prayer requests made during the greetings at the start, we then had the colletion followed by another hymn. After this we launched into the Methodist Worship Book, Communion for Pentecost and times of renewal. Which is a very nice bit of liturgy, and was read with enthusiasm and sincerity. Unfortunately the wine, being a Methodist Church, was not wine, and in little shot glasses. The bread was a burger roll, which is far from ideal. However, the bread and wine were passed around the circle, so we all served our neighbours, which was nice. This was followed by a blessing and dissmissal.

Post service, we wandered about looking at the wonderful artwork by Anne House, which is stunning and thoroughly recommended. There was also tea, coffee and most importantly, cake! The selection of cakes were very tasty and moist. We chatted to peter and a couple of members of the congragation who were friendly, This was one of the more welcoming churches we've visited.

Traditional/Modern: Some and some, Methodist liturgy for the communion and traditional hymns.
Formal/Informal: Fairly informal. No vestements, sat in the round, chatty style.
Solemn/Lively:Middle of the Road.

Great: Sitting in the round, the community news time, the art in the background, and the sermon. Awesome selection of cake with the refreshments.

Not so great: No - one except the minister seemed to know the words to the hymns.

Access: One step to the front door, but we're fairly confident there is wheelchair access at the side.

This review was written by the Younger one.

Monday, 26 May 2008

In answer to a question....

....from Journeyman.

"I'm just curious, but back in your first post you said...

"We are both looking for a new church, as our old one has ceased to fulfill, so we are genuine and would be doing this anyhow."

How is the search for a new church going? It has been interesting reading your blog but I've been waiting for you to say that "We've found somewhere, OK it's not perfect, but it's good and we're happy so we're staying".

This is a blog that I'd love to see end, or move onto a new topic."

First of all, Hello Journeyman! Great to hear from you, it's nice to know we have some readers after all.

The search for a new church is going really well. As you can see on the sidebar, we have a list of churches that we've really liked so far. There's definately a shortlist of places that we'll go back to and mull over and pray about in more detail. However, we want to visit as many of the churches in Southampton as possible in case the church that's best for us is one we'd never consider otherwise. To be honest, it's also really fun, as we get to meet lots of interesting people and try out new ways of worshipping. It has also helped us work out what's not for us.

What has also been interesting is the feedback we've had from the churches we've visted. A lot of the churches have found it useful to see how their church appears to a visitor. One has published our review in the parish magazine! Dave Walker on the Church Times blog alerted us to this where people are paying for a mystery shopper type visit to their churches.

We'll be writing up the churches we've visited whilst the blog's been on hiatus next week and the reviews will continue as normal.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Normal Service....

... will be resumed shortly. We are currently extremely busy with things, but those things will be sorted in a fortnight. Coming soon to a Southampton Church Review blog near you, reviews of St Mark's Church, Archers Road, Avenue St Andrews URC, The Avenue, Swaythling Methodist Church, Burgess Road and many more, possibly including a shiny new feature, Guest blogging!


We're off to Central Hall later.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Avenue St Andrews URC Church

Avenue St Andrew's URC Church, Southampton.

Avenue St Andrew's URC,
The Avenue (Opposite Northlands Road),
SO17 1XQ

Communion lead by Rev. Cliff Bembridge. 1030am. Visited on 4th May 2008. 

From the Church website.
Believing worship to be central to our lives, we see our mission as continuing to grow, both as individuals and as a fellowship, to further our Christian service and witness within the community and the world.

The church has around 175 members with about 100 people attending morning services.

The Review

We arrived at the unmissable Avenue St Andrews church on the Avenue. This is a complex of victorian church, hall and modern glass extensions. The main entrance is through the modern foyer, but the church itself is another victorian barn once inside. It has pretty stained glass and some rather lovely wood carvings.

Once finding a seat amongst the interlocking padded wooden chairs, we were pleased to see NRSV bibles. Songs for this service were going to be taken from the Rejoice and Sing, the main URC songbook and Avenue Hymns and Songs, a songbook produced by the church. The songs and prayers were projected onto a screen by a data projector. All hymns were accompanied by the organ. Looking around the congregation, there were about 100 people of all ages present. 

The service opened with a call to worship lead by the minister, with said responses by the congregation and the first hymn was 261 At the Name of Jesus. We were surprised to find this sung to a different tune to the famous one.Next was a 'News for the Family' segment, with notices and the like. The highlight of this was the clever use of the pulpit to hide the flowers that were given as a thank you to the retiring church secretary. The next hymn was Be still for the presence of the Lord . The offering and dedication of gifts followed. We found this somewhat unnerving as it happenned in an interlude,  meaning that you could hear the money dropping in as people made their offerings. Interestingly, the offering was not going to the upkeep of the church, but to Set All Free, a charity set up to help end slavery. This along with the extensive buildings, the larger congregation and the number of activities advertised in the pewsheet and on noticeboards in the concourse suggest a growing and active church in a good financial situation. All speuclation of course.

After this, the children and young people left to go to their age appropriate activites, with them being sent on their way with a few words of liturgy from both the minister and the congregation. Next came two bible readings, both read by members of the congregation, one from Acts 1 v 6 - 14, and one from Luke 24 v 44 - 63. Prayers followed, and then hymn no. 601 Christ is the world's true light. Rev. Bembridge then began his sermon, interestingly using a different speaking style to the one he used when otherwise leading the service, one that was much more chatty and informal. He opened with a joke that was a variation on the famous "How many does it take to change a light bulb" routine, using different christian demnominations. Apparently it takes 10 Pentacostals, one to change it and nine to pray against the darkness, one Charismatic, as they've got their hands in the air already, and in the URC, changing the lightbulb can provoke dispute as "My grandmother gave me that lightbulb".  Rev. Bembridge spoke of how the church can be anxious about change. In Acts, after the acension, the disciples stood terrified and confused as Jesus left them with the Holy Spirit, something that would make huge changes in their lives, and ultimately in the world at large. It is easy for the church today to look with rose tinted glasses at the past, just as the disciples stood staring at the sky after Jesus ascended, looking for the past good. However the angels reminded them of what they were to do, their mission in the world. Rev. Bembridge guessed that it would only take 2 members of Avenue St. Andrews to change a lightbulb, one to change it and one to hold the ladder in the interest of health and safety. He then went on to ponder how many members of Avenue St. Andrews it would take to develop a strategy for mission and to implement that strategy, going God's work in the world with the Holy Spirit in order to change it. It is easy to be distracted by the minute trivia and details of life, and to wallow in the past, but God expects us to do both the practical and the spiritual work, with his Spirit leading us. The sermon was 11 minutes in total.

After the sermon, we sang 456 O bread to pilgrims given. This was followed by Communion, which was done in a completely new way to us. Small plates with cubes of bread were passed around the congregation, which were then eaten with suitable words all together as a congregation, before wine in the small shot glass - esque glasses was passed around and consumed much like the bread. The glasses were then placed in a little cut out in the back of the seat in front.  The final hymn was 600 Christ is the world's light.

After service, we had a very nice cup of tea and coffee in proper china from a tea service, but there were no biscuits or the like. We hung about looking lost for a bt, and were just about to leave when a lady came to speak to us.

Traditional/Modern:Fairly traditional. 
Formal/Informal:Middling wth robed minister.
Solemn/Lively:Fairly solemn.

Great: The way in which the work of the church secretary was clearly appreciated by church, the mix of ages in the larger congregation. 

Not so great: Only one person introducing themselves after the service. It seemed a little on the short side.

Access: Wheelchair friendly main doors.

This review was written by the Older

Monday, 31 March 2008

This Week

We went to a party last night, in another county.

We were still in said county this morning, so we were going to go to an evening service.

We arrived and the Church Building had a notice saying there was not a servce there this week, disappointing given the website checked and hour before said nothing of the sort.

Next week we are on holiday, however we may have a special guest report!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Church of the Ascension, Bitterne Park

The Church of the Ascension, Bitterne Park. 

The Church of the Ascension,
Thorold Road, Bitterne Park,

Sun 16th 9:30 a.m. Parish Communion - Easter Sunday

From the Church website:
9.30 Parish Communion

On the first Sunday of each month, an all age service replaces the 9.30 Parish Communion, all other Sundays there is a Sunday Club and a Creche for younger members of our congregation
On the fourth Sunday the Parish Communion includes the Ministry of Healing with Laying on of Hands.

The Review

The intrepid duo were late again, though this time it was due to a friend tagging along with us and being hard to rouse in time for a 9:30am service. We entered through the main doors, walking past a beautiful mosaic in the entrance hall. Once inside the main church, we were bemused to see the entire congregation processing through the church toward the back of the building. A server (who we were later introduced to as Sam) and another member of the congregation beckoned us in with welcoming smiles. It turns out the church were going to bless their new bells before the service started, which the vicar, Rev. Sarah Chapman, duly did.  We all then walked through the main part of the church 
and took seats in the sanctuary which was marked by a painted carved stone screen.

A short note here on the decor of the church. Another victorian barn, with white walls and beautiful modern stained glass windows. The one in the bell tower shows the 'Grace Dieu' a ship sailed by a crew of Christians, and over the main altar,
 a variation on a rose window. This had images in the colour of the rainbow radiating out from
 a central image of a majestic Christ. It was lovely to gaze upon this during such a joyous service. 
The other windows illustrate hymns by Isaac Watts, a Southampton native. The arches in the 
aisles and the decoration over the main and lady chapel altars were painted much like the screen in 
lovely deep shades of blue red and green with gold detailing.  Even the organ had painted pipes!

We followed the standard liturgy for Easter Day of the CofE, with the 'F' Eucharistic prayer. There were plenty of Easter Alleuias and lots of congregation participation. There were no pew bibles, and the hymns were from Sing Glory and Junior Praise books. Two of the hymns were accompanied by the organ, and the rest by piano and drums, lead by a singer on a microphone, and sometimes joined by some sort of brass or wind instrument, either a sax or a trumpet. The reason I can't tell you is that the worship group was situated on the dais the other side of the screen behind where we were sat. I merely glimpsed an instrument case as we left for coffee! The hymns for Easter Sunday were 408 Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia, 112 Glory, Glory in the Highest, 420 All Heavens Declare, the Glory of the Risen Lord, 398 Alleluia Alleluia, hearts to heaven and voices raise, and He has Risen, When the Life flowed from his body.

The sermon was given by the curate, Rev. Paul Bradbury. He seemed a bit nervous to begin with, but soon relaxed into speaking making a few jokes. We were really impressed with his style of preaching which was very personal and well referenced with real world and theological anecdotes from the Archbishop of Canterbury and other modern theologians. He also had a very pleasant voice to listen to. The sermon was 15 - 20mins long I think, but I was so interested in it I didn't write down the actual time. The main gist was a that the bodily ressurection of Christ has siginificance for us in that we can use it right now today. It's "Steak on the plate while we wait, rather than just pie in the sky when we die" We should work to honour Jesus with the knowledge that what we do here on earth is not in vain. The curate is apparently doing one thing a week to try and fight injustices in the world.

The prayers were lead by the Thompson family, with the parents also being involved in the worship group. Both the parents and the children read really well and emphatically.  The worship group also played during the communion, including one of our favourite worship songs, 'Once Again'. We were especially pleased to see the welcome of the Junior Church after the communion where the vicar welcomed them up the front to tell us all what they had been upto whilst we had the service. They did this enthuiastically and it seemed like this was a regular thing as even on of the tinies was ok with speaking in the microphone to give the vicar an easter egg! There was a well appointed children's area in the main church. During the last song, all the congregation were given tambourines and percussion instruments if they wanted one and encouraged to make a joyful noise which we did followed by some spontaneous applause and whooping! We also sang 'Thine Be the Glory' to appease one of the servers according to the Vicar, otherwise she'd have a mutiny on her hands next week!

After the service we retired to Church House to have tea and coffee in the hall there whilst the children took part in an easter egg hunt. The tea and coffee was fairly traded and very good, and the biscuits very high quality, though not very festival appropriate being Christmas tree shaped! The aforementioned Sam came and talked to us about the church and life in Southampton and filled us in on some of the plans the church has for the future, including screening off the sanctuary and  taking the pews out of the main body of the church to make a community hall, levelling off the stairways in the entrance to make to make it more accessible, and having a cafe onsite. 
We could have talked for hours but eventually had to leave to go to Easter lunches!

Traditional/Modern: A real mix of both traditional and modern styles of worship incorporating traditional liturgy, modern prayers, hymns on the organ, worship songs and tambourines. Worked surprisingly well.
Formal/Informal: Middling. Servers and priests in albs etc, but more informal preaching and leading styles.
Solemn/Lively: Fairly lively which was great for Easter Sunday.

Great: The mix of worship styles, the on target and interesting preaching,
the welcome given the to junior church when they joined the main service.

Not so great: 9:30am... when?

Access: Wheelchair access via the side door, but main entrance has stairs into church.

This review was written by the Older one.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

St James Road Methodist Church

Once more an evening service, no real excuse this week. Normal service should resume for Easter. Also slow to appear, 'cause I'm rubbish.

St James Road Methodist Church

ST. James Road,
SO15 5HE

Evening Worship

No church website and the District and Circuit websites appear to be broken.

The bumpf given out by the by the Church describes "Lenten Series including the Sacrament of Holy Communion led by Rev Stuart Bell and Mr David Craggs"

The Review
We arrived in good time, which must be a first. We wandered in the back door into "the link", a hallway/lounge type building joining the church and the centre. There were a number of people stood about talking casually and two stood by the door to the main church giving out service sheets who shook our hands and greeted us friendly manner, as did another steward stood in "the link". We wandered into the main church and too a seat near the back on a wooden pew with a soft cushion stretching its length. Once sat we looked through the books in the pew accompanied by the organist playing a quiet number. The books were the "Methodist Worship Book" (also in large print), "Methodist Hymns & Psalms", "Songs of Fellowship" & NIV Bibles.

The Building was yet another victorian barn, big and airy, and better looking than most. It was large enough to fit several hundred, though for this evening service there were only 40 or so. Enquires later revealed a morning congregation of 150 or so. The service started with a few words of welcome then sang the first hymn 'Ride On, Ride On In Majesty' and the service continued straight out of the Methodist Worship Book, with the hymns 'I Am a New Creation' 'Come Sinners to the Gospel Feast' 'Now Let Us From This Table Rise'

The Liturgy was read in a fashion that made it have real meaning, which is not always the case, and was nice to hear. The Sermon was preached from the second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians chapter 5 verse 10 to chapter 6 verse 2, by David Craggs, was twelve minutes long. I'd love to explain it, but I must confess I very quickly stopped paying attention, not that I have the best attention span but I can normally manage 12 minutes. According to the older one it was based on five 'C's: Consciousness, Paul was conscious he would be judged, Compulsion, Paul was compelled by Christ's love, Conviction, Paul and ourselves should be convinced Jesus died for all, Creation, those in Christ are new creations, Commitment, God is committed to us therefore he reconciled the world to himself through Jesus, Crisis, we should live with an urgency to spread the gospel.

A really nice and welcoming touch was that during the peace David Craggs asked our names, and then during communion he offered us the wine with our names. The Communion Bread was a very good loaf of bread, possibly homemade, which made a pleasant change. However due to this being a Methodist Church the wine was not wine but rather similar to Ribena.

After the service a very friendly lady came to speak to us and offered to provide us with literature about the Church and its activities and introduced us to the minister. Whilst we were talking to the minister another steward came over and offered to fetch drinks for us. Good tea and coffee with lovely homemade biscuits. We had a very interesting discussion with the minister about life in Southampton, and he spoke to us encouraging us to come to the morning service, with is reported to be more lively, and attended by about 150 people.

Judging by literature and other things the church seems to be doing well, running lunches, a girl's brigade, badminton and bowls clubs, a women's group, a walking group and a bible study group.

Traditional/Modern: Fairly traditional in a Methodist sort of way, but not particularly.
Formal/Informal: Not very formal, with the minister in just a clerical shirt and jacket but fully instructional liturgy.
Solemn/Lively: Just on the solemn side of middling.

Great: Very Friendly people, nice liturgy.

Not so great: The service left us with no felling of transendence. Ribena.

Access: Ramps at the entrances, leading to full accessibility.

This review was written by the Younger.