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Warm Worship on a Snowy Sunday - Wincanton Baptists

Thursday 1 January 1970, 01:00
By John Baxter

Wincanton Baptist ChurchWincanton's Baptist Church in Mill Street is one of the most distinctive buildings in the town. Built in 1883 after the founding of the congregation in 1829, it is set back from the road and also has on the premises a hall and above that a spacious office for the pastor, the Reverend Andrew Ireland. The chapel itself has a handsome classical façade with high windows above the door.

I turned up for Sunday worship on the 10th of January,2010. It was bitterly cold and Wincanton was covered in snow and the pavements and minor roads really treacherous, so not surprisingly numbers were down from the usual turnout of around forty. What was lacking in numbers however, was certainly made up for by the relaxed friendliness and enthusiasm I found. Everyone was dressed extremely informally in a "just as I am" way. Clearly there had been little "dressing up for Church." There was also a good spread across the age range, from elderly people to quite a few children, mostly boys.

Wincanton Baptist Church InteriorHistorically, the Baptist tradition has not encouraged the use of such symbols as stained glass windows, statues, crosses, crucifixes, candles or even a table that could in any sense be regarded as an altar. That certainly was the case here – the front of the chapel being almost bare of symbols except for a small plain cross and a religious poster which depicted the crucifixion attached to the lectern. Of course I knew, this being a Baptist chapel, that there was one powerful symbol that was there - even if it was covered up by floor-boards until needed, that is the Baptism tank. Filled with water this has to be large enough for adults to be totally immersed in. When this takes place the candidate, after a public confession of faith, is pushed right under, a powerful symbol of dying to sin and being born again as a member of the Church, the body of Christ.

When I reached the chapel and went into the entrance hall I was warmly welcomed by Andrew and some friends I knew who are members of the congregation. We then went into the main worship area. This is almost square, which gives the chapel a pleasant sense of intimacy and I found I was faced by a large projector screen up against the wall. Ensconced in the first row of seats sat a boy, who turned out to be Andrew's twelve year old son. He was operating a computer and preparing the projector. Clearly the plan was we would not be using hymn books today, but singing from words projected on the screen.

Next in came the musicians. Their instruments were already set up at the front facing us. There was an electric guitarist, a flautist and a keyboard player. With a melodious riff the guitarist who has a good voice, lead the singing with gusto and everyone stood up to take part – but voices came there none. Computer glitch. No words would appear on the screen.  Red face and much pushing of buttons by the operator, but help was at hand. The computer literate present rallied around to help and we all sat down until the machine was tamed and we could stand again and sing lustily.

Andrew then read to us, not from the Bible, but from another book which cleverly made the point that the call to follow Jesus could easily result in Christians getting caught up in the minutia of fund raising, coffee mornings and what can easily become pious, inward looking activities. Such activities, while being useful and sometimes necessary, could also easily cut the Christian off from engagement with the wider community and sensitivity to the needs of others, and when that happens the real point of following Jesus is lost.

This was followed by more enthusiastic singing using the now working screen and a woman from the congregation then read from one of Paul's letters before we were lead through some very well thought out prayers for others (Intercessions) At the end of this it was suggested we pause for silence before other members of the congregation were invited to add their own prayers, which some did, all prayers being "extempore" or unscripted.

It was then time for Andrew to give us his sermon. Clearly this was the result of a lot of thought for he had prepared notes and quotations for us all to read in the leaflet for the day. He speaks in an informal and gentle way, and while his words clearly come from an Evangelical and "Bible believing" perspective, he constantly showed sensitivity to how difficult and challenging it can be to try to follow Jesus in the contemporary world. The point I thought he made particularly well was when he said that once a person has chosen to follow Christ, then one needs to realise that the Spirit of Jesus is working in and through one, and one becomes in a real sense the bearer of his presence despite human frailty and imperfection. Again at the end we had a period for silent reflection to think about this.

After a final "song", (they were not referred to as hymns, and all the music was of a vaguely folk song style) the service ended and tea and coffee was offered while everyone milled around in the chapel to chat. When it was time to go I went outside to find the small boys and young adults engaged in an enthusiastic snow-ball fight. I felt duty bound to participate.

John Baxter


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