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2486: Hastings Baptist, Hastings, New Zealand
Hastings Baptist, Hastings, NZ
Mystery Worshipper: Nengscoz.
The church: Hastings Baptist, Hastings, New Zealand.
Denomination: Baptist Union of New Zealand.
The building: A large stone building located in the heart of Hastings city. The interior has a large rectangular worship area with a raised platform at the front. Overlooking the worship area is a small balcony, which was open for parents with children, possibly to limit the distractions during the service. To one side is a sliding wall which revealed a coffee-and-biscuit serving area after the service.
The church: Their website states that "service to others takes the shape of countless daily acts of kindness and generosity. It can also take a more structured form." They do many ministries to the local community, including pre-school music, Girls Brigade and loan schemes.
The neighbourhood: Hastings is a town on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The area has long been associated with food production and has recently become known as a wine producing region. The church is in the centre of town, across the road from a park, the local library and the city council.
The cast: The Revd Rob Morton, associate pastor.
The date & time: 20 January 2013, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Service.

How full was the building?
Apart from the empty front two rows, each row was adequately filled, meaning the church was three-quarters full. About 200 people in attendance, I'd say. The congregation were made up of a range of ages. About half were of retirement age and the rest were families with children. As a single 20-something I found few kin.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
An older lady greeted me at the door and asked if I knew anyone. When I said I didn't, she went on a mission to find a "younger person" for me to sit next to during the service. Such a person was duly found and I was quickly engaged in cheerful conversation.

Was your pew comfortable?
We were sitting on cushioned chairs that were comfortable enough so as not to be noticed.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was chatty and cheerful. It is the end of our summer holidays and many people were catching up after the Christmas break.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello. Welcome here today."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The only book used was a Bible.

What musical instruments were played?
A piano, two guitars, drums, and three singers.

Did anything distract you?
The two empty rows at the front of the church loomed ominously before us!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I was pleased to find a traditionally structured service that intermingled songs with teachings, readings and prayers. The songs were structured with a verses and a chorus and were a mix of traditional ("Amazing Grace") and modern. I saw no hands waving.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
24 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Associate Pastor Morton presented a complex topic in a clear and accessible way.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The associate pastor gave a brief overview of the Trinity. The church has been working its way through a contemporary catechism and this was the third sermon in the series. He recognised that the complexities of his topic could not be covered in the time allotted, but still he wanted to enlighten the congregation about the uniqueness of the Christian God. He described the depth of the concept of the Trinity and emphasized the historical debates surrounding it. He also encouraged us to look further into it if we had the time and interest to do so.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The spontaneous harmonizing to "Amazing Grace" from the congregation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The ominous empty seats at the front made me wonder at the start if the speaker had a problem of excess saliva (as far as I'm aware, he didn't).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no need. The person I'd been sat next to swept me up to get a hot drink and began introducing me to people in my profession and who lived in my part of town. I was made to feel very welcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The plunger coffee was delicious but there could have been greater variety in the biscuits.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I was made to feel welcome and comfortable from the start, the sermon was intellectually challenging and the service was well structured. Exactly my kind of church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely - it showed Christian hospitality and generosity at its best.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The welcoming smiles and interesting post-service conversation.
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