If you've never been to church before, or never been to our church at St Mary’s, you'll have lots of questions about what actually happens.
Does it cost anything to come to church?
No, there’s never an admission charge for worship. Every service is a public event. You'll be welcome if you have a deep Christian faith, or if you believe in another faith or if you have no faith at all.
We pass a collection bag around in our services during one of the hymns so that people can put their donation for the running of the church and the organisations we support into the bag. No one can see who gives and who doesn't. Many people make their donation by standing order. You’re not forced to give anything to support our ministry, which costs about £4000 a week, but if you do, we're very grateful.
What should I wear?
People come to St Mary’s in all sorts. Some in tee shirts and jeans, some in shirt and tie. Wear what you want! If you really want me to tell you what to wear, choose what you'd wear for a simple meal at a pub or café with friends.
What time does it start?
The main Sunday service is at 11:00am. Some people begin to arrive from 10:30 - that's great if you want to get the best seats but you may sit there for a while and wonder where everyone is. (Some of the 'regulars' often slip in at the last minute!)
If it's your first time, come at about 10.50am. By then we'll be almost ready, there'll be someone friendly at the door to say hello. Sit wherever you like - no one at our church gets fussy about who sits where.
Use the time before the service to relax and settle down. Just like the cinema, getting yourself in the right frame of mind and ready for the service itself will help enormously. Many people take a moment to pray quietly. Others like to greet their friends.
Will everyone know that I'm a visitor?
No they won't. We're a busy church and lots of visitors come along. You might feel like you're the only stranger but you won't be. Having said that, don't be surprised if people look as though they're glad to see you - we enjoy having visitors and newcomers. Why not take the initiative and say hello to someone who looks friendly.
I've got small children. Help!
Church is for babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, and adults. Most Sunday mornings, we have a range of groups for children of every age and a crèche if you want to use it.
We understand that small children find it hard to sit still and to be quiet. If they get really noisy, take them into the crèche (there's a loudspeaker in there, so you'll still be able to hear the service). We've also got child-friendly toilets and baby-changing facilities.
How will I know when to stand or sit?
Two ways: First, the minister taking the service will always invite the congregation to stand or sit. Second, just do what everyone else does!
There are parts of the service where standing just feels right. It helps us sing better and it shows particular respect at especially significant times of the service. But if you find it hard to stand, then it's quite alright to stay sitting all the time.
I don't like singing / I'm worried that I won't know the hymns and songs
I bet there's no one in our church who knows every song we sing. We love traditional hymns at St Mary’s but we also sing praises to God in the newest songs. If you don't know the song, don't worry. Don't sing if you don't want to.
What are all the different parts of the service for?
Every service follows a kind of pattern. We're fairly flexible, so the pattern changes.
Think of a meal in a restaurant. You might begin with a drink at the bar, then move to your table and enjoy some appetisers. The first course is followed by the main dish, then there's dessert and coffee.
In the same way, the service includes a sequence which helps us worship God. We usually start with a hymn of praise, then prayers that help us realise that we all need God's forgiveness and strength. Then we listen to readings from the Bible and hear a sermon which explains how these are relevant for our lives today. We pray for the world around us and then, at a communion service, we prepare to share the bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus. Finally we hear God's blessing for the week that lies before us.
This is complicated. What if I don't understand everything?
It will probably feel complicated to begin with. But you don't need to understand everything. Come with an open mind and we guarantee that you'll find something helpful. Come expecting to meet with God in a special way and we promise you will.
Is it alright to laugh?
Yes, we laugh at some point in most services. We don't take ourselves too seriously and there's a lot to be happy about. But we're not a bunch of 'happy-clappy' idiots.
Life is tough for many people and sometimes worship is so moving that people have to wipe away a tear. We're not afraid of that either.
Am I allowed to receive the bread and wine? What should I do?
Christians believe that when we share Holy Communion we experience God in a special way. The Bible insists that we do this with the right attitude and after careful thought, so it's never a casual or trivial thing to do.
We have communion services twice a month and most people go to the front to receive the bread and wine. If you don't wish to, you're still welcome to come forward with everyone else and simply keep your hands down. That's the way that the minister will know that you don't want to receive. Instead, he or she will pray a short (one-sentence) prayer of blessing for you. If you prefer to stay in your seat, that's alright too.
If you want to receive the bread and wine, then you’re welcome, as long as you are baptised (or 'christened') and are sincere in wanting to follow Jesus as your Lord. Communion is normally for adults, or for children who have been confirmed. If you have children who have not been confirmed, bring them to the communion and we'll pray a prayer of blessing. You could share your bread with them if you wish.
What happens after the service?
The service usually finishes between 12.00 (at a family service) and 12.20 (at a communion service). Almost everyone stays behind in church for a cup of tea, coffee or squash and to chat to friends. Church isn't just a social club, but it's great to get to know people and enjoy company.
What are the most important things for a newcomer to remember?
1. Be yourself. God loves you as you are and wants to help you be the person he made you to be.
2. Before the service, pray. You can do this at home before you set off. Find a quiet spot, relax and pray something like this, "God, help me to worship you today. Open my heart to you, calm me down and show me one thing that you want me to remember. Amen."
3. Ask questions if there's something you want explained or something you want to know about. Ask anyone - if they don't know, they'll find someone who does.