In its heyday Abbey Baptist Church, Reading, where Julia is the Minister and I am the BOGOF, was responsible for planting somewhere in the region of 25 new churches in and around the Reading area. Last Sunday we visited Carey Baptist Church, planted by Abbey in 1867 on the western edge of the Reading of those days. This Sunday we went to the other geographical extreme and visited Wycliffe Baptist Church, planted by Abbey in 1881on the eastern edge of the Reading of those days. Both churches are flourishing, numerically large, busy, active churches today, doing great work in their respective localities and wider afield. Both churches are numerically much larger today than their ‘mother church’ at Abbey (formerly known as Kings Road Baptist Church when these two church plants were established) although Abbey itself is currently enjoying a renaissance having grown from a handful of largely elderly white Brits to around 120-140 ethnically diverse congregation in the last 18 months).
So, what did we make of the 10.45 a.m. Service we attended in the main sanctuary on Sunday – which Wycliffe now call ‘The Kings Room’? According to Wycliffe’s web page ‘This service is varied, lasts around an hour, comprising of live sung worship, testimony, interviews, prayer, and Bible learning. It is aimed at all ages, with Children, Youth and Families being encouraged to take part, with themed resources provided.’ In reality it lasted almost double that time wise, which meant that we had to rush off at the end because we only had two hours parking on the street where we had parked our car so missed out on the coffee and cake we were promised in the course of the Service. It would be wrong to judge any church on one Service and we know that Wycliffe have a multiple worship approach on a Sunday morning with an earlier more traditional Service at 9.00 a.m. plus a parallel more informal service for all the family in the Sports Hall Warehouse, also at 10.45 a.m., bi-weekly at the back of the main building in which those present worship with the band, discuss a Bible passage together, learn and encourage each other to apply God’s truth in our daily lives as Christians. The strength of the church seems to be in its system of Life Groups together with its amazing day to day work ministering to the surrounding community in a whole host of practical ways.
On Sundays Wycliffe are currently working their way through Paul’s Letter to the Romans under the overall title of Living the Good News. This Sunday the theme was apparently Effective Service (Romans 15:23-33). The Service itself was led by one of the Elders – Wycliffe are very strong on ‘Eldership’ – and it attempted to incorporate a whole host of activities. A nod to the fact it was Mothering Sunday (Julia and the other ladies present were given a single daffodil); an Infant Presentation (led by the Senior Minister); various songs (led by the music group – great drummer by the way safely locked away in his plastic cage); a Prayer of Petition (led by a member of the congregation); a Bible reading (Romans 15:23-33 read by another member of the congregation); an excellent 20 minute exposition of the passage by the Associate Minister (a newly appointed lady Minister) which for me was the highlight of the Service; the reception of several new church members; and Communion (served in the traditional Baptist way). There were probably around 150 people present incorporating a good scattering of ages and ethnicities. Half the congregation left after an hour to go to the various alternative activities on offer returning in time for Communion. We came away glad to have visited Wycliffe but feeling we needed to pay further visits in order to truly make an honest judgment on Wycliffe’s ministry and mission. An incident part way through the Service when a Rasta man caused a bit of a fracas at the door and had to be gently escorted away by the church ‘bouncers’ made me realise what an important work Wycliffe do at ‘the wrong end’ of town in and amongst an area of real need.
Since it was ‘Mothering Sunday’ we hadn’t managed to book a table at any of the local pubs or restaurants – dutiful kids taking well-loved mothers out for lunch – so on speck we drove to Woodley with the intention of grabbing a coffee and maybe a walk somewhere. We like Woodley shopping precinct – it has good parking, some nice shops including even a bank or two, several nice coffee shops, and a Waitrose. It also has a couple of nice-ish eateries and I had my eye on one that I had always wanted to visit, the Bosco Lounge. I don’t really know how to describe the Bosco Lounge – it is not exactly The Ivy, but it is a home-from-home café-bar, a bit scruffy but serves good food and has excellent helpful staff. We popped in for a coffee … and ended up staying for lunch. Julia had an excellent chicken, bacon and avocado salad and I had … a gigantic all-day breakfast would you believe … an all-day breakfast for Sunday lunch! It was yumacious! And afterwards … well we abandoned the idea of a walk and went home for an afternoon snooze!