Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda
Church: Drybrook Community Church
Location: Drybrook, Gloucestershire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 July 2013, 3:00pm
The church is in a real old-fashioned chapel building, erected in 1858. It has an attractive stone front view and a brick extension to the back. Inside there is a main worship area with a large pulpit fronted with decorative wrought iron work, and an extensive first floor gallery area fronted with more decorative wrought iron. There is also an organ gallery situated rather unusually above the pulpit.
They are one of four small URC churches in the Forest of Dean that have recently been combined into one group, the West Gloucestershire United Reformed Churches, that will be served by one minister. Their weekday outreach programmes, as listed on the website, are all cutely alliterative: Crafty Crafters, Knifty Knitters, Tots and Toddlers.
Drybrook is a village in the Forest of Dean, a rural area in the west of England close to the border with Wales. The area once relied on coal mining and other heavy industries, but nowadays there is little manufacturing in the area, and tourism and service industries probably provide the main employment opportunities.
The service was led by the Revd Roy Lowes, URC West Midland Synod Moderator, and the preacher was the Revd Ian Millgate.
What was the name of the service?Service of Induction to the Ministry of Word and Sacraments in the West Gloucestershire United Reformed Churches of the Reverend Norman Whitaker
How full was the building?
Downstairs the church was full (50 to 80 people) with another 20 or so in the gallery.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted by a man at the door who said, "Hello. How are you?" and handed me a service sheet, then by a woman who asked me brightly, "Are you good on stairs?" to which I replied in the affirmative. And so I was invited to make my way (with due caution, due to the steepness of said stairs) to the gallery, as downstairs was almost full.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not very certainly there was no chance of my dropping off. I may be young enough to do stairs, but I think I'm getting too old for pews.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a certain amount of chatter, but with the organ playing it was quite peaceful and reverential.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Grace to you and peace from him who is and was and is to come."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used service sheets printed for the occasion.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
There were lots of possible distractions: the attractive wrought iron work, the colourful outfits worn by many of the female members of the congregation, etc. But the most distracting feature was the two covered tables, one either side of the pulpit, with the food that had been prepared for the after-service refreshments.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship varied between reverence during the various prayers to extremely loud (some might say raucous) singing of the four hymns that interspersed proceedings.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The preacher has been docked a point or two for a particularly poor opening illustration in which he compared the story of Jesus calling Peter in Luke 5 to the classic TV detective series Columbo.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Using Luke 5:1-11 (Peter, having fished all night in vain, lands a bumper catch when told to do so by Jesus) he asked: "What are the steps through which we produce effective ministry?" He then supplied the answer: availability, obedience and dependence on God, in knowledge of our own sinfulness. He applied these to the future ministry of Norman Whitaker and the churches he has undertaken to care for, and left us with a definition of ministry as "accomplishing what he calls us to do."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I fell in love with the 19th century chapel interior, particularly the white wrought iron work.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Despite the weather being cooler than it has been of late, the humidity level in the church became extremely uncomfortable as the service progressed, and I envied the woman a few seats to my left who had brought a fan along with her.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was actually sitting near someone I knew slightly and I got into conversation with them.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were refreshments, but such was the crush of people after the service that I couldn't face the crowds. And so I headed home.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It was quite fun worshipping here when it was full of people. I just wonder what it would be like on a normal Sunday with just a few in the congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Services such as this are great, as local churches from a variety of denominations come together to welcome a new minister. However, I was a little sad there were not many younger people there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The wrought iron work!