Methodist Central Hall was built to mark the centenary of the death of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The building is in beautiful condition in its own centenary year of 2012. It serves as both a church and, as Westminster Central Hall, central London's largest conference centre. They can accommodate more than 2000 people in the great hall, with smaller rooms for as few as ten. The inaugural meeting of the United Nations was held here in 1946. Smaller services are held on the ground floor and bigger ones are held three and four levels upstairs, where there is a grand organ, recently restored and beautifully lit. As it was Advent, they had several large decorated trees.
In addition to Sunday and occasional services, the Hall is open every day welcoming the public. They have a winter night shelter and a mental health drop-in centre. They run an Alpha course and work with Christian Solidarity Worldwide. They also have a Thursday evening programme for young adults to explore deep questions of faith.
Central Hall is a major London landmark with its impressive dome, standing across the street from Westminster Abbey and across Parliament Square from Big Ben and the River Thames. There are plenty of shops, pubs and restaurants around.
The Revd Martin Turner preached the sermon, the Revd Dr Jo Cox prayed for us and for the world, and gave the blessing. Sister Denise Creed prayed for thanksgiving. And as this was a service shared with Premier Christian Radio, its chief executive, Peter Kerridge, co-hosted.
What was the name of the service?Traditional Carol Service in partnership with Premier Christian Radio.
How full was the building?
Absolutely full, with 2500 people all round the service area, upstairs and downstairs, with the choir area also full. There were many Methodist choristers wearing red, and a large gospel choir.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several men attended the entrance, and they checked us and gave us tickets for our seats. They were very friendly and told us where to go upstairs to sit. We were given an order of service containing all the hymns, choir pieces and Bible readings, and when we were seated, we were each given a candle.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had blue woollen seats on the third floor, and we were packed close together. It was very warm so we all shoved our coats underneath our seats.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very busy as people queued up to get to their seats. There were hundreds, mainly adults with their family and friends, only a few children, arriving and being told where to sit.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We celebrate today the birth of Christ. A very happy Christmas to you!" This was followed by words of welcome and a warning to work sensibly with the candles in case of any burning. We were invited to stay for refreshments after the service.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We followed the order of service we were given, for singing the hymns and following what was happening.
What musical instruments were played?
There were many musical instruments along with the choir: organ, piano, harps, violins, cellos, guitars, flutes, clarinets and brass.
Did anything distract you?
We heard "Of the Father's love begotten" sung by the choir and I remembered my family singing and making music to that!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was musical and joyous. We enjoyed the choral singing, and we all sang well the traditional Christmas hymns. Musicians accompanied the songs and hymns.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – The Revd Martin Turner spoke clearly and expressively with love.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Mary and Joseph travelled on a donkey. And it was Jesus' journey, from Father in heaven, to us. Why did he make the journey? Because he loves us. Our journey is also important, of life and faith. Sometimes we will be thrilled, sometimes bored or crying. One day our life journey will end, but until then it is a very personal journey; only we can make it. Our journey of faith is deeper and deeper into the heart of God, going close to Jesus. Our destination is faith. Remember: Jesus loved his family, fun and friendship, and even his death. He loves each one of us. Saviour and King, we worship you. Jesus made that journey of love for us all make that journey to him this Christmas. I pray that we might.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I felt close to heaven listening to the choir and when we sang, and as I listened to the sermon and the Bible readings. It was all about God loving us.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I felt sad because one of my family has died and I felt the loss of that person and I wondered if we will meet in heaven.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were directed down the stairs and invited to get something to eat and drink (we were asked not use the lift down unless elderly or ill). The people in charge were smiling but it was very busy for them.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were so many people queueing for the refreshments that we decided to leave to get home. Many others preferred to wait to enjoy the food and drink on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Feeling God in my heart is lovely.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt very glad to be a Christian, knowing Jesus loves me and being grateful to him, as God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I remember God loving me and all of us, and also the Methodist choir and the gospel choir, who all sang very well and all about Jesus being born.