Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda
Church: Monmouth Methodist
Location: Monmouth, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 February 2011, 10:30am
A striking neoclassical building, completed in 1837 by the local architect and builder George Vaughan Maddox. Rather unusually, in my opinion, the interior is in immaculate condition, having been recently repainted in the original colour scheme (I gather) of Wedgwood blue and white, with some touches of darker blue. There is neoclassical detailing on the ceilings. Ionic pillars support the balcony. A large organ is situated at the back of the balcony, and a large pulpit at the opposite end.
The church has a varied array of associated social activities, including a youth group, a women's fellowship, a market stall and a keep fit group.
Monmouth is a very traditional county town, the birthplace of Henry V, full of blue plaques attesting to the antiquity of many of its buildings. The town is dominated by the presence of two public schools, rather boringly called Monmouth School and Monmouth School for Girls. Some of the streets near the church are lined with buildings belonging to the boys school, which gives the area rather a collegiate air. Monmouth Methodist is located a stone's throw from the Anglican and Baptist churches and not far from the main shopping areas.
The service was led by Beryl Quinlan, a local lay preacher.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Worship
How full was the building?
The congregation were a bit sparse at the beginning of the service. Even when the Sunday school joined us toward the end, it was still only about one-third full, perhaps 30-50 in all. The balcony was completely empty.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted at the door by a welcomer who said hello and handed me the hymn books. Also as I took my seat, two people in pews in front of me turned around to say hello.
Was your pew comfortable?
I don't think Methodists believe in comfortable pews! It was bearable, and the mat on it took the chill off.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organ was playing and people were chatting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Morning everybody. Welcome to you and welcome any visitors."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We had two hymn books: Hymns and Psalms and Mission Praise, which were, however, largely redundant, as all the words were projected onto two screens.
What musical instruments were played?
Just an organ.
Did anything distract you?
Yes. I was so stunned by the beauty of the interior, with its immaculate paintwork and wealth of period features, that I had major difficulty focusing my thoughts on God. Also, when the children came in they were invited to tell us about their Sunday school lesson. Several went up to the front to tell us how they had made bread, but one small child wanted to stay on the dais and talk into the microphone, and eventually had to be taken outside, in tears, by his mum.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Although numbers were a bit sparse, hymns were sung with good Methodist gusto, which occasionally meant that the congregation's speed was at variance with that of the organist. The service was a typical hymn sandwich with minimal liturgy and led entirely by Beryl Quinlan, except for one reading.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Mrs Quinlan mixed politics and current events into her biblical references in an effort to make her talk timely and meaningful.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus took the law of the Old Testament and radically extended it in the sermon on the mount. Christianity is becoming marginalised in our society by political correctness. There is also much political turmoil, for example in Libya. The political and social situation was similar in first century Palestine when Jesus preached the sermon on the mount. We are called to be different. Our first loyalty is to Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The beautiful building and a sense of the continuity of the Methodist tradition in that place for over 150 years.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Possibly due to being a little sleep-deprived, I really did not feel any spiritual impact from the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The woman two seats in front of me, who had previously greeted me, turned around and invited me to the hall next door where coffee was served. Later, while I was sampling the coffee, a woman came and chatted to me. The atmosphere was friendly in a quiet sort of way.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a choice of tea, coffee or juice, served in a mug or cup, and there was also a variety of biscuits on offer. I had one of those oat biscuits known as hobnobs.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – It is a beautiful building with a friendly congregation and I would be happy to worship there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did, and as I walked out into Monmouth town centre I felt glad to be alive.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
That beautiful building.