Oakridge Methodist, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Oakridge Methodist
Location: Basingstoke, Hampshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 October 2019, 11:00am

The building

The church meets in a purpose-built one storey building, accessible via a ramp. One enters a functional, if somewhat sparse, vestibule, with the entrance to the church hall to the left. Being it is a small building, the ceiling was somewhat lower than in most church buildings, giving the place a feeling of being a very large living room rather than a traditional church meeting place. Chairs were laid in two sections, with an aisle down the middle. A low-rise lectern was placed on the right-hand side. There was a table that could be described as an altar, though it wasn’t used as such during the service. Instead, it was home to a large amount of food in tins and jars, as it was evident that the church had recently celebrated harvest. What really strikes you upon walking in are the walls (more on this below).

The church

There is a Messy Church meeting held once a month on a Friday afternoon. Every Thursday morning, there is an informal coffee time. The day before my visit, the church had hosted a day of prayer, which, by all accounts, had been very successful.

The neighborhood

Basingstoke, an old market town in south-central England, is the largest town in Hampshire. Oakridge is a residential estate on the north-east side of Basingstoke. There’s a small parade of shops nearby, though most of the town’s facilities are concentrated on the town centre, about 1.5 miles away. It was noticeable on the journey there that most of the roads were paved only on one side, which meant having either to dodge traffic to get to the other side or traipse through mud and wet grass. I arrived with soggy footwear.

The cast

The service was led by a visiting minister from the local Methodist circuit, who also preached. A couple of other church members did the readings.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Service.

How full was the building?

Overall, it was around half full. A quick headcount showed around 30 people present in all.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

There was a small gaggle of women stood just inside the front door, all of whom were very friendly and seemed pleasantly surprised to have a visitor. I inferred that this might not happen very frequently.

Was your pew comfortable?

We had individual padded chairs, which were quite well spaced apart. Perfectly adequate for a church service, though not for anything longer.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A bit lonely. When I walked in, I noticed a few people sat on one side of the church. I decided to try to even things up and sat on the other side, though as people came in, they all sat on the far side from me. So by the time the service started, I was sat on my own. Only later did a few latecomers come and sit just behind me. There was some music being piped through the CD player.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning and welcome.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

We sang from a red hymn book entitled Singing the Faith, which is familiar from other Methodist churches. Bible readings were taken from a pew Bible, the New International Version; pew Bible page numbers were cited to help people get to the right spot.

What musical instruments were played?

No musical instruments today. Apparently their one resident musician was off today and so we had to rely on a CD player.

Did anything distract you?

The walls. They were covered in a kind of rough textured plaster and were painted a dull pink colour, making them seem as though they’d been covered by a mass of third rate taramasalata, the Greek codfish/potato salad. A few attempts had been made to cover it with art work, but it was just a horrid eyesore.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was a veritable hymn sandwich. The hymns were traditional, and with this being a Methodist church, included some by Charles Wesley. These were interspersed with prayers for the congregation, for country, and for the wider world. The children had their own table in the main hall and undertook various Sunday school activities, which took place at the same time as the main service. The children also took up the offering, which I thought was quite sweet.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

18 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 — The minister was certainly a competent speaker, using repetition to get the point across, but there was nothing memorable in the delivery.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Based on Luke 17:5-10 (do not expect a reward for doing what one ought), it was about faith. Faith is not to be measured by its quantity, merely by its presence. Rather than trying to have more faith, it is the presence of faith that should spur on more obedience and humility. It is wrong to emphasise men of great faith; instead we should put our faith in a great God, as God has a track record of never failing anyone who trusted him. We are to view ourselves as slaves, with a duty to follow orders, without praise or glory for doing our duty. All that we have, we have received by grace.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Right at the end of the service, as people were starting to file out for their tea and coffee, a couple of the younger members of the church asked if they could lead the church in prayers that they had written during the sermon. They were profoundly challenging and hopeful, covering such topics as loving our enemies, showing kindness to one another, and responsible stewardship in the face of climate change. Upon talking to one of the Sunday school teachers afterwards, I found that they had come up with this all off their own back. It was greatly encouraging that our young people could compose prayers of such eloquence, challenge and hope.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The singing. Not only was there no musician to lead the worship, there were no competent or confident singers to lead any of the songs. It made the meeting feel dreary and lifeless. If anything, I ended up leading half the songs (those that I knew, anyway). For one hymn, no one seemed at all familiar with it, and after a couple of aborted attempts to begin, we abandoned singing altogether and just read the lyrics out as if it were a liturgical chant.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I was invited out to the vestibule for a drink and shared a pleasant conversation with several members of the congregation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Instant coffee served in a small teacup, complete with saucer. Some biscuits were on offer, though the person serving the drinks kept a hawkish eye on the biscuits and gently chastised any child who tried to take a second chocolate biscuit.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 — Perfectly amiable and I was made to feel welcome, though I’m not sure it quite felt like a place to call home.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Just about.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The taramasalata walls.

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