Sidmouth Methodist

Sidmouth Methodist, Sidmouth, East Devon, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Sidmouth Methodist
Location: Sidmouth, East Devon, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 March 2016, 10:30am

The building

A beautiful worship area dating from 1885. A new entrance foyer of contrasting modern design was added in 2007; it features glass windows that let in lots of light and presents a welcoming feel. The inside of the church has also been redone in the modern style. Of special interest are floating acoustic "sheep" fastened below the ceiling to deaden the echoes.

The church

There is a midweek parent and toddler group, together with badminton and table tennis on two evenings weekly. Other groups mentioned on their website are Bible study, healing ministry, prayer circle, women's fellowship and Wesley Guild. They have a morning and evening service each Sunday.

The neighborhood

Poet Laureate John Betjeman said of Sidmouth: "A town caught still in a timeless charm." Regency hotels front the sandy beach and tiny cottages are let out to holiday makers. The Duke of Kent, on holiday in Sidmouth along with the Duchess and their baby daughter Princess Victoria, died there in 1819. Six days later, as his body was still lying in state, his father King George III also died.

The cast

Ann Skinner
was the preacher, and Christine Hemmingway was the organist. An unidentified lady gave the greeting and referred people to the notice sheet for announcements.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Worship

How full was the building?

About one-third full. Their website states that the sanctuary can hold 260 people. Sadly, there don't appear to be any children in the congregation at present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We were welcomed at both the outer and inner doors and given notice sheets and palm crosses. Several people smiled and said hello as we looked for a seat. One of the choristers came across to where we were seated, asked where we were staying, and assured us that there were some really good songs during the service.

Was your pew comfortable?

Individual wooden chairs with padding. Very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Friendly chatting while the organ played. After those officiating had taken their places, the organist played a much quieter piece and the words "A brief period of quiet is appreciated please" appeared on the screen.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Without any introduction, the choir sang the first verse of "Ride on, ride on in majesty." Someone (unidentified) then came to the front and said, "Good morning, everyone, and may I give you all a very warm welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. Everything was on the screen. The notice sheet included the hymn numbers, which came from three different books, two of which were in the seats for those who wished to consult them: Hymns and Psalms and The Methodist Worship Book. Information was given on how to obtain a copy of the Singing the Faith hymn book. The Good News Bible was also in the seats.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ for most of the time and a baby grand piano for the choir anthem.

Did anything distract you?

A cable with microphones hanging down ran horizontally above the heads of the choir. I could not see where this cable was fixed to the far wall. Every time it caught my eye, I tried to work out where it ended and had to drag my attention back to the service. Also, it seemed that all of the choristers had white hair, and all were immaculately groomed.

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

Fairly traditional. Their website describes the worship as "prayerful, challenging and relevant." I'd say that the more modern songs were slightly hard work.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes, although there had been a shorter "reflection" earlier in the service.

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

7 – Ann Skinner stood on the same level as the choir for the reflection, and then ascended the pulpit for the "message."

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

She spoke of the European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake, who is currently living and working on the International Space Station. Although she had not previously been excited by space travel, she found the ability of Tim Peake to communicate live incredible. She also compared the words of American astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to step onto the moon, to Jesus' "small step" into Jerusalem, which was a "giant leap" in Gods plan of salvation. Jesus had arranged a password, "the Lord has need of it," to secure the donkey. Our password should be "the Lord has need of me."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The beautiful smile on the face of one of the lady choristers as she sang with expression and looked toward the congregation. This was in sharp contrast to the deadpan faces of nearly all the others buried in the hymn books.

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

Unhappily, someone in my immediate vicinity appeared to be having digestive problems. Thankfully it cleared half way through the service. They say that incense was used during the Middle Ages to mask certain unpleasant odours arising from the congregation. Perhaps incense is a good idea after all!

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

Whilst still sitting in the main auditorium, we were approached by a lady who immediately came up behind us and started chatting. When we went to the hall for coffee, we deliberately sat at an empty table in the hall and were soon joined by more people than could fit round the table. One lady said that she was organising a walking route round Sidmouth and needed instruction on how to generate QR codes, those checkerboard-like little squares that computers and smartphones can read.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Piping hot, fair traded, in proper cups. There was also a selection of biscuits.

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

7 – The people were wonderfully friendly. It was just so sad that there were no children.

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


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

The various shades of immaculately groomed white hair of the choristers.

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