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82: Embleton United Reformed Church, Northumberland, England
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Embleton United Reformed Church
Mystery Worshipper: Gemaliel Newchurch.
The church: Embleton United Reformed Church, Northumberland, England.
Denomination: United Reformed Church of UK. Formed in the early 70s through a merger of the Congregational Union and the Presbyterian Church of England, this is the denomination that new-church leader Gerald Coates described acerbically as "a marriage of two coffins". It is often claimed to be neither united nor reformed, but, alongside Methodism, it is one of the main non-conformist denominations in the UK.
The building: A simple box-like chapel with major fabric problems.
The neighbourhood: The small village of Embleton huddles a mile inland overlooking the unspoilt Northumbrian coast. There is a popular golf course and fine views of Dunstanburgh Castle. W.T. Stead, a campaigning journalist and pacifist who went down with the Titanic, was born in the old manse. His father was the Presbyterian minister. The former vicarage had its own "Peel Tower" to provide refuge for the vicar during Scottish raids.
The cast: Rev Kate McIllhugga serves the URC congregations in this corner of Northumberland. She was serving elsewhere and the visiting speaker was Mrs Janet Purvis of Alnwick.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Service.

How full was the building?
There were 11 of us in all, including the Mystery Worshipper and speaker.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Virtually all of them. I was also asked to sign the visitors' book. Mystery Worshippers beware!

Was your pew comfortable?
Relatively comfortable thanks to some thoughtfully scattered padded mats. In spite of the acreage of empty pews, I chose to share mine with a compatriot – the village's resident Welshman. I had to shift my knees when he got up to give a Bible reading.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Mild consternation from one of the arriving worshippers when she saw only two others already seated. "Down to two!" she gasped. "Where two or three are gathered..." I offered helpfully. Fortunately, more of the faithful followed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to our morning service... and a particularly warm welcome to our visitor..." with a friendly nod in my direction.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Revised English Bible and the URC Hymnbook.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
My Welsh neighbour's valiant attempts to sing a harmonious descant during all but the first verse of all four hymns. It threw me off the familiar tunes, but I admired his hwyl – as they say in Wales.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A conventional non-conformist hymn-prayer-reading sandwich. The intercessions included plenty of topical references – Kosovo and the European elections – and provided a genuine opportunity to examine oneself and reflect.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes – although it could have been half the length without loss.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – it was a competent and homely homily.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Hope: "Christians do not expect a hopeless end because they have an endless hope." There were references to world events and crises as well as issues closer to home, such as plastic hip-joints, women's rights and unemployment.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warm and sincere welcome. My new-found Welsh friend also stirred up youthful memories of chapel-singing and the green, green grass of home.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing, really. Although, sadly, I doubt that "the other place" will be so empty.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had an interesting chat with several of the congregation, particularly the Welshman.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
The Embleton URCs may soon be forced to abandon their chapel and are planning to use the parish church for their services. This is not a merger but a "church sharing agreement" under canon B49.3 of the Church of England, carrying the Bishop's consent.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Certainly. The welcome was warm and sincere, the Bible readings clear and well read. An hour spent worshipping with these good people was time well spent.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The unexpected opportunity to sing part-harmonies in Welsh non-conformist style during "In heavenly love abiding".
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