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95: Sunbury-on-Thames Methodist, Sunbury, England
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Sunbury Methodist
Mystery Worshipper: Matthew (24.44).
The church: Sunbury-on-Thames Methodist, Sunbury, England.
Denomination: Methodist.
The building: A plain brick building back from the road behind a large car park. The car park is fronted by three flagpoles, one flag with the name of the church, one with the various youth organisations represented there, and one with the church's mission statement.
The neighbourhood: Kempton Park Racecourse is 400yds away.
The cast: Rev Keith Rowbottom – but the service was conducted by "Sense of Worship" a group visiting from Hucclecote Methodist Church, Gloucestershire.
What was the name of the service?
"Flying High".

How full was the building?
Quarter full – it was a hot Saturday evening at the end of the school holidays with James Bond on TV.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted at the door from the car park by ladies dressed up as air hostesses who said, "Welcome aboard Agape Air. I hope you enjoy your flight." I was handed an order of service (described as my "boarding pass") and actually taken to my seat.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Seating consisted of soft chairs joined together in rows.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The interior of the church had been decorated to look like the inside of an airplane (with a "fasten your seatbelt" sign that actually lit up at times during the service). The noise of an air terminal was playing softly over the loudspeakers. A soft chatter of expectation was taking place among the congregation. When a tray of drinks was brought in for the musicians, someone turned to the congregation and said, "you'll get your in-flight refreshments later."

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Over the loudspeaker system: "This is your pilot speaking. Welcome aboard Flight 1930."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
"Songs of Fellowship" (described in our boarding pass as the "in-flight magazine").

Service leaflet

What musical instruments were played?
Three guitars, a flute, Clavinova, bongo drums, a shaker, and a vocalist to help lead the congregation.

Did anything distract you?
The bongo drums. They were sitting on the communion table at the front and were not used until the last hymn. As there were so many other props, I kept wondering what they were going to be used for.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Within the package of very non-traditional wrappings, many aspects of the service were traditional. Most of the hymns were well known and the psalm was spoken with alternate verses said by different sides of the church.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About one minute, given by a member of "Sense of Worship". He was dressed as a parody of an American tourist, complete with loud shirt, baseball cap and camera. We had previously heard him over the loudspeaker talking to his fellow passengers.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – the various conversations over the speakers and other elements of the service fitted well together and a traditional sermon was unnecessary.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
To get to heaven you merely need to trust in God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Not so much like being in heaven as the feeling throughout that we were definitely on our way there.

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

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
On the way out I was almost propelled through the entrance lobby into the hall for refreshments. A stewardess was at the door with an offering plate. She shook my hand, said a few words and neatly passed me on to another stewardess who greeted me, and then on to yet another who kissed my cheek as I passed into the hall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
In china cups with biscuits. It could have been hotter.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
A church prepared to risk an unusual service such as this must be worthy of another visit on a Sunday morning to try out their usual form of worship.

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 reading of Jesus's meeting with the centurion (based on Matthew 8:5-13) was read as if it was being spoken at a press conference. An impressive way to give new meaning to a well known passage.

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