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222: The United Church, Faversham, Kent, England
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The United Church, Faversham, Kent
Mystery Worshipper: The Worshipful Gadfly.
The church: The United Church, Faversham, Kent, England.
Denomination: United Reformed/Methodist.
The building: Solid, gothic structure built in the 19th century and renovated inside in the early 1980s. It is not huge but quite impressive from the outside – half church, half castle.
The neighbourhood: The church is at the top of the town's High Street, sandwiched between a pub and a hairdresser in a quiet suburban environment. It is close to the town centre and the station and so is ideal for visitors as well as locals.
The cast: Minister: Rev. C Esgate. Preacher: Mr Bax.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
Just about half full of octogenarians (about 20 people in total).

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We wandered in about 10 minutes before the start of the service and were welcomed with polite smiles. Then, just before the service started we were approached with a warm greeting and a handshake by a man called Lawrence. We were also welcomed in the opening address and there seemed to be genuine happiness that we had come.

Was your pew comfortable?
Seating was wooden chairs with padding – very comfortable. It makes a change from the usual objects of torture. Not a trapped nerve in sight.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
In one word: sleepy. The deep interior of the church has been divided into a cosy first-floor chapel with pastel colours and sun filtering through the round, stained windows along the side of the nave. As we waited for the service to start, all that could be heard was the chirping of birds and the quiet wheeze of the organ... ahhhhh.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone on this beautiful sunny day."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Songs came from Hymns & Psalms, published by the Methodist Publishing Co. There seemed to be more than one version of the Good Book in use. We brought our own and so didn't use the house version.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Only the disconcertingly sleepy silence which crept through the whole service. I am used to a church with noise, albeit fidgeting or children coming in or out. Although pleasant to start with, the silence became oppressive as it seemed to stifle what life there is in the church like a heavy blanket.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The singing was fairly dominated by a couple of bellowing ladies. Definitely of the traditional, stiff-upper-lip style. The organist played well enough until he was told to play a different (and obviously unusual) version to one of the hymns, at which point he was all at sea. I give him an A for battling through despite the mutterings of the congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
28 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – on the plus side, the sermon was largely biblical and well-meaning. It was particularly hot on historical information. On the minus side, the delivery was awful. The sermon was read (no attempt at "presention") with a slow, monotone delivery, only pausing when our preacher misread his notes. It was also a bit of a strange topic for the congregation, and ended with general admonishments to look after fossil fuels, etc.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Like the Ephesian church, we need to be united, reformed and made new.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The dreamy atmosphere before the service was like sitting in your favourite armchair with your slippers on as you drift off to sleep.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Probably trying to stifle the yawns during the sermon. More worrying than that, however, is the constitution of the congregation. More than any other I have seen, this is a church in danger of extinction. We were the only people in the congregation below about 60 years old. With no children and no young families, one has got to ask what this congregation will be in 10 years time. It is a real tragedy that such a lovely church should be lacking the life-blood it needs to continue.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, we were adopted by what seemed the youngest members of the congregation (i.e. they were apparently still young enough to work). They quizzed us why we were there – perhaps because visitors are unusual. It felt a bit like a zoo keeper who discovers a panda in his cage.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was very nice. The tea had a hair in it. The biscuits were a bit stale.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I can't imagine getting up every Sunday to join a congregation with this demographic. There was nothing particularly bad or wrong with the service, but where is the future of a church like this? Nice people, but I would need more than this to nourish me on a weekly basis.

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 stair lift running up the stairs to the chapel.
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