|500: Newport Independent Chapel, Newport, Gloucestershire, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: Newport Independent Chapel, Newport, Gloucestershire, England.
Update:This report was published in 2002. In September 2006, the chapel, which has for some time been delapidated, finally closed.
Denomination: Independent (founded in the 17th century). Whilst Gloucestershire is mostly congregational, even after the URC merger, this chapel is still independent from even the Congregationalists, although related by association.
The building: A very quaint country chapel/meeting house of 1710-1825. It looks very dilapidated and is in an isolated lane outside the village. It is a large building with square sashed windows. The interior is a delight and is like stepping back in time! It has a huge pulpit with Victorian texts above it and a print with hands in prayer. There are late Georgian hat and coat pegs and three harmoniums and a Victorian stove. The pews were littered with huge old bibles and brass candlestick holders. Sadly, however, all dilapidated, with floor boards ripped up and a window blanked.
The church: It is the only church left in the village. The church was founded in the 17th century and met in barns before building the present meeting house in 1710. There are very few old established Independent churches left in England, although of course they abound in Wales. This particular chapel has no affiliation with any denomination and is completely independent in every way.
The neighbourhood: Newport is a straggling 18th century village on the A38, 15 miles from Gloucester. There is an air of neglect around the chapel as it is away from the village which used also to have an Anglican church which has long since gone. It is very rural and it looks as though things in this part of the countryside have not changed in over a century.
The cast: Chris Moody, visiting. The church invites ministers from other churches to speak to the congregation.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were six people spread amongst the pews. The elderly lady at the back pew says she could remember when there was a choir of nearly 100 singing in the gallery at the back.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was silence as I walked in and everyone turned round. I introduced myself and was shown to a pew where the floor boards had not been dug up.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes it was. A nice example of a tall, Georgian high-backed pew!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet and reverential. You could just feel the history of the place around you and how a rural community must have loved it. The organist kicked off on what sounded like a Hammond organ, although I was told the harmonium worked quite well too.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello and welcome!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everyone had a Bible and a Mission Praise Book II.
What musical instruments were played?
There were a host of instruments. In the old gallery where the choir used to sing was a flat harmonium it was almost as if the choir had upped and gone. With congregations of six and 10 it takes a lot to imagine 100 people being in the gallery. There was a Gothic-looking harmonium down below which was once used for the main service, but these days the Hammond and the piano are used, as for this service.
Did anything distract you?
The weather outside was horrific given that it was Mothers' Day (which oddly enough didn't get a mention). I was distracted by being in a place which had clearly not changed for over 100 years and wondered what it was like in this rural chapel when all the pews were filled. I also thought it was sad that chapels like these are becoming a rare sight and a part of our heritage which will be gone if attendances are not improved.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Oddly enough, a mixture of traditional chapel and modern. The feel of the service was in a totally reformed tradition and was like the chapel equivalent of the church in the Vicar of Dibley BBC TV series. There were traditional hymns and choruses.