|605: Central Methodist, Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Mrs. Pusey.
The church: Central Methodist, Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, England.
The building: A grim-ish stone building which was once the church hall. Inside, there were several meeting rooms as well as the actual church. This was painted in a striking germoline-and-crushed-raspberry colour scheme. The organ, situated behind a small altar, was the focal point. The altar was laid up for communion but all the equipment being hidden by crochet-edged liturgical dustsheets. There was lace, but only on the altar, which had a surprising Hibernian design including harps and shamrock. A brass cross and an open Bible were perched on the edge.
The neighbourhood: Cleckheaton is an old mill town in the sprawling Bradford-Dewsbury conurbation. Most of the mills have been replaced by cheap factory shops. Most of the larger buildings are victorian and the housing is either victorian stone terrace or modern estate. There is a significant Asian population and it is home to Europe's largest curry restaurant. It is not posh, but neither is it run down.
The cast: A man in a claret-coloured blazer started the service with "Anthony has been delayed in Gomershall". This chap's name was never divulged, though Anthony, who materialised almost immediately, turned out to be the minister.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
This was peak holiday time. The church was half-filled, with about 80 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I got a handshake at the outer and inner doors though nothing was said by either party.
Was your pew comfortable?
It wouldn't have been for a long session. The pews were wooden, but with a sort of drip-tray construction: They had a two centimetre built-up front, higher than the cushion it was designed to keep in place. It left a mark on the thighs as sitting was the favoured attitude. Kneeling was not catered for there was neither the space nor a kneeler.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was loud chatter and waving.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We will say a prayer."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Methodist Worship Book: Holy Communion, and The Methodist Hymn Book.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ and a mixed, but somewhat elderly, choir accompanied the hymns. The organist was highly competent, though he belted through the hymns. The choir delivered in a uniform fruity style.
Did anything distract you?
It was hellishly hot, and all the doors and windows were shut. The accoutrements on the altar were fascinating: The paten was a silver cake-stand, more suited to the displaying of a prize sponge; the bread was white, the crusts had been cut off so there was no tearing at the fraction, and it sat on a liturgical doily. Grape juice was served in glass thimbles and there were holes in the communion rail for the reception of the empties. These were ultimately gathered up by the chap in the claret jacket. Ninety per cent of the ladies present sported cream blouses which set me thinking about cloning!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was my first Methodist communion, and the first time I had been in a Methodist church for many years, so it's hard to make comparisons. It veered more towards the stiff-upper-lip. Nobody looked particularly happy or clappy and it was all desperately matter-of-fact and brisk. There was far too much announcing of page and hymn numbers for my taste, particularly as the books were foolproof.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 The minister looked just like the BBC's Richard Baker when he put his glasses on. He was clad like any middle-of-the-road to trendy Anglican in a dove-grey clerical shirt with roman collar, overlain by a well-pressed polycotton cassock-alb and a fitted stole woven in assorted agricultural shades.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about racism; singling people out for their ethnicity or provenance is undesirable. He exhorted us, as Christians, to be identifiable as a race apart through our attitudes and actions.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The minister gave each rail-full of communicants a group blessing or a comforting sentence before they stood up.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were no young families present, and only five people under 40 in the congregation. Those five were all teenagers but missed the majority of the service, coming in only for communion. There was nothing in the service which could possibly have been above their heads.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We filed out past the minister. He had little to say to visitors and nobody came and spoke to me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I wasn't invited to partake of any, so cannot comment.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 It would probably suit someone who wanted to be left alone, but who was sufficiently gregarious to enjoy lots of group hymn singing.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, in a beige sort of way. They are there, praying for the world.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The woman going outside with the liturgical cake-stand to dispose of the remains.