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831: Redcliffe Bay Methodist, Portishead, Somerset, England
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Redcliffe Bay Methodist, Portishead, Somerset, England
Mystery Worshipper: Profundum.
The church: Redcliffe Bay Methodist, Portishead, North Somerset, England.
Denomination: Methodist.
The building: The building is a simple, single storey structure, built in the 1930s and later extended at the back to make a hall with cloakroom facilities. The interior was renovated in the 1970s and now sports a pine tongue and groove ceiling with modern spotlights.
The church: We found a strong sense of caring community there. The area has a high number of retired folk and the church congregation reflects this.
The neighbourhood: As the church is near the top of a hill, there's a fantastic view of the Bristol Channel from the car park!
The cast: Mr Andrew Owen preached and the chief steward (unnamed) gave the welcome.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
It was about one third full, with approx. 40 people, the women outnumbering the men. The average age was about 70.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were warmly welcomed at the door by two smiling people. One handed us an order of service, the other (a lady) showed us into the church and told us we could sit anywhere. Yet another person came over to offer us a church magazine.

Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on linked plastic chairs. This is a particular dislike of mine, but at least these were padded and the service only lasted for an hour.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very chatty and busy, with people catching up with their friends and arranging rotas, etc. We were the only obvious visitors; several people smiled and spoke to us.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Good morning and welcome to our service on Palm Sunday.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were supplied with Hymns and Psalms and the BBC Songs of Praise, which we used exclusively.

What musical instruments were played?
An old electronic organ was played by the second deputy organist.

Did anything distract you?
The organ kept making strange hooting noises at inappropriate moments during the hymns. Also, during the sermon, an elderly lady asked her aged deaf husband (in a loud stage whisper) if he realised that he was slipping off his chair. He woke fully and asked, "Which way?" It took us a minute or so to compose ourselves after that.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was relaxed, neither happy clappy nor stiff and formal. The hymns were a mixture of Kendrick and Wesley and everybody sang lustily.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – He seemed to be suffering from memory lapses, despite using notes. He was rather vague about dates and couldn't remember the full title of the film The Passion of The Christ, or the name of its director. This was a shame, as he used the film to illustrate a point in his sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Most of the sermon was based on three meditations which had been read earlier, in place of the set lessons. They were about the way three biblical characters would have seen the events of the first Palm Sunday. Then the preacher introduced his point about suffering, saying he felt he didn't need to see the film "The Passion" – if he wanted to see Jesus being tortured, all he had to do was to switch on the TV news every night. He was just getting started on the love of God, but had to stop in order that the palm crosses could be handed out.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warmth and friendliness of the congregation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The organist's rendition of "The Servant King" was probably the worst I've ever heard. Not only did he change the timing for virtually every line, but he also produced hooting noises for alternate verses. My companion (who knows about such things) told me he might have been using the oboe stop, but it was difficult to tell.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't have a chance to hang around. We were rounded up and taken into the hall at the back of the church for a cup of coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We were offered tea or fair trade instant coffee. This was nicely served in white cups and saucers. There were chairs set around small tables; the tables had seersucker tablecloths and plates of assorted biscuits, including chocolate ones.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It felt like visiting kindly, elderly relatives.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warm welcome from the congregation.
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