|853: High Street Methodist, Maidenhead, Berkshire, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Hopeful Traveller.
The church: High Street Methodist, Maidenhead, Berkshire, England.
The building: A honey-bricked, 19th century exterior linked to a sizeable suite of meeting rooms and offices, both of which have undergone extensive refurbishment over the last decade or so. I found the airy interior, with its glass entrance doors, rose tinted walls, light wood furnishings and lofty ceiling, to be restful in its simplicity. Old and new, such as Victorian stained glass and modern wall hangings co-exist happily together.
The church: The church sponsors and hosts the Arts Café; the following month's attraction being magician and escapologist Peter MacCahon, best known for sawing glamour model Jordan in half!
The neighbourhood: The church is in the town centre, surrounded by the usual high street multiples and offices.
The cast: I didn't catch the name of the chap who kicked off. One of the stewards, Sid Barker, led and preached at short notice, the minister, Rev. Jenny Impey, having been felled by a flu bug only hours earlier. The reader for the morning was Glenice White.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship (with junior church and creche). The service also included the commissioning of stewards.
How full was the building?
About three quarters full in a building I'd estimate could accommodate 400 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I got a "good morning", "welcome", a notice sheet and a smile from the greeters at the door. Once in my seat, though, I was left to myself.
Was your pew comfortable?
Ten out of ten! My back-friendly wooden chair was padded in a dusky rose tint that co-ordinated with the carpet and walls. And there was sufficient leg room for me to have done the hokey-cokey if I'd had the urge.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Much low-key chattering over equally low-key organ music.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and welcome to everyone on what's already proved to be an eventful day. Of that, more later!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Methodist Worship Book, Hymns and Psalms and the Good News Bible. Copies of the old edition of Songs of Fellowship were available, although we didn't need them.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, with some recorded music before the childrens' "show and tell".
Did anything distract you?
The inscription on a nearby stained glass window, which appeared to read "Glory to God in the High St!"
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The nearest we got to happy clappy was being invited to sing the chorus to "The Gospel train", ably led by a visiting tenor from High Wycombe Orpheus Choir. Otherwise it was a fairly restrained hymn-prayer sandwich, with clear, expressive readings. I enjoyed the way in which the leader gave familiar hymns a new slant by reminding us of their tradition: Moravian, Quaker, Anglican and, of course, Methodist. The choir's anthem, "Peace I leave with you", was linked in with the scheduled reading from John chapter 14. Unfortunately, the reading we actually got was Jesus' healing at the pool of Bethsaida.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Mr Barker was remarkably relaxed considering he'd not been intending to preach that day! He had the congregation laughing with him from the start. I felt we were being not so much preached at as talked with.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He used examples from tracing his family tree to help us consider how best we could find God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
John Greenleaf Whittier's "Dear Lord and Father of mankind" included a verse often omitted in my own church: "With that deep hush subduing all our words and works that drown the tender whisper of thy call..." – which has often spoken to me.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not being able to find my way round the service book. Plus the coffee I'd had at the station was beginning to make its presence felt!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Oh dear, oh dear! After 10 minutes of lurking, I could probably have given you a guided tour of every memorial plaque, stained glass window and wall hanging in the church. When even hovering by the welcome leaflets had no effect, I took executive action and followed the sound of clinking teacups down the corridor, where at last someone took pity on me and took me over to the hall for coffee. Once there, several folk in the tea queue and at the card stall spoke to me, and I was shown the church's striking millennium wallhanging. My original escort reappeared and we had a brief chat about our respective theology courses before it was time to leave.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Hot, and in a decent sized mug, served with sticky chocolate cake. Church members sell a wide range of Traidcraft goods each week. Not to mention another fund-raiser, home-made greetings cards. One 90-year-old lady explained how she was now no longer able to paint, and so had started to scan her designs into a computer!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 I'm not sure how I'd cope with not receiving communion weekly. And the seemingly mature age profile of the congregation might be a drawback. On the other hand, the welcome leaflet and newsletter indicates a caring church family, actively involved in the community. If I lived nearer, I'd be tempted to give it a go.
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 sanctuary in the porch, with paper doves, where we were invited to sign if we'd prayed for peace. Why was the Bible alongside open at a section in the book of Proverbs headed, "Warning against Adultery"?