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1104: Zion, Tockington Green, Gloucestershire, England
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Zion Methodist, Tockington Green, Gloucestershire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: Zion Methodist, Tockington Green, Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Methodist.
The building: A rustic looking church dating from1897, although there has been a congregation here since the 1860s. It's a pretty building, situated on a village green with some cottages nearby. The interior is like a barn, with large beams, heavy sashed windows, old white wooden forms, a gothic pulpit, a central cross, and some tongue and groove wall cladding.
The church: This is the only church in the village. It conducts joint services with an historic chapel at nearby Olveston, and there are only 22 members between the two. I felt that the congregation had probably worshiped here for a long time. There was a family feel to it.
The neighbourhood: This is an area not far from the Severn Bridge, and although it is not far from Bristol it is very rural. It has that kind of border country feel to it that you get around the river Severn area. On the day I attended there were several horses clip-clopping around. Many of the villages around this area feature historic houses. Not much has changed here over the last century or so. These villages are hidden rural gems.
The cast: The Rev. Iesinga Vunipola, wife of the rugby player Vinnie Vunipola.
What was the name of the service?
Palm Sunday service.

How full was the building?
I arrived for the 10.00am service at 9.58 and there were only five in the building. However, at 10.10 the number had increased to 13. Five children and two adults came in later.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A friendly steward who looked like an older version of Ian Hislop, editor of the satirical publication Private Eye, wished me good morning. No one else so much as glanced in my direction, but this is Gloucestershire after all!

Was your pew comfortable?
It was OK – an old late Victorian white form which gave the building even more of a barn appearance.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet with some piano playing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to this Palm Sunday service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns and Psalms and Mission Praise.

What musical instruments were played?
A piano. The lady at the piano was doing her best, but it sounded tinny and gave the service more of a school assembly feel. Even a small inexpensive electronic organ would have been so much nicer!

Did anything distract you?
Just before communion, the Sunday school children walked into the church waving paper palms and crying "Hosanna." It was as though the church were frozen in time – one can imagine those Victorians walking in with similar things.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Certainly formal. The hymns were very traditional. Also, the communion was administered with everyone standing round the communion table so that all could see each other. It gave the Lord's Supper an intimate feel, and with the simple wooden table one felt as though one were at the original upper room with the apostles.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – English is not Rev. Vunipola's first language (as she explained afterwards), but she did very well nonetheless.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about wanting things we no longer want once we get them. She related this to several experiences and generally gave a good exegesis of the Palm Sunday story.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Standing in a circle around the communion table. Even though I didn't know anyone, it felt that we were all sharing something together. Also, it was nice to think that this type of rural chapel still exists and that people still value it. There was a father and son in the congregation and several people who looked as though they had always been there. Clearly this place means a lot to them. However, what the future holds for this church and the historic chapel at Olveston remains to be seen with such low numbers.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The second hymn was a complete mess. The pianist couldn't play it and the congregation didn't know it. The sound was a real din. The minister laughed and announced that we'd be singing a more familiar hymn instead.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I chatted with the Ian Hislop lookalike and Rev. Vunipola but nobody else came forward. This is not untypical, as Gloucestershire is not reknowned for its friendliness. I got the feeling that a couple of members come every Sunday and never speak to each other.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't get any! Maybe if they had a tea and coffee urn in the chapel they might get to know each other better. And surely a quaint and historic village such as this gets some visitors?

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – They seemed friendly enough around the communion table, but they need to buy themselves a cheerful sounding organ and a coffee urn. Also, I didn't really pick up a feeling for what this congregation is all about.

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 paper palms and the unsingable hymn!
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