|1129: Nailsea Methodist, Nailsea, Somerset, England|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Hermione.
The church: Nailsea Methodist, Nailsea, Somerset, England.
The building: It's a modern building, unremarkable from the outside. Inside, one ascends a staircase to a large room that resembles a school hall. I believe a lift is available for those unable to negotiate the stairs. The room was half filled with chairs, leaving a space in back for informal assembly. There are also other rooms downstairs, one of which was open for prayer before the service, but I did not explore these.
The church: Like the other churches in Nailsea, it is strongly involved in the Make Poverty History campaign. It also sponsors a youth social group as well as a more religious Young People's Fellowship. An advertisement for a forum with the local election candidates was projected onto a screen before the service began.
The neighbourhood: Nailsea is a small town a few miles west of Bristol, with a good rail service to Bristol. I suspect many people commute to Bristol each day. The church is close to the town centre.
The cast: The Rev. David Bagwell, minister. One couldn't escape knowing that the organist's name was Mark, as he was thanked by name or asked to play special requests throughout the course of the service.
|What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship (all age orship).
How full was the building?
Reasonably so. There were not many empty chairs. It seemed sensible that they hadn't put out too many chairs, as the congregation was thus encouraged to sit closer together. I counted two teenagers, a number of families with young children who sat up the front, a few people in their twenties such as the organist Mark and myself, and quite a few aged 40 and over.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. We were fairly early so the main welcomers had not arrived, but there was someone by the door who welcomed us and then chased us up the stairs to give us the relevant bits of paper (i.e. the notice sheet for the week).
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. I stayed seated during the service, having hurt my foot the day before, yet did not notice any discomfort. This can only be a good sign!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Mark played a few solo bits as people were entering. Several images were projected onto a screen – one of these was of the church building, with the caption "Welcome in the name of Jesus to Nailsea Methodist Church;" another consisted of a prayer before worship; a third showed the advert for the election forum alluded to above.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The minister walked in from the back and sat down in an armchair on the dais, looking every bit like a chat show host. "Good morning," he said, "and welcome to our morning worship." We then recited a call to worship that was projected onto the screen at the front.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a brief outline of the service in the notice sheet. Hymn numbers were included, but the words were also projected onto the screen. I noticed that some people had been given a large print version of the words. Nobody thought that a woman in her 20s might need one of these, which is fair enough, but someone might have noticed that I was sitting down during the songs and so would have found one helpful.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and keyboard. The organist switched between the two as seemed appropriate for the particular hymn or song.
Did anything distract you?
Wondering why the cross on the curtained wall behind the holy table was not in the middle of the wall directly behind the table, but rather slightly offset to the liturgical north.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dull primary school assembly.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 The reading was projected onto the screen and the minister took us through it. He equated worshipping the Lord with all your heart and mind and soul to worshipping with all your senses, but got slightly confused as to what order he was doing the senses in. He started by asking for examples of things we liked to hear, taste, smell, etc. I resisted the temptation to shout "incense" for good smells. I was also mildly irritated by a digression about his vegetarian daughter being tempted by the smell of bacon. I am a vegetarian too and always hated bacon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The reading was Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (which was rather little scripture in my opinion). This is the passage about worshipping the Lord your God with your whole heart and mind and soul and teaching your children to do the same. He made an interesting connection between the command to fasten the words of the Lord on our hands and wearing a Make Poverty History wristband. However, this led into a digression about Make Poverty History, which is a good thing, but it lost the point of the sermon. Maybe WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets would have been a better illustration of the idea, although I suspect fewer members of his congregation would have been wearing them! We were instructed to go home, walk round the garden, stroke the plants, and thank God for his goodness. Worship doesn't always happen only in church.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The intercessions, which included plenty of time to meditate in silent prayer. Silence is often undervalued in worship, and promised silences tend to disappear all too soon without a trace. It was good to get a decent period of silence.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The music! For supposedly "modern" music it all seemed rather old and stale, with most (if not all of it) being older than I am. The well known tune "Jubilate Everybody" was perhaps the best of a bad lot. But whilst it is fun to do this three times and get faster each time, it isn't such fun when the congregation won't keep up with the music. I found another popular tune, "He Gave Me Eyes", somewhat offensive, especially the part about running, as I couldn't run just then with my sprained foot. And my heart would be very grateful if I never heard "Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart" ever again.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Immediately after the service, two ladies in front of me told me, "It's not really our thing but we have to get used to it," and then moved away to get coffee, leaving me sitting there with my bad foot. After a while the minister came over and offered to get me a coffee, and we had a brief chat.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
OK as church coffee goes. Fairly traded. There were biscuits but I wasn't brought one.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 The service was very much aimed at the youngsters and it was like being back at school. The worship songs were mainly from the 1970s and weren't what suited the congregation. A Methodist service with no Wesley hymns is a disappointment.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. I found it very strange to be encouraged to worship God with all my senses but to have three fewer of them engaged than usual. It was only sight and hearing that were actually engaged, and I don't think I'd have lost much if I had kept my eyes closed. Without incense, communion or an exchange of peace, smell, taste and touch didn't have a chance.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I think the two ladies who said to me afterwards, "It's not our thing but we have to get used to it." I couldn't work out why they should have to get used to it. I think a church worshipping in a way suitable to its congregation is much more attractive than one trying to be something it's not.