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1131: Landford Methodist, Landford, Wiltshire, England
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Landford Methodist, Landford, Wiltshire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo.
The church: Landford Methodist, Landford, Wiltshire, England.
Denomination: Methodist.
The building: The congregation got its start in 1816 in the home of an accredited preacher by the name of Samuel Moody. Its first building was a thatched, mud-walled chapel built in 1825. The present chapel was built in 1866 and consists of four brick walls and a slate-tiled roof. At a much later date, the corners of the building were excavated and concrete was poured into each large hole. In 1956 a hall was built at the rear following the addition of a minister's vestry and a front porch. The worship area is light and airy and nicely decorated. A plain wooden cross is fixed to the wall above the pulpit and two vases of flowers were on tables at the front. A communion table in front of the pulpit and an electronic keyboard at one side were the only other pieces of furniture.
The church: The congregation is obviously committed to one another and to their Christian community. A number of members have been attending for many, many years, although a significant number have joined more recently. There is a Sunday school, and the premises are used by community groups such as a parents and toddlers group and a craft social group. A strawberry tea and a children's holiday club were planned for the summer. The church cooperates with the local Church of England in organising and supporting community affairs.
The neighbourhood: Landford is a tiny village near Salisbury, on the edge of the New Forest. The New Forest was created in 1079 by William the Conqueror as a hunting area and retains many of the rural practices conceded by the Crown in medieval times to local people, such as the pasturing of ponies, cattle, pigs and donkeys. Landford consists only of two streets; we were told that people living in the second street have little to do with those on the main street. The Landford Village Show had taken place the day before our visit.
The cast: Mrs Marion (or Mary) Law, who had returned to Landford after an absence of 40 years, led worship and preached. Peter, a church steward, welcomed us all at the start and explained that the children would not be with us this morning as they were practising for next Sunday's anniversary celebration.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
There were 17 people present in a church that seats exactly 50. We occasionally heard the joyful sounds of the children coming from Sunday school being conducted in the hall at the rear.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, indeed. Several people said they were pleased to see us, and one elderly lady remembered that we have a caravan in a field on the "other" road; we were amazed as we only visit the church once each year.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a very comfortable padded wooden chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Twelve people arrived before the start of the service and sat quietly preparing for worship. This seemed rather surprising for such a small village, but they may already have exhausted the latest gossip at yesterday's Village Show. (Or perhaps they were from different streets.)

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to everyone."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns & Psalms hymnbook.

What musical instruments were played?
A keyboard was played by one of the younger adults present.

Did anything distract you?
My eyes kept wandering to the cracks in the wall and ceiling. I remembered them from last year and couldn't help wondering if anything needed to be done about the apparent subsidence.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was the usual Methodist hymn sandwich conducted in a pleasant manner.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Mrs Law made great efforts to vary the tone of her voice and to come across as interesting, and she succeeded, although the higher octaves of her voice were a little over-used. Her liberal use of phrases such as "but never mind" and "I think so, anyway" made her appear apologetic and self-deprecating, which was a pity as her sermon was well thought out and challenging.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Mrs Law spoke about gates. Sheep go in and out of the gate to find pasture. As God's people, we can grow through prayer, which she likened to passing through gates. A gate occasionally can be discovered standing alone in a field, with no fence or wires connecting it to anything else. Prayer may appear pointless but we need to persevere. Forty years ago gates were essential in Landford in order to keep New Forest ponies and cattle out of people's gardens. We sometimes lean on a gate to pause or reflect. Finally, we pass through wide open gates as we move forward toward God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being a committed city dweller, I think that heaven will be more like London than Landford! Nevertheless, it was good to share with this small group of Christians who obviously are committed to living out their faith week in, week out.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Discovering, after the service, that there were no foundations under our seats – which explains the cracks in the wall. I also would have liked the public address system to have been switched on, and I wondered whether the leaders are aware of the needs of those of us who hear less well.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were very friendly, and we were given an interesting potted history of the building.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, maybe because there is no facility or space in which to boil water, although I strongly suspect that if they really felt the need to provide tea or coffee, a way could be found.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If we lived in the community I'm sure we would attend this church. However, the service did not make us want to uproot from the city to live in the village.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, as a one-off experience, appreciating the commitment of the people. I think, too, that the service reached parts that other churches do not reach – for holiday-makers, anyway.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The fact that the church still stands, without physical foundations, but with strong theological and spiritual roots of the Primitive Methodist variety, after nearly 200 years. Also, that there is a Sunday school – a decreasing activity these days, especially in small churches.
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