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  1057: The Drive Methodist, Ilford, London

The Drive Methodist, Ilford, London

Mystery Worshipper: homerj.
The church: The Drive Methodist Church, Ilford, London.
Denomination: Methodist.
Comment: We have received a comment about this report.
The building: This is a large and somewhat imposing building, on the junction of two busy roads where Essex and London meet. The church has recently finished a building project aimed to make the buildings more accessible and welcoming to the wider community.
The church community: The congregation is obviously very proud of the new welcome area of the church. On the day I visited, they were weighted towards the older end of the age spectrum, but there was a fair mix of ethnicity and a few genuinely young people present.
The neighbourhood: Ilford is very ethnically and socially mixed, so it was good to see some representation of both in the congregation. The church is very visible on a number of main bus routes in the area, and must benefit from this.
The cast: The leader and preacher was Rev. Stephen Poole, who I later discovered is an occasional visitor from the local Methodist circuit.

What was the name of the service?
Morning service.

How full was the building?
I estimate there were around 50 people present for the service. The large church should have seemed empty, but the pews are laid in a semi-circular pattern, and this hid some of the gaps between congregation members.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was very energetically greeted by a lady called Betty, who offered me a warm handshake and hearty smile, and then showed me to a seat. Once I had sat down, I was pretty much ignored – albeit in quite a friendly manner.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not too bad. The pews were hard but fairly comfortable. There wasn't too much leg room, and once people had sat down at either end of the row I was in, I was trapped until the service ended.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. Most people seemed happy to sit in silence, or chat to the one or two people they were sat immediately with.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
One book: Hymns and Psalms. The Bible readings were from the Good News version, but I couldn't find any in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, accompanied by a robed choir of six or seven people. They appeared to materialise out of thin air at the start of the service and vanish as soon as it was over.

Did anything distract you?
Near the beginning of the service, a member of the congregation wearing a t-shirt bearing the legend, "St George's Committee, the forgotten saint of a nation," read an extract from Shakespeare's Richard II, which was obviously very significant for him, but it did confuse me a little. The minister seemed slightly confused at a few points in the service – he started to say one part of the liturgy only for the organ to kick in and the congregation to sing it, and appeared unsure as to which version of the Lord's Prayer he should lead us in. During the service the same mobile phone went off twice in fairly quick succession, but I was impressed by how few people this seemed to phase, and it was politely ignored. Finally, during one of the Bible readings, I'm sure I heard that Jesus appeared and said "Piss be with you", which led me on a number of interesting tangents.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly stiff. Each of the five hymns was old enough to be great great great great grandparents. It seemed that not everyone knew the tunes, and only one was sung with anything approaching gusto.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
23 minutes, plus an earlier eight-minute talk at the young people before they left for their classes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – I found the children's talk slightly patronising. Rev. Poole suddenly switched from being very sombre to very animated as he spoke to the children, and ended most of his sentences with phrases such as "don't we?" and "isn't that right?" He also spent most of the talk looking at where he thought the young people were sitting, which meant that he effectively had his back to me, and to the two young people who were sitting nearby. That said, the content was good, and he was almost as animated when it came to talking to the adults later on. With both talks, Rev. Poole had a tendency to repeat what he considered to be key phrases a number of times, but this did help me to remember the main subject for the talk.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme was "Seeing and Believing" (at least I hope so; he mentioned it over 15 times). That the church should be a place where doubts are voiced and questions asked, and that it is only though admitting that there are areas of weakness in our faith that those areas can be strengthened. The Pope was name-checked, as was The Da Vinci Code. There was no mention that it was Fair Trade Sunday, or that there was a general election around the corner.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
After the service I was warmly invited to stay for coffee by the lady sitting nearest to me, and a number of people cheerfully engaged me in conversation as I drank it.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The first 15 or so minutes of the service dragged on a little, and the minister looked fairly unhappy to be there.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The minister led the prayers in two parts of the service, both of which seemed to be more words than content. I don't remember if any specific wider issues were prayed for, and my lasting memory is of the sung Lord's Prayer which seemed to catch the minister out somewhat.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't really have the chance to look lost for any great length of time, as various people made an effort to chat to me, all of whom seemed quite genuinely interested in who I was and why I had popped in to the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Certainly drinkable. The coffee was served from what appeared to be a small cupboard carved into the back wall, and I had to duck to see through the serving hatch. There was a display of fair trade coffee, chocolate and kitchen roll nearby, but I couldn't see if what I was drinking was "ethical" or not. Disappointingly, there were no biscuits visible.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The people were great, but the service would have benefited from a little more life.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The service itself did not, but the people certainly did.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The St George's Committee t-shirt, and the warm smiles and handshakes.
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