Mystery Worshipper: Water Pastor
Church: Eldwick Methodist
Location: Bradford, West Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 July 2009, 10:30am
Built in 1888, Eldwick Methodist Church is like every other small Methodist church in the country. I think there must have been a 19th century Methodist equivalent of George Wimpey Ltd, one of the UK's largest house builders. The building is in good condition and well maintained. The interior is bright and looks freshly painted.
They sponsor several social groups such as a walking tour group and play group for youngsters. They contribute regularly to Methodist Homes, a charity providing a range of care services for older people. Until recently they sponsored a child in Zimbabwe but had to withdraw their support due to the unfavourable political climate. There is one worship service each Sunday, with communion on the third Sunday of each month, and Bible study the first Wednesday of each month.
Eldwick is steeped in history in an interesting area. Bradford is an industrial city on the edge of the moors of the West Yorkshire Pennines, a low-rising mountain range often called the "backbone of England." The composer Frederick Delius was born in Bradford, as were the Bronte sisters (Emily, Anne and Charlotte), famous for such classics as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The church is built on the corner of a steep hill, which makes turning into the parking exciting as you can't see the cars coming the other way.
The service was introduced by Gareth Ashton, steward, and led by Mr John Anderson.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
There were about 25 people. As is often the case, they filled the church from the back, leaving six or seven rows between themselves and the pulpit. The congregation were predominantly female; we saw no children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were greeted at the door with a handshake and given three pieces of paper containing various notices. After we had found a seat (not difficult in an empty church), Mr Ashton came and introduced himself and asked where we were from. At the end of the service we were approached by Mrs Ashton, who invited us for coffee and added that if we were Mystery Worshippers she hoped we would not judge the church by that morning's service.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were quite modern seats; very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When we first arrived there was some quiet recorded music playing. About two minutes before the service began, the organist played quietly in the background. The general atmosphere had a murmur of conversation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Mr Ashton opened the service with: "Good morning. Welcome to Eldwick Methodist Church. The weather is reasonably good if a little windy."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns and Psalms and the Good News Bible were the books in the pews. When the video projector didn't have the words, we were given a small folder with printed songs.
What musical instruments were played?
Fairly modern church pipe organ.
Did anything distract you?
The audio-visual team, seated in the balcony, were having a couple of problems. Their computer crashed a few times with a "critical stop" beep. They appeared to be missing something from the PowerPoint presentation, as they could be heard typing away during the sermon. There were times when what appeared on the PowerPoint didn't match what was happening in the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It's almost indefinable: traditional Methodist meets Salvador Dali. A surreal series of five sermonettes interspersed with traditional hymns.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
3, 6, 4, 5 and 3 minutes long, respectively. However, they seemed so much longer.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – The preacher began by outlining his sermon on prayer with the mnemonic ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication), but then introduced the concept of how he used a CD called Singing for Snorers to help him in his prayer life. At the start of each of the five sermonettes, the AV team played a short section from the CD and the preacher sang along. It is difficult to describe the content. The only sad thing is that there are no sound files on the Singing for Snorers website to let you share our experience.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He said that prayer is difficult and that he used visual aids such as a picture or a crystal that reflects rainbows on his cupboards to aid him in his prayer. He also said that he uses the acronym ACTS to lead him through his prayer time. He gave a short example of each type of prayer. These ranged from prayers for Israel to our need to care for insects, but they didn't seem particularly rooted in the real world.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The PowerPoint presented the words of the hymns well and included good background visuals. The organist and the singing were above average, even given the small congregation.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermonettes in five parts felt longer than they actually were, although it has to be said that Singing for Snorers provided us with one or two light moments. The final hymn was a version of the the Lord's Prayer to the tune of "Kumbaya." At the close of the service the preacher came forward and invited us to hold hands to say "the grace." It would have been worse only if we had sung "Bind us Together."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Two or three people invited us for coffee and we were made to feel welcome.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The tea and coffee were fair trade and were served hot in mugs. There were also some biscuits. A bowl for payment had been set out, although no one asked us donate anything.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – We felt that we had not caught them on their best day and will do a return visit when their minister is at home. However, if we had been seekers it is unlikely that we would return. Not that the congregation were unwelcoming, but the major flaw with the service was the preacher.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. We often drive past Eldwick and had seen some really imaginative and contemporary posters for example: "Would those who say it can’t be done please get out of the way of those doing it." They seem really to be trying to reach out, but unfortunately they didn't reach us based on our experience of this visit.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Singing for Snorers.