Mystery Worshipper: Bubbles
Church: Heacham Methodist
Location: Heacham, Norfolk, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 July 2009, 10:30am
A traditional brick Methodist chapel dating from 1903 and renovated in the 1960s and again in 1997. The inside had been decorated with some really fantastic banners.
They appear to be a strong and loving fellowship. They sponsor a Hands and Needles group and a Women's Fellowship. Communion is held on the second Wednesday of the month and a coffee group meets on Saturday mornings.
Heacham is a small village in northwest Norfolk on the east bank of the Wash, an estuary near the spot where Norfolk meets Lincolnshire. In Victorian times it became known as a seaside resort. Nowadays it is popular with older folk looking for a quiet, pleasant place to retire. Gently sloping beaches and fields of lavender and poppies make for a charming locale. A prominent local family, the Rolfes, has exerted an important influence on the area. John Rolfe (1585?-1622) was one of the first English settlers of North America, having married the legendary Native American princess Pocahontas, whose image is featured on the village sign. Not far from Heacham is Sandringham, the much-loved country retreat of Her Majesty the Queen. The church is located close to the village's main road.
A lady named Elizabeth, whose surname was neither offered nor in evidence.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service.
How full was the building?
About one-third full, approximately 35 people. They describe their congregation as "mainly elderly but hopeful."
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed warmly with a handshake at the front door and again when given the hymnbooks.
Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable individual seats.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to all. It's good to see you all again."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns of Praise, which is the standard Methodist hymn book. We were also given Mission Praise, but this was not used.
What musical instruments were played?
Digital organ (possibly!).
Did anything distract you?
Nothing really. The sanctuary was at a comfortable temperature and the service flowed well. As there were no children is attendance, there was no distraction there.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road conventional Methodist music. There were some good hymns, chosen to accompany the theme of the sermon. We sang a couple of old favourites, including "Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah" and "Go Forth and Tell." The singing was enthusiastic given the smallish number of people present.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Interestingly, Elizabeth used the material that she had prepared for children, if there had been any present, to kick off the sermon. It was good stuff and grabbed my attention. Her delivery was well modulated, and she enunciated clearly. It wasn't fire and brimstone or electric, but the message was clear and relevant. It kept me listening.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
As Jesus related to people in a way relevant to their situation, we should endeavour to do the same. Rather than waiting for folks to pour through the door of the church, we should get alongside all types of needy people. We should also try to relate to the culture of today without necessarily becoming "of" it. We were encouraged to live up to the Methodist tradition of social outreach and hospitality.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The hymns, with their stirring words, and the thought-provoking sermon.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At no point were prayers said for people in need. As an outsider I didn't get a feel for local needs. It felt a bit too cosy.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few people came over straightaway and said hello and chatted.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I couldn't see whether it was fair trade, but it tasted good and was served in china cups. It was served with a smile and a chat. Some biscuits and sugar were laid out on tables, but people around the tables deep in conversation with each other made it difficult to break through to reach them.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I would be a bit concerned about the average age of the congregation. I would have felt happier if there had been more middle aged people. However, I do appreciate that this is often an issue in some mainstream churches whatever the denomination.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The tasteful makeover of the church and the fantastic banners.