Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda
Church: Monmouth Baptist
Location: Monmouth, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 August 2014, 10:30am
The building is just over 100 years old, and was designed in the Victorian Gothic style by Benjamin Lawrence, who also designed the Working Men's Institute (a lecture hall for the common man, now a commercial art gallery) in a similar style next door to the church. It is built of local old red sandstone. The interior was refurbished fairly recently, and is light and uncluttered. The walls are white or cream. There is a mauve carpet and the chairs are attractive shades of purple and magenta.
They play an active role in the local community. They had just finished a successful holiday club for children (run jointly with other local churches), and they run a local food bank and a variety of children's clubs and community events. There are services and events most days of the week.
Monmouth is an attractive small town close to the border between England and Wales. Formerly a local market town, it is now mainly reliant on tourism, being situated in the picturesque Wye Valley. The town lost its passenger rail services in the cuts of the mid-20th century, but is well served by road connections to two major motorways.
The service was led by the minister, the Revd Jonathan Greaves.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship – "Megamakers" Family Service
How full was the building?
The building was half to two-thirds full. There were around 60 to 70 people present, about half of whom were in their 60s or older.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone shook my hand as I entered, wished me good morning, and handed me a notice sheet.
Was your pew comfortable?
My lovely purple upholstered chair was very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a general buzz of chatter as I entered. Most people were engaged in conversation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our morning worship. A warm welcome to all the visitors. You are welcome to join us for tea and coffee after the service."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise hymn books and The Holy Bible, New International Version were provided, although the hymn books were not used as the words to the hymns were projected.
What musical instruments were played?
A piano was played for the opening and closing hymns, and other songs (which had been used in the holiday club) were played on DVDs or MP3s.
Did anything distract you?
There were so many distractions. The holiday club scenery was still in place, with a variety of scientific artifacts displayed around the room, as well as some posters, and the "Wonderful Megamachine" (an impressive construction with mathematical formulae all over it and incorporating flashing lights) stood in pride of place at the front of the church. However, I was not quite sure what it was for (but would soon find out read on!). And as this was a family service, there was the obligatory crying child.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was tailored for young children, so there was quite a varied programme. There were action songs, a quiz, a scientific challenge, a puppet, a Bible reading and short talk that included a conjuring trick.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon, just the five-minute talk.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was great to see the children being made welcome and included, and the adults being so accepting of what was obviously a very different service from their normal one. There was a moment toward the end of the service when the minister fed a Bible verse into one end of the Wonderful Megamachine, and eventually a long piece of paper came out the other end with the verse re-written in more child-friendly language.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Action songs are always a problem. The dilemma is whether you join in with the actions, knowing you look like an idiot and that the people behind you will be looking at you stony-faced with embarrassment, or do you not join in and feel like a spoilsport. I went for the latter on this occasion.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was sitting quietly in my chair after the service, and a woman sitting behind me came and started chatting. We had a really lovely chat. She sent her husband to get me a coffee, and he came and joined in. They were a delightful couple and it absolutely made the service for me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was unexciting but quite adequate. It was served in plastic cups in little holders.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It is difficult to judge what the normal service is like. I suspect it would be a lot more traditional, but I had such a lovely chat after the service I thought I would feel very welcome.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The Wonderful Megamachine made me feel glad to be a Christian! How lovely to go to so much effort to create something so time-consuming but transitory to share the love of God with children.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The Wonderful Megamachine.