Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda
Church: Brockweir Moravian
Location: Brockweir, Gloucestershire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 July 2011, 6:00pm
The exterior is a very simple, white-painted traditional church building that adjoins a private dwelling. There is a small structure holding a bell (it is so small I wouldn't call it a tower). The interior is also very simple, with pews and a pulpit. The only decoration is a plaque at the east end depicting Christ as the Lamb of God. A few simple bouquets of flowers placed here and there did, however, lend a pleasant atmosphere.
The church was founded in 1832. At the time there was no church in the village, and the local doctor, concerned for the spiritual welfare of the community, petitioned the Moravians to establish a congregation there. The church has served the village of Brockweir since then, though it came close to closure in the 1960s and was saved only by the Baptist minister from Monmouth volunteering to keep it going. It is the only church in Brockweir offering regular worship, and so they make a special effort to be ecumenical.
In the 1830s Brockweir was regarded as both deprived and depraved (the church was apparently built on the site of the village cockpit!). Nowadays it strikes the visitor as a typical peaceful British village, with a pub and two farms, set in the picturesque scenery of the Wye Valley, not far from the famous Tintern Abbey.
The Revd Thom Stapleton, minister.
What was the name of the service?Worship Service.
How full was the building?
Pretty empty, actually. There were around 15 of us, mostly sitting toward the back.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I wandered in and was spotted by a lady in the congregation. She introduced herself and invited me to sit next to her. I also shook hands with almost the whole congregation during a segment of the service called "The Right Hand of Fellowship", which was like the exchange of peace in an Anglican service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Pretty standard pew really, though improved by a strip of carpet. I've sat in worse, but let's say I was in no danger of dropping off during the service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite chatty, lots of people exchanging news, etc.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
One of the congregation began with something like: "Welcome to our service" and then read out the notices.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version (I think), and Mission Praise.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
There was an unpleasant, musty smell that seemed to come and go during the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The hymns were sung in very subdued fashion. Seldom have I heard the words "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home what joy shall fill my heart!" sung with so little enthusiasm. However, by contrast, the spoken parts of the service were very informal and did not follow any liturgy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Fairly informal but also preacher-like, and with plenty of references to the cultural differences between our nations (the Revd Stapleton is American). I seemed to keep losing the thread of what he was talking about, and missing his point.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about the parable of the sower (Matthew 13). He described the parable as being about the existence of good and evil in the world, and said we cannot ignore evil. However, in terms of what our response to evil should be, we were reminded that it is God's job to deal with evil and ours to be patient. I think what he was emphasising was the need not to be judgmental.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When we had a time of silent prayer there was an amazing atmosphere. I felt that everyone was seriously engaged in prayer (Moravians are renowned for their prayer life) and I found myself pouring my heart out to God.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Sitting right next to a member of the congregation made note-taking very difficult. Plus I felt very guilty among these obviously sincere people that my cover story contained a little white lie in it, in that I let it be understood that I was visiting the area on holiday whereas I am actually fairly local. Sorry, God!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As the service finished, the woman I was sitting next to turned and asked me how I had enjoyed the service, and we chatted briefly for a few minutes.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no after-service drinks, though I would like to mention that the church does offer a tray of water and juice drinks for the refreshment of visitors during the week.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived locally I would happily make this my regular church. I have also visited the church during the week, and felt a powerful sense of God's presence then. If you are ever passing that way, do pop in!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so, just a little saddened that there were not more worshippers there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The sense of communicating with God during the prayer time.