Mystery Worshipper: Thannoise
Church: Seaton United Reformed
Location: Seaton, Devon, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 July 2007, 10:00am
Built in 1894 of local flint, the church is a typical example of Victorian Gothic. It looks rather sandwiched in between neighbouring buildings. The interior is spacious in contrast to the deceptively small exterior.
The congregation consisted mainly of women with a sprinkling of men. I saw no one under the age of 50. Everyone was dressed "smartly casual." Judging by the number of notices read out by different individuals, there's a lot going on. Unfortunately there was no notice sheet or parish magazine to peruse at leisure.
Seaton is a small seaside town on the south Devon coast. It is a popular holiday destination – we used to go there on holiday in the 1980s and this was a bit of a nostalgia trip. The town centre features an assortment of hobby shops, florists, pharmacy, street cafes, restaurants, haberdashers, etc.
A visiting minister, whose name we did not get, took the service.
What was the name of the service?Morning service
How full was the building?
About 40 people in a building that would comfortably hold at least three times that number.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We arrived very early, and as we were taking pictures we fell into conversation with one of the locals. When he learned that my husband worked in a related industry to his, he invited us to his flat for a pre-service coffee. There, he showed us some photos of the town and told us some interesting bits of trivia. By the time we took our leave and got back to the church, the service had just started. Fortunately they were only giving out notices.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden "numb bum syndrome" pew.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We can only imagine what might have taken place before the notices were read.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Lord, you are great!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were two versions of the Bible in the pews: the Revised English Bible and the Revised Standard Version. The readings, however, were taken from the Good News Bible. There was also a hymn book entitled Rejoice and Sing.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The building seemed a little like the tardis, the time machine featured on the popular television series Doctor Who. And I kept wondering how such a small church on the outside could be so big inside.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was traditional, quite lively, nonconformist style. The singing was good – everyone joined in with gusto.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – The visiting minister was excellent. She took the themes of the two readings and wove them together extremely skillfully. She spoke clearly and talked sense – a good combination! We live in France, and this was the first sermon we had heard in a long time that we could follow with ease.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Power! She took as her texts 2 Kings 2:1-12 (Elijah's rapture) and Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 (Jesus commissions the seventy). She connected up the readings with the concept of power, and went on to discuss the Big Bang, the source of the universe, and the power of the Alpha and Omega God. Great stuff.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon, the singing, the general feeling that this was a caring community.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
We felt embarrassed that having arrived so early, we nevertheless ended up going in late during the announcements.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Didn't get a chance to look lost – we were mobbed by at least three people insisting we join them for refreshments in the church room.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea, fair traded coffee, and biscuits, all served on proper crockery. Excellent! We were on diets and the chocolate biscuits were a terrible temptation.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If we lived in Seaton this would be our first choice.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?