Thornbury Methodist

Thornbury Methodist, Thornbury, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Thornbury Methodist
Location: Thornbury, England
Date of visit: Monday, 24 December 2012, 11:15pm

The building

A small Victorian lancet style chapel of 1878 that sits on the main high street in Thornbury – a lovely little building with a glass entrance door. Inside, it has a rather fine hammer beam roof, the usual Victorian pews, and a fine chancel arch although no chancel beyond. It replaces a Wesleyan chapel that John Wesley once called a "neat and commodious preaching house" that now serves as the Armstrong hall. Methodism came early to Thornbury. It is a chapel that has been modernised but not spoilt and the essential integrity of the building remains.

The church

They are a member of Thornbury Churches Together and sponsor a women's fellowship, Wesley Guild, fitness group and drama group, among others. They also hold a Wednesday morning coffee hour, where shoppers can stop in for coffee and a chat and (if so inclined) stay for a midweek service.

The neighborhood

Thornbury is a small commuter town near to Bristol. It has a large castle and medieval church and is situated near the river Severn. One of the shops on the high street is reputed to have been the inspiration for BBC's Open All Hours. The town boomed in the 1970s with a lot of house building – population is about 16,000.

The cast

The Revd Dr Peter Hatton, who said he was an interim minister serving until a new one was found for the church.

What was the name of the service?

Midnight Communion

How full was the building?

One side of the chapel was full – we were all encouraged to sit on one side. The congregation are decidedly middle age and older.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The minister and one of the stewards.

Was your pew comfortable?

Standard Victorian Methodist pew – it was OK. I've sat in worse Victorian horrors!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was quiet. "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" was playing on a computerised organ.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome to this midnight service of communion."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymns and Psalms and a printed out sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

A recorded organ was played through speakers placed on the rear balcony.

Did anything distract you?

The building is a lovely Methodist Gothic although I often reflect how some chapels have a "library" feel to them, perhaps due to the woodwork and wooden floors.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was a very quiet expectant service – also nice and short and to the point. I'm from another denomination where singing is almost non-existent! However, the singing in this church was in typical strong Methodist tradition. I felt transported back to the Welsh Methodism of my youth for a moment! It made a nice change from the normal organ solo that I'm used to.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – I had expected a long drawn out Methodist sermon and service but found this one very pleasant. The preacher used hand drawn cards to make his point.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The importance and wonder of the Incarnation. The God who created the heavens had been born in a manger.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The singing was Methodism at its best.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The computerised organ actually sounded quite convincing, but on occasion the congregation and organ were out of time with each other on some of the carols. However, the operator did his best as apparently the organ could be regulated.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I dashed out – ready for a mince pie and hot drink before bed!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None, as it was a midnight service.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 – Were I not already a member of another church just around the corner, I'd be happy to join this congregation!

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 joyful singing!

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