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1875: Barnehurst Methodist, Barnehurst, Kent, England
Barnehurst Methodist, Barnehurst, Kent, England
Mystery Worshipper: Wes Charles.
The church: Barnehurst Methodist, Barnehurst, Kent, England.
Denomination: Methodist Church of Great Britain, London District, Lesnes Abbey Circuit.
The building: The present building was consecrated in 1952 and is of red brick. There is no front door; instead, there is a front porch with a side entrance. There is a small car park to the side and a few flowers and shrubs at the front. The garden gives the impression that some effort has been made to make the church look friendly. On entering, one finds a reception area complete with church magazines and welcome cards for visitors. A glass door leads into the sanctuary. The decor inside is very fresh-looking, with pale wood (pine?) and soft blue fabric on the chairs, giving the impression that the place was recently redecorated. Very clean and tidy. The font is wooden and was tucked away in the corner. There was a toilet to one side that was easily accessible during the service without interrupting others. There is a simple cross above the altar. Behind the altar is a door leading through to the lounge area, and through a further door is the church hall. Apparently this is the only Methodist church in the area with a lounge.
The church: The Lesnes Abbey Circuit, consisting of 13 churches in all, was created in September 2007 and encompasses the ruins of Lesnes Abbey, which thrived from the late 12th century until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. There are many churches of several denominations in this area, and so there is a lot of competition. At Barnehurst there are morning and evening worship services each Sunday. There is a Sunday school, and coffee morning on Wednesdays, as well as a women's fellowship group. Attached to the church are Brownies and Guides; I did not notice any mention of Cubs or Scouts, although this could have been an oversight on my part.
The neighbourhood: As far as Royal Mail is concerned, the area is called Bexleyheath, Kent, but the locals call it Barnehurst and pay their council tax to Greater London. It is a large suburban town in southeast London. The area lay largely undeveloped until the late 19th century, when the opening of the Bexleyheath railway line spurred development. The modern town area is dominated by an early 1980s shopping centre. The area has a 20th century suburbia look and feel to it, with houses near the church appearing to have been built around the same time as the church.
The cast: Jean Patten, the mother-in-law of one of the congregants (who, curiously, was not present), took the service, as their minister was ill that morning.
The date & time: Sunday, 6 December 2009, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Prayer.

How full was the building?
30 people, 160 chairs, so it felt quite empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A warm handshake and a proffered copy of the church magazine.

Was your pew comfortable?
A nice modern blue cloth chair with a lovely soft cushion!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite and contemplative.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Morning, everyone!" in a very cheery voice!

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns and Psalms, a Methodist and Ecumenical Hymn Book, and The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Not really, although the heating was a little too hot and so the temperature was a little too warm.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed yet quiet and thoughtful. I don't usually attend a Methodist church, and was struck by how laid-back the service was compared to my usual Anglican church. Eight hymn numbers had been posted on the board, although we only sang five of them. The service was very much a hymn sandwich, with prayers and a few comments about the hymn's text after each one. Some of the spoken interludes were so long that I started timing them, thinking they might be the sermon! No hand-waving. Mrs Patten got the children involved early on, with an older child lighting an Advent candle and a younger one sticking a paper candle onto the wall. The children were supposed to assist with the offertory, but Mrs Patten sent them off to Sunday school not only before the offertory but also before the singing of a carol that had been chosen especially for them!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
24 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Mrs Patten was quite informal in style and used personal experiences and humour to good effect. She mentioned that she is over 80 years old and hasn't preached for the past three years (and never before at this church).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The readings were from Malachi and Luke, so this was about the prophets and John the Baptist looking toward the birth of Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The prayers were thoughtful and beautifully delivered.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Err... it was hot?!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had no time to look lost, as two or three people came over to chat and invite me for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nice – coffee and Jammy Dodgers, the popular shortbread biscuit made with raspberry and plum jam!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I didn't already have a regular church round the corner, I could be very much at home here.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely – a poignant sermon, nice hymns, very friendly people and well-behaved children.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Sitting down to see eight hymns on the board!
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