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2150: Curbar Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Curbar, Derbyshire, England
Curbar Wesleyan Reform Derbyshire
Mystery Worshipper: Eruresto NyellŽ.
The church: Curbar Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Curbar, Derbyshire, England.
Denomination: Wesleyan Reform Union, which, as I learned, are a splinter group from the Methodist Church. They have no tiered ministry of lay and ordained, but instead take the "priesthood of all believers" quite literally.
The building: The church, dating from 1861, is tucked away among houses. Set off the road by a small yard area, it's very hard to spot without looking for it!
The church: This appears to be a small, closely-knit congregation of friends who know each other well.
The neighbourhood: Curbar is a small picturesque village set inside the borders of the Peak District National Park. It is set halfway up the Derwent Valley, and consists mostly of its two churches and pub, along with several quaint little cottages.
The cast: The service was led predominantly by a man named Ian, who introduced hymns, read the notices and scripture, and preached. His wife Jan played the piano.
The date & time: Sunday, 27 March 2011, 2.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?
It was sparsely populated: I counted 11 main pews as well as two on each side of the pulpit, presumably for the choir. Including myself, Ian and Jan, there were 12 people at the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was given a hello by Jan as I stopped outside the chapel, and then was engaged in conversation for a few minutes by a man named Stuart, who, I learned, was the previous gardener at the college where I am studying.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very! It had a cushioned bottom and a back that was slanted backwards to avoid that awful posture where one must either sit rigidly upright or have one's posterior half-hanging off the pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was quiet conversation as people arrived and greeted each other. Some people had been on holiday so the conversation went on for awhile, even after the pre-service music began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, it's lovely to be with you; we've missed you the last two weeks."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The hymnbook was the Methodist Hymnbook. The copy in my pew had been donated in 1950 and I was afraid to use it as it looked very frail! Mission Praise was also at hand. Bibles of varying translations were also in the pews. Mine was a King James although I discovered that some of the other pews had the New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?
Jan played the piano, though there was also an electric organ that was not used.

Did anything distract you?
One minor thing: there was a flying creature, a moth I think, that kept trying to make a break for freedom through the closed window above my head! This produced quite a distracting rattling noise.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly stiff hymn-singing, sung mostly standing except for the last, which was sung sitting. This last one was the only one of the hymns I knew.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
31 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – What Ian had to say was excellently explained and well delivered, especially when he closed his eyes and reached his arms out as he talked about groping. But he went on slightly longer than was helpful, I felt. I found myself trying to remember each of the previous points he had made, since he had two semi-separate strands that only came together at the end.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
An exposition of Ephesians 4:17-5:2 (live a wholesome, compassionate life as an imitator of God). He discussed the Welsh Revival (an early 20th century flourishing of Christianity in Wales and elsewhere), the testament to which is now a landscape littered with closed chapels. Discussing biblical and Christian literacy, he went on to talk about the current TV show The Bible's Buried Secrets before describing the danger of walking in the same way as the world. His final challenge was "to stand out for Christ."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful welcome I received both at the start and the end of the service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The first hymn was a tune unknown to me, and the piano was played at a pitch so that I could not anchor my voice to it.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have a chance! I was greeted first by the preacher and then the man in front of me, who asked about my studies and then told me, over a cup of tea, all about the history of the Wesleyan Reform Church and its difference from the Methodist Church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A tray was brought around with cups of tea in varying shades of strength, together with a plate of biscuits. Whether it was fair trade or not I can't say. I took a biscuit on the hope that it would be chocolate, but was slightly disappointed to find that it was filled with coconut.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If I had reason for moving, I might. However, I'm aware of the consumerist risk of hopping from one church when another presents itself. That said, its services do not clash with those of the church I currently attend, so I may start going to both!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Most definitely – although I have issues with the case for, and wisdom in, division between the WRC and the Methodist Church, which seems to be not over doctrine but over government. Is this a large enough reason to splinter? The Wesleyan Reforms seem to think so, but I have my doubts.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warm welcome – and the blind terror as I slipped the calling card onto the offering plate.
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