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3161: Moulsham Lodge Methodist, Chelmsford, England
Moulsham Lodge Methodist, Chelmsford
Mystery Worshipper: Mrs Proudie.
The church: Moulsham Lodge Methodist, Chelmsford, Essex, England.
Denomination: Methodist Church in Britain; Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District; Chelmsford Methodist Circuit.
The building: Rather plain, and rather more interesting from the car park at the back than from the front view. It's pretty much in line with the estate of the 1960s where it is situated: not brutalist, but not one of our best periods of architecture either. If you don't know your way around, you might inevitably look lost trying to find your way from the car park to the actual church area at the front. Inside, it gives the impression of being a rambling building, which is because it has had several additions in the course of its history.
The church: Their website states they are "so much more than just Sundays." For children there is Girls' and Boys' Brigade, Messy Church, and a youth group called The Hive. For adults there are men's and women's clubs, a friendship group for seniors, an art group, and something called "Soaking in God's Presence," described as "a quiet, meditative form of prayer mixed with the charismatic." There is a morning family service each Sunday plus a more traditional Sunday evening service.
The neighbourhood: Chelmsford is about a half hour train ride from London. In 1899, the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi opened the Marconi Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company, thus enabling Chelmsford to claim the title of the birthplace of radio. But by the end of the 20th century all of Marconi's properties had either been sold or abandoned. Even so, Chelmsford's strategic location close to London has enabled it to attract national and international businesses, and today just about as many residents work locally as commute into London. The church is located on the Moulsham Lodge housing estate, one of the less interesting parts of Chelmsford.
The cast: The Revd Abe Konadu-Yiadom, minister.
The date & time: Sunday, 30 April 2017, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Family Service.

How full was the building?
There were about 35 to 40 people in an area that could have held twice as many. Almost all were over 60 and most were well into their 70s or even 80s.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The welcome was quite overwhelming. As I was sussing out the building from the car park, a kind gentleman asked if I was looking for the entrance. He pointed out that I could go in at the front or at the back or "parachute through the roof." Unfortunately, there did not appear to be any tiles that could be removed first. Once inside, I could hardly take a step without being welcomed and asked about myself: name, where I lived, etc. Many smiles and greetings from the congregation came my way. I even got an offer of a large print hymnal if I needed it.

Was your pew comfortable?
No pews but individual chairs, well-padded, both seat and back – but, unfortunately, not enough to cope with my sciatica. They would have been fine, I imagine, for most people.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet, with the pianist playing a soothing medley. The overhead screen also gave information about other church activities and services.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everybody."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
In the pews were The Holy Bible, New International Version, and the Singing the Faith hymn book. However, all readings and songs were also projected on screen.

What musical instruments were played?
There was a piano played by a competent pianist. Percussion instruments were visible behind her but we were spared those.

Did anything distract you?
I sat in the back pews, just in front of a small crèche, where a toddler and baby were accommodated with their mums. The toddler made a slight foray into the body of the church at one point and the baby yelled once. However, the distraction was welcome because of my concerns that, in the not-too-distant-future, this congregation might die out.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Conventional. Certainly not happy clappy but not ritualistic either. No vestments, lots of intercessionary prayers (as I would have expected in a Methodist church). I'd guess that the style would suit the average member of that congregation. There was no eucharist, which surprised me, as part of the sermon was about how Jesus comes to us in the breaking of bread, in Word and Sacrament.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes ...

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – ... which was rather less than I expected in a Methodist church, but I was told afterwards that the service was shorter than usual because the congregation was holding its annual meeting that morning. In the main, the minister seemed heavily dependent on reading her sermon, which never goes down nearly as well as one that is delivered ex tempore. She did, however, make eye contact at certain points to make emphasis.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was a homily on the readings, particularly the Emmaus story. Death promises new life and the risen Jesus makes sense of everything.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I honestly cannot say I found anything in the actual service that rose to that level, but the quality of welcome and friendliness before and after the service were very striking.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The depressing sight of so many grey heads in one church. Can this community survive beyond a very few years into the future?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have a chance to look lost, as I was firmly taken in charge and propelled toward the room where refreshments were being served. Even my tea was fetched for me, enquiries having been made as to how I liked it. A plate of biscuits was offered. I sat at a table and was joined by others, who told me the minister was soon to be moved to another circuit.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I did not see its provenance, as I did not get to the serving hatch, but it was certainly brewed to my specification. It was served in a mug and biscuits were provided. Excellent service!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – No, this is not for me, even if there was nothing else locally on offer. It lacked anything particularly inspiring. Even the singing wasn't what I would have expected from a Methodist congregation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not the service itself, but the quality of the fellowship did so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The grey heads.
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