|587: Petworth United Reformed, West Sussex, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: Petworth United Reformed, West Sussex, England.
Denomination: United Reformed.
The building: This is a very old rough-faced stone church with a wooden spire at one side. It's squeezed into a narrow village street. Inside there are old pews and a surprisingly bright, shiny organ. The modern, polished wood communion table had the collection plate and lovely fresh flowers on it. Most of the furniture looked like genuine, well-cared-for and well-used antiques.
The church: The church has been in existence since about 1740. It originally met in private homes and only moved to a dedicated building when it grew too large. Several groups have come together over the centuries to form this congregation and the members are healthily proud of their heritage. They are linked in an "Area Ministry" with two other small towns nearby.
The neighbourhood: Petworth is in an ancient Saxon area, the kingdom of Wessex, with occupation going back through the Roman times to the early Britons. Many of the buildings are old and picturesque. The countryside around is beautiful, with tiny villages and the South Downs just along the road.
The cast: Rev. Geoffrey Haigh; minister Maureen Purser, Church Secretary.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were about 15 people in a space with seating for 70.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we came up the stairs to the entrance lobby, two people smiled and said warmly, "Welcome to you both!" Then, when we hesitated about where to sit, a woman moved her things around and invited us to join her. Later on other people spoke with us.
Was your pew comfortable?
A standard solid, ancient, wide wooden pew with bookshelf and little loops on the pew-ends which I presume are meant to hold communion glasses. There was enough space to wriggle around.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet and calm. People were greeting each other warmly, but not distractingly. It felt like preparation for worship. One or two people looked at their watches as, although the minister was already sitting at the front of the congregation, we slipped a few minutes past the starting time.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Oh! I'm feeling so relaxed in God's presence that I've started late. Sorry. It is such a beautiful evening. Good evening and welcome."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the melody version of "Rejoice and Sing". Having the music was useful as some of the tunes were unfamiliar to me. The congregation brought their own Bibles. We were also given a printed A6 size Order of Worship with hymn titles, reading, prayers and information about the offering.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
I was at a funny angle to the lectern and kept looking at it, trying to figure out what kind of a bird it was. I've never seen a wooden eagle lectern before. After the service I just had to go up and take a look. I was told proudly that it had been brought from one of the Countess of Huntingdon's churches when they joined the congregation.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was both solemn and happy. The hymns were sung with enthusiasm.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 He spoke from the heart, but without superficiality or clichés. He seemed a learned man, and knew what he was talking about.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
1 John 4:10-19. On the nature of God's love. He quoted Calvin's commentary on the passage, "When we know the love of God, our consciences will never be disturbed." God's love, not ours, casts out fear. Our love will come and grow as a response to the love of God, like a plant in the sun. Get hold of this God's love for you is perfect and you will never need to be afraid of anything else. We don't have to attack ourselves or be afraid because we are not perfect: God loves us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hearing that sermon. I wallowed in it. I really felt God's love.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were only 15 people there. I wanted the whole population to hear it.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most of the congregation spoke with us, asking us where we came from and how long we were staying. They answered our questions about the church and showed us a panoramic photo of the village from the top of the spire.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None at all. We did glimpse the newly-done-up, spankingly effective looking kitchen through the back doors.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 If I lived there it would certainly be first on my list.
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 feel of being in an ancient place of worship that wasn't "established". It had a special atmosphere about it. It was a nice reminder that not all of our ancient churches are Church of England.