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1556: Totnes Methodist, Totnes, Devon, England
Totnes Methodist, Totnes, Devon, England
Mystery Worshipper: Benny Diction.
The church: Totnes Methodist, Totnes, Devon, England.
Denomination: The Methodist Church of Great Britain, Plymouth and Exeter District, South Devon Circuit.
The building: A stone church, very Methodist looking, on the main street of Totnes. It seems to sit uncomfortably among neighbouring shops. Inside, the church has been modernised and has a pleasant open feel. There is a large rose window in the west wall.
The church: They have a morning and evening service each Sunday, the evening service on the first Sunday of the month being a "chatback" service where discussion is encouraged.
The neighbourhood: Totnes is said to be the second oldest borough in England and is one of five Devonshire towns mentioned in the Domesday Book. The town is an architectural feast, with fine examples of properties dating back to Norman, medieval and Tudor times. Of special interest are the leech wells, three ancient wells thought to have medicinal properties and at one time a favoured pilgrimage destination for lepers seeking to be cured of their affliction.
The cast: The service was taken by a Miss Anne Kenyon. All that I could find out about her is that she is a local preacher.
The date & time: 22 July 2007, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Service.

How full was the building?
About half full. Maybe 50 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Greeters at the door smiled and handed me the notices. They didn't make a fuss over me. Everyone was asked to sit toward the front and away from the rose window, which (we were told) a stonemason had declared unsafe.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a chair, comfortably upholstered, with good leg room.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A small group sang some choruses enthusiastically – although the London Community Gospel Choir they weren't. Everyone in the congregation seemed to be nattering, despite the fact that the choral group seemed to expect everyone either to listen or to join in the singing. In fact, at one point one of the singers said, "Our next song is one we all know." I was the only one who sang along, which suggests that everyone either didn't know it or couldn't be bothered.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Morning. Welcome to worship at Totnes Methodist, especially any visitors."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Combined Mission Praise and The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ.

Did anything distract you?
The pulpit. It was a large marble affair resembling a huge font. It looked as if it belonged elsewhere. It certainly didn't fit in with the late 70s/early 80s feel of the rest of the church.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road Methodist hymn sandwich. One segment of the worship was called "Peaceful prayers of praise," but no one seemed to want to get too excited. It was slightly pitiful at the end when the preacher chose as the last hymn "I'll go in the strength of the Lord," a rousing Salvation Army song. She tried to get the congregation stirred up but they just weren't having it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
22 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – I felt quite sorry for Miss Kenyon. Her sermon was a thoughtful, sound exploration of the texts in question, and her delivery was enthusiastic and happy – but the congregation weren't!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Miss Kenyon took as her texts Genesis 18:1-10 (Abraham offers hospitality and food to three strangers) and Luke 10:38-42 (Martha opens her home to Jesus and his disciples), both of which deal with unexpected encounters. "Who are the Marthas in our churches?" she asked. Can we really relate to either of these passages? The passage from Genesis refers to a nomadic people. We are not nomadic, but we do live in a society of asylum seekers. Do not forget to offer hospitality to strangers.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I hate to say it, but I am struggling with this one. If I had my arm twisted, then I would say the sermon, as it was thought provoking.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At one point we sang a hymn that no one other than Miss Kenyon seemed to know, not even the small choir. It was really embarrassing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had taken a seat toward the back, at a safe distance from the dangerous rose window, and tea and coffee had been set out in the foyer more or less behind me. I sort of drifted into it without being explicitly invited. No one paid any attention to me at first. Eventually one gentleman started to talk to me, and it turned out that we have a mutual friend.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea and coffee of average quality, served in proper cups and saucers. There were also some custard creams on offer.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I'm sad to say this church felt spiritually dead. As I was wandering around Totnes before the service trying to find the Methodist church, I had noticed some people carrying Bibles with big floppy covers (Baptists maybe?). I wished I'd followed them and gone to their service!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. I was pleased I could get back to Buckfast Abbey (where I was on retreat) and get a spiritual fix.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The unsafe rose window and oversized pulpit.
 
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