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1568: Buckfast Methodist, Buckfast Abbey, Devon, England
Buckfast Methodist, Buckfast Abbey, Devon, England
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: Buckfast Methodist, on the grounds of Buckfast Abbey, Devon, England.
Denomination: Methodist Church of Great Britain, South Devon Circuit.
The building: A tiny gem of a rural chapel, dated 1881, lying between the Buckfast Abbey bookshop and the abbey itself. The building even for a Methodist chapel is very simple. The interior has square windows, some pews, and some texts on the wall, all of which which give it a very Victorian look. The carpeting is new, though, and the communion table looks rather newish.
The church: The chapel keeps its doors open for people visiting the abbey to leave prayer requests. These are read out during the service on Sunday.
The neighbourhood: The huge abbey sits in contrast to the tiny chapel – which, of course, was here first. When it was built, the chapel stood beside the main highway, which was rerouted as the surrounding land was being developed by the abbey. Dartmoor is nearby – a large and beautiful wild expanse. It had been snowing earlier, so I couldn't help wonder whether I should make the journey onto the moor. I did in the end.
The cast: The service was taken by a friendly lay preacher but her name was not given.
The date & time: 6 April 2008, 3.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday service.

How full was the building?
There were seven people in the chapel including myself. We could hear the tourists outside.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, not a soul – although an elderly gent (he looked like a farmer) smiled as he gave out the books. I felt invisible and even debated whether to leave before the service started. Things were slightly better at the end of the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard Victorian pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was noisy outside because of all the tourists. Inside the chapel the lay preacher was fiddling with her cassette player.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon and welcome to our service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise (newest edition).

What musical instruments were played?
None. I understand that the chapel previously had a harmonium, but the preacher played some pre-recorded music on her cassette player to accompany the singing. The organ on the tape sounded like it would have been more at home in the abbey than in the chapel!

Did anything distract you?
The lay preacher couldn't quite get the cassette player to work properly. Also she stopped it midway through one of the hymns as no one was singing. She then started it again on the same hymn!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was evangelical but in a dry rural Methodist way. The singing wasn't very good, I'm afraid. One of the highlights was the reading out of prayers that people had left.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The lay preacher's sermon was actually very engaging. After a poor welcome, I had resigned myself to being not quite sure what to expect and was pleasantly surprised.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
She preached on Luke 24:13-35 (the risen Jesus appears to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus but they do not recognise him). She also managed to work in one of my favourite texts: Hebrews 13:2 (be hospitable to all, for you may be entertaining angels). Have you ever come across someone you knew but whose name you couldn't remember no matter how hard you tried? Suppose you met a friendly stranger out on the moor and had a pleasant chat. You would probably part ways afterwards and not give the encounter another thought. But it was different with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, as his disciples eventually recognised him. Be cordial toward all – you never know who it might be.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Certainly not the singing. Definitely the sermon, coupled with the peace and quiet of this largely overlooked building. And the prayers: One person had left a touching message for her lost cat; several people for various illnesses; and another who was about to have a sex change operation. It was moving because these were real issues that people wanted praying about and not just the cosy God-slot stuff you usually have in church.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Certainly the singing. And some of the decor in the chapel. The communion table was very plain, and the stained glass windows had been replicated as glass hangings. The overall effect was that of a crematorium chapel or chapel of rest. It would really have looked a lot better had there been even one tapestry or painting.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The preacher said hello and asked how I was and where I was from. Everybody else nodded, but no one said very much.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None to be had – with a refectory nearby in the abbey I guess it wasn't needed.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – As plain and simple as the chapel is, it nonetheless screams "Protestant!" to the abbey's face. Is it really necessary, in this age of ecumenism, to have a variety of buildings in close proximity to accommodate different beliefs? Having said that, the chapel is still a place of peace and people do like its simplicity. It serves as a reminder of the older community in Buckfast that was there before the abbey was built.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
At first I wanted to turn and run, but the sermon brought me back to my Christian sensibilities. The preacher made all the difference because she clearly practises what she preaches. It is not enough to lay on a service or read the lessons. You also have to make contact with the people who turn up, because they are not going to stay otherwise.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The prayers that people had left in the chapel.
 
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