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1607: Buckfast Methodist, Buckfast Abbey, Devon, England
Buckfast Methodist, Buckfast Abbey, Devon, England
Mystery Worshipper: Benny Diction.
The church: Buckfast Methodist, on the grounds of Buckfast Abbey, Devon, England.
Denomination: Methodist Church of Great Britain, South Devon Circuit.
The building: A small chapel that seats 50 at most. I couldn't find out the exact history of the building, but what makes it very interesting is that it is within the community of the Benedictine Buckfast Abbey. However, the abbey was built after the chapel. A sign on the wall outside says that the chapel was erected in 1881 and I would imagine it is virtually unchanged since. You enter a small porch and then the chapel itself. Just one large room. There is a small but pretty garden surrounding the chapel. It is a very simple but very peaceful place.
The church: Services take place on Sunday afternoons.
The neighbourhood: Devon, sometimes called Devonshire, is in the southwest of England and is the only county with two coasts, one on the English Channel and the other on the Bristol Channel. Devon is predominantly rural and attracts tourists and holidaymakers to its seaside resorts. Famous sons and daughters include the explorers Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh as well as the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Agatha Christie, the grande dame of the murder mystery genre. I imagine the chapel was built on a plot of land given by a local farmer (it stands next to former farm buildings now housing the abbey bookshop and an art gallery.) The contrast between the simple chapel and the large beautiful abbey a couple of hundred metres away is striking and says a lot about houses of God.
The cast: Miss Patricia Stokes, a Methodist local preacher.
The date & time: Sunday, 22 July 2007, 3.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Afternoon service.

How full was the building?
There were 11 of us. So the church was about a quarter full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I slipped in about five minutes before the service was due to start and took a place in a pew toward the back. Hymn books were handed out.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a pew but was OK. There was a small cushion and the angle of the back and depth of the seat were about right for me – though more leg room would have been appreciated.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty. Some of the small congregation were clearly local – in fact one had been the preacher at the service in Totnes Methodist Church I'd attended that morning, though she didn't recognise me. But others were visitors, I assumed, who had dropped in on the service while visiting the abbey.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon. Let's get started."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Combined Mission Praise. Hymns and Psalms was also available, as were some copies of the Good News Bible.

What musical instruments were played?
A small electric organ.

Did anything distract you?
The only distraction was the sense of peace and tranquility. I found my mind drifting off throughout the service as I felt so at peace.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a fairly typical Methodist service of hymns, Bible readings, prayers and sermon. But it felt relaxed and intimate.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
To be honest, because I was so engaged by the preacher I didn't pay close attention to the timing. My notes show when the sermon started but not when it finished. But it was around 20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Miss Stokes was quite a bubbly person and was very enthusiastic about her topic. Her style was engaging, though I found the sermon a bit thin. There wasn't much new in this sermon for me but it was interesting.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Slightly odd for the time of year, Miss Stokes used John 20:1-18 (the risen Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, who had found his tomb empty) to launch into a talk on Mary Magdalene. We were given a quick tour around the various references to her in the Bible. Then the proposition that Mary has been excluded by the Church and portrayed as a prostitute. Why? But we also looked at how Mary loved Jesus. One thought I liked was that Jesus said to Mary, "Don't cling to me," whereas wouldn't it have been nice for Jesus to at least have given Mary a hug.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It all was, really, as it was so tranquil.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
From time to time tourists visiting the abbey would open the door of the chapel, stick their heads in, see a service was going on, say "Sorry" and close the door noisily.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. There appeared to be no mechanism for visitors to be welcomed afterwards. This was surprising, as I'm sure many of us were visitors. So after thanking the preacher I wandered off.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any. So I went and got an ice cream from the abbey shop. (A double cone – one scoop of rum and raisin and one of mint chocolate chip. Mmm!)

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If it were always as peaceful as this, I'd enjoy worshipping here from time to time. But whether I could every week is another matter.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did. I felt at peace with God.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That sense of peace and tranquility.
 
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