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1669: Winton Methodist, Winton, Bournemouth, England
Winton Methodist, Winton, Bournemouth, England
Mystery Worshipper: CSI.
The church: Winton Methodist, Winton, Bournemouth, England.
Denomination: Methodist Church of Great Britain.
The building: A large light coloured brick structure. One enters a bright and roomy reception area, and from there an equally bright and roomy high-ceilinged sanctuary with beautiful modern looking stained glass windows at either end. In the rear is a community hall.
The church: Lots of uniformed youth organisations such as Scouts and Guides seem to be attached to this church. In addition, they sponsor craft and fellowship groups as well as prayer groups. There are morning and evening worship services each Sunday.
The neighbourhood: Bournemouth, in Dorset, on England's south coast, is a popular seaside town that has attracted a large young adult population. The town centre has an active nightlife and high concentration of licensed premises. One survey conducted in 2007 declared Bournemouth to be "the happiest place in Britain" with 82 percent of respondents saying they were happy with their life. Winton lies about a mile north of the town centre and is a favourite area for students of Bournemouth University to live in. There are several striking buildings in styles popular in years gone by.
The cast: The Revd Sue Gowling. Also playing a prominent role in the service were members of the youth organisations sponsored by the church: Rainbows, Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scouts.
The date & time: Sunday, 14 December 2008, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Parade and Gift Service.

How full was the building?
Mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. As I approached the door, a gentleman opened it for me with a hearty "Hello!" and a smile. Inside, two ladies in the reception area said hello and that they were glad to see me. No one asked me any questions about myself – was it my first time, etc. Encouraged, I said hello to the lady next to me as I sat down, but she didn't reply – nor was I spoken to by anyone else.

Was your pew comfortable?
Extremely comfortable, lovely cushioned wooden framed chairs with nicely curved backrests and (joy of joys) armrests! I liked these pews!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived 10 minutes before the start of the service and the church was already three-quarters full. Most people were seated and chatting to their neighbours and greeting friends as they came in. It was a warm atmosphere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We'd like to say a warm welcome to everyone braving the cold this morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Bible passages were projected onto the wall as they were read out during the service, as were the words to the hymns and songs.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ for most of the service, but during the closing hymn (that modern classic "Shine Jesus Shine") the church band stepped up and played their guitars.

Did anything distract you?
The flower arrangements and the stained glass windows at the end of the church were both so beautiful I kept looking at them! The first few rows were filled with children from the uniformed organisations and my thoughts were distracted as I tried to work out which uniform represented which group. I think they've changed since my day!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
On the whole, a traditional service. It began with the youth organisations parading their flags and banners into the church. A representative from each spoke briefly about their success stories from the past month, and awards were presented. A lady also gave a short but interesting talk, complete with photos, about a project the church is supporting in Gambia. At the front of the church was a giant cut-out Christmas tree. The congregation had on a previous week been given small gift boxes in which they put a donation toward the Gambia project. They were then invited a row at a time to go up to the tree and pin their box on. It was a wonderful visual reminder about giving to others. The prayers were led by the minister and were very clear, concise and to the point. We knew exactly what we were praying for. There were appropriate pauses for reflection before moving onto the next prayer. However, the hymns were quite tricky to follow, especially as there was no worship group or choir to guide us through these; the guitar band joining in at the end made a vast improvement in the congregation's confidence. Everyone seemed very much engaged; I didn't spot anyone dozing off. There was lots of enthusiastic nodding and comments in response to each part of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pastor Gowling was really engaging and the congregation were very responsive. She asked questions and there was no shortage of willing respondents shouting out answers. I would happily have listened to her for longer.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
John the Baptist knew who he was and why he was there. We should ask those questions of ourselves in respect of our communities and God's plan for us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I especially enjoyed the wonderful sermon and the talk on Gambia.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lack of practical information for visitors made me feel a bit anxious. Where were the lavatories? Who were the stewards, in case I had a question for them? Was there coffee and where should I go for it? I know it's boring if you have to listen to the same basic facts every week, but a quick two minutes' mention of information such as this would have made me feel much more comfortable.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A gentleman asked me if my children had been involved in the service and made a weather related comment before moving on. I stood around at the back but felt like a spare part in a play. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing and where they were going.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I couldn't figure out where the coffee was being served from or even if there was any. I didn't like to ask in case there wasn't any!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – The atmosphere seemed to be generally warm and friendly, but for me personally I felt a bit lost in the crowd. The preaching was wonderful.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did. This church is obviously involved in all kinds of projects at home and abroad. The sermon was uplifting and thought provoking.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The questions raised in the sermon: Who am I? What am I? Why am I?
 
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