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Road Methodist, Oxford, England
Road Methodist, Oxford, England.
Church of Great Britain, Northampton
A Grade II listed stone building in a prominent spot on the
busy Cowley Road, it is hard to miss. Designed by the eccentric
late 19th century architect Stephen Salter, it was opened in
1904 and is a highly original reinterpretation of Late Gothic
meets Arts and Crafts. The building was completely renovated
in 1984. The ground floor holds several community rooms. Upstairs,
the sanctuary is a large, airy, carpeted hall with a wooden
roof and big windows on both sides letting in the sunlight.
At the front wall behind the altar is a large organ that takes
up almost the whole width of the room. Homemade banners hang
along the hall, proclaiming such things as "Christ is Risen"
or commemorating the centenary of the church. Noticeboards stand
to the sides of the sanctuary. It is very obviously a multipurpose
room, feeling half like a church hall (it has a kitchen attached).
As the church website explains: "The linked black and white
hands of our logo represent our multi-racial congregation, and
the diversity of our local community." As well as the main Sunday
service at 10.30am, they have a service in Punjabi at 3.00pm
which has been offered since 1967. During term time there is
an evening service at 8.00 aimed at students and young adults.
During the Cowley Road Carnival in July, the church serves free
fair trade refreshment to passers-by.
Cowley Road is across the river from most of Oxford University
and down the hill from most of Oxford Brookes University. Nonetheless
it is a very lively area, with a significant immigrant community
and quite a few students living out. It's full of restaurants
and little shops. Once the area had a bad reputation but it's
been gentrifying steadily for at least the past ten years. A
Costa Coffee and a Subway sandwich shop recently moved in.
The Revd Dr Martin Wellings, minister.
The date & time:
Sunday, 16 August 2009, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Worship in English.
How full was the building?
About three-quarters of the chairs set out were full, but it
was a large hall that could have taken many more. Maybe 40 or
50 people in total.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The minister shook my hand in the foyer. A petite, elderly Asian
woman in a sari asked if I was a visitor and warmly welcomed
me to the church. Upstairs, an elderly gentleman held the door
for me and pointed me toward the table where hymn books were
being handed out.
Was your pew comfortable?
Rather than pews, there were individual stackable chairs set
out. They were very comfortable, with cloth padded seats and
How would you describe the pre-service
Fairly quiet, as people were mostly already seated five minutes
before the service started. A man at a grand piano was playing
a subdued prelude. The congregation were mostly middle-aged
or elderly, about two-thirds white and one-third black.
What were the exact opening words of the
"I'm very pleased to be able to welcome you to worship today. The sun is shining and I see that it's brought out some beautiful summer outfits."
What books did the congregation use during the
The Methodist Worship Book; Hymns and Praise
(1983); Songs and Hymns of Fellowship (1985).
What musical instruments were played?
Only the piano, despite the presence of a rather weighty and
conspicuous organ. There was no choir, but the congregation did
a very creditable job with the hymns.
Did anything distract you?
A few people came in late during the gospel reading but this
was not a major distraction. More serious was the hammering
and ratcheting that seemed to be emanating from the back of
the hall and that reached a pitch during the sermon. I wondered
if there was construction, if the preparation of coffee hour
was noisier than I'd hitherto realised, or whether there were
children playing particularly loudly in the foyer. Whatever
the reason, the minister interrupted his sermon to ask for the
door to the foyer to be shut, and the noise seemed to stop.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Typically reticent English, as the minister acknowledged during
the sermon, saying that perhaps the Methodist tradition could
benefit from some of the enthusiasm of its 18th century roots.
One of the hymns was a praise song from the folk-rock Maranatha
Music tradition but it was sung in a very serious and proper
way. There were very few congregational responses even where
the worship book indicated them. Interestingly, though, the
passing of the peace was very warm, with people circulating
throughout the church to greet one another. Communion consisted
of pieces of bread and individual glasses of grape juice (I'll
have more to say about communion in a moment).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
6 The minister spoke clearly and deliberately without
any affectations. He didn't develop any of the ideas to a very
great extent, beyond the comments mentioned above on the worship
style of the congregation and a brief digression on the evils
of binge drinking.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The minister began with a discussion of the recent road works
and reorganisation of bus stops in Oxford, a topic on which
everyone in the city feels strongly! He then segued into the
main theme, which was the question raised in Ephesians 5:15-20
(walk as wise men, understanding God's will): which way should
we go? We should follow the will of God, use our time wisely,
be filled with the Spirit rather than with alcohol, and be thankful
to God for everything.
Which part of the service was like being in
The warm welcome I received.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
There was enough room at the communion rail to accommodate almost
all of the congregation but not quite. The back row,
which included me, stayed in their seats waiting for space to
open up. Everyone at the rail waited until communion had been
ministered to the whole group, and then stood up in unison.
As they did, the pianist began playing, as if that were the
end of communion and the next hymn was about to begin. It seemed
that no one in the back row would be getting communion. Happily
someone broke ranks and headed for the altar, and I followed
along with a couple of other people.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
As I returned the hymn books to their table, the gentleman who
had greeted me earlier pointed me over to the kitchen hatch
for tea and coffee. An elderly Scottish lady came up to me,
very welcoming, and spent the next five minutes telling me the
life stories of herself, her neighbours, and other members of
How would you describe the after-service
Tea and instant coffee in small ceramic mugs were handed out through the kitchen hatch. There was no food.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 Too low church for my taste, but I do admire their
ties to the local community.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Wondering whether or not there was room for me at the communion rail!
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