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  1056: Chelsea Methodist, Chelsea, London

Chelsea Methodist, Chelsea, London

Mystery Worshipper: Doubting Thomas.
The church: Chelsea Methodist Church and Pastoral Centre, Chelsea, London.
Denomination: Methodist.
The building: The present building was opened by Cardinal Basil Hume in 1984. The striking blue-tiled entrance is sandwiched between two shops and leads you down a long white concrete corridor into a community centre-style foyer with tables and chairs. Through here is the sanctuary (as the church bulletin describes it), a square, compact room which is colourful and light. The seats are arranged in a u-shape around the front.
The church community: Judging by the amount of leaflets and posters inside, the church hosts a lot of local community services and drop-ins throughout the week.
The neighbourhood: The church entrance is on the trendy King's Road in Chelsea, one of the most affluent and busy areas of London. Off King's Road, most of the houses are large, white-pillared, impressive buildings, many of which have now been converted into desirable flats.
The cast: Rev. Marilyn Neufville. Although not listed as a staff member on the church website, Rev Neufville seemed to know the names of most people, and so is probably a regular preacher here.

What was the name of the service?
There didn't seem to be one, not even on the bulletin.

How full was the building?
About 30 people. Although the sanctuary could probably seat around 150, it is very enclosed, so it didn't seem too empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Nobody was at the main door to welcome visitors. A few people were sitting at a table in the foyer and a couple of ladies were arranging hymn books, but nobody said a word to us. Eventually we asked where the toilets were, and we were politely pointed in the right direction.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. It was a soft padded seat.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A lady was playing a pipe organ quietly in the corner. As people arrived they took their seats but barely spoke a word to each other. The only chatter was from a small group of old ladies sitting together.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Rev. Neufville strode up to the front and said, "Hallelujah, Christ is risen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A BBC Songs of Praise hymn book and a Good News Bible – both green!

What musical instruments were played?
Just the organ. Personally, I can't stand church organs, but it seemed to be played well and at just the right volume.

Did anything distract you?
The u-shape arrangement of the seats meant that I was directly facing some other members of the congregation and so every time I looked up I couldn't help studying their faces. One lady in particular seemed to be staring coldly at me whenever I looked in her direction, which was a little off-putting!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional and lacking any emotion at all – the word "dirge" kept running through my mind. The hymns were old and nobody seemed to be enjoying singing them. It was a relief when each one finished and we could sit down again.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
19 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – On the plus side, Rev. Neufville projected her voice well and related a few anecdotes to keep our attention. Unfortunately, the content was baffling and completely uninspiring.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
There were actually two sermons. The first was a bizarre talk about change, and how it is a good thing. We heard about how our preacher had recently been on a change management course, and she told us how to bend with the winds of change like a blade of grass, rather than resist them like a tree. We shouldn't worry about changes because it will all turn out right in the end. At one point she actually said that if your spouse or partner has left you, it's OK because there are plenty more fish in the sea. Quite what any of this had to do with God or the Bible was anybody's guess, because they were never mentioned or referred to. There was a brief remark about Jesus as "our partial mediator", but I didn't understand how that related to the talk. After a quick prayer, it was straight on to the second sermon! This, at least, did have a religious theme and asked "Are we spiritually dead?" If so, we should wake up and be alive in God. But there was nothing in this sermon to tell you what that meant, just a few comments about how wonderful it was to have God with us. There did not seem to be any structure or direction to these two talks, just bland encouragement to think positive.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During the sharing of the peace, everyone got up, walked around the room and shook hands with each other. People seemed relaxed and happy to do this and we probably had our hands shaken by most of the congregation. It was the only time in the service that truly felt like community.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The "worship". I can't imagine worship in heaven being remotely like this was.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
Prayers were read out by Rev. Neufville, although they seemed to be standard prayers read from a book. No topical issues were mentioned.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
In such a small congregation, I'm sure I and my friend must have stuck out like a sore thumb, yet nobody spoke to us at all when we stayed behind in the sanctuary. Eventually, we went out into the foyer for some tea and coffee and then sat at a table by ourselves. Still nobody approached us or even sat at our table. Eventually, a man collecting names and addresses for the church directory came over and asked if we'd like to have our names included. We declined, explaining that we were visiting the church. "Oh, OK then," he replied and walked off! We finished our drinks, waited a few more minutes and then left without anyone ever welcoming us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Perfectly decent tea in a mug, although I couldn't see whether it was fairly-traded or not. On each table was a plate of digestive biscuits. As nobody else sat at our table, we had the whole plate to ourselves!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – Sorry, but beyond the brief burst of activity during the sharing of the peace and the plate of digestive biscuits, I can't think of any reason why I would want to go back.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. On the contrary, I felt depressed by the joyless singing and meaningless sermon.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The absence of any welcome or a friendly "hello".
 
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