We were visited by a Mystery Worshipper from the Ship
of Fools in December 2008, just jefore Christmas.
Mystery Worshipper, which produced this report, is run
by shipoffools.com, the online magazine of Christian
unrest. Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who visit
churches of all denominations worldwide, leaving a calling
card in the collection plate and posting a first-timer's
impression of services on Ship of Fools. For further
reports, visit the Mystery Worshipper at: shipoffools.com.
Winton Methodist, Winton, Bournemouth, England
The church: Winton Methodist, Winton, Bournemouth,
Denomination: Methodist Church of Great Britain.
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.
was the name of the service?
Parade and Gift Service.
full was the building?
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.
your pew comfortable?
Extremely comfortable, lovely cushioned wooden framed
chairs with nicely curved backrests and (joy of joys)
armrests! I liked these pews!
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
were the exact opening words of the service?
"We'd like to say a warm welcome to everyone braving
the cold this morning."
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.
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.
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
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.
how long was the sermon?
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.
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.
part of the service was like being in heaven?
I especially enjoyed the wonderful sermon and the talk
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
happened when you hung around after the service looking
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.
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!
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.
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.
one thing will you remember about all this in seven
The questions raised in the sermon: Who am I? What am
I? Why am I?
this review in its original context at the Ship of Fools