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3016: Montacute Baptist, Montacute, England
Montacute Baptist
Mystery Worshipper: Liddell and Scott.
The church: Montacute Baptist, Montacute, Somerset, England.
Denomination: Baptist Union of Great Britain, South West Baptist Association.
The building: A fine handsome building dating from 1880, in a vaguely Lombardic or Venetian-style Gothic, of local hamstone, with a striking external staircase to the gallery and a large rose window above.
The church: This is a small congregation who meet every Sunday morning at 10.30am. There is a Tuesday fellowship and Bible study on alternate weeks, and a monthly community lunch in aid of mission charities. The also enjoy good relations with the local parish church, and share monthly evening services, and sponsor a monthly Messy Church.
The neighbourhood: Montacute is a picture-postcard village in South Somerset, with attractive roses-round-the-cottage-door properties. The village is home to Montacute House, a large Elizabethan/Jacobean mansion owned by the National Trust, and one of their more important properties in the South West.
The cast: The Revd Dinah Hargreaves, a retired Baptist minister who lives in a town some ten or twelve miles distant, but spends two or three days a week looking after Montacute in her retirement.
The date & time: Sunday, 17 April 2016, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?
Twelve of us altogether, in a chapel that probably seats 150 or more, including the balcony at the back.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes: “Good morning” from the gentleman at the door, who handed me a Mission Praise and seemed surprised that someone had come in off the street.

Was your pew comfortable?
A plain wooden pew. One or two had cushions in them, but I felt a little diffident in taking one of those, in case they were personal.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet. The organist was playing over one or two hymn tunes, and we sat and listened to the music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The chapel steward said, “We have the Revd Dinah Hargreaves leading our worship this morning” and then continued with various notices about services and events in the coming week.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise; The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ.

Did anything distract you?
I was sitting in the front row of the congregation, although half a dozen pews back from the front, so I had to behave myself and not appear to be distracted. In any case, what dare distract you in an absolutely traditional chapel, with obscured plain glass in the windows and a blue velvet curtain hiding the organist at the front, whose eyes you can see in the mirror, and the preacher watching you from the raised pulpit?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Absolutely formal traditional nonconformist hymn sandwich: prayers, readings, a sermon, and concluding with the breaking of bread. We did sing two choruses, both of which were in Mission Praise. This worship would not have raised an eyebrow in the 1940s or '50s.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Dinah Hargreaves presented a useful and cogent collection of thoughts, not vastly profound or indeed highly original, but well worth listening to, and with something that we could each take away and mull over during the coming week.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Why do we love the story of Doubting Thomas? He was a man who dealt with his grief alone, but was nevertheless a man of admirable qualities. He could be belligerent – "I will not believe!"– but his confession of faith was equally wholehearted. We may not need to have every t crossed or i dotted, but we should not try to be content just with honest doubt. “Seek the Lord while he may be found” (Isaiah 55:6).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Worshipping in a small company of people for whom their fellowship appeared to be important and meaningful. And my, didn’t they take their hymn singing seriously! All participated "with a right good will," as the old hymn goes, in traditional nonconformist style.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The realisation that this was a slightly struggling congregation, all of a certain age, and that I felt the youngest member in the chapel that morning. (And I am an old age pensioner!) Where will this congregation be in ten or even five years time?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was immediately asked to join them at the back of the chapel for a cup of tea or coffee. The Revd Dinah Hargreaves welcomed me and we had a brief chat. Then I spoke to the organist and renewed my acquaintance with an instrument I last played probably over 50 years ago. I also chatted with a couple of other members over my cup of tea.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea or coffee, in a cup and saucer, and chocolate digestive biscuits, but I could not see if it was fairly traded, although they had fair trade literature on the table.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – This is not my denomination or churchmanship, but if I could go nowhere else, I would find the support of this congregation and their warmth very compelling.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Most certainly.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Try not to be content just with honest doubt: “Seek the Lord while he may be found.”
 
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