Raynes Park Methodist Church

History

Raynes Park Methodist Church was founded in 1914. In its early years the church thrived with a congregation of 600 people, but this steadily declined over the decades to roughly 80 in the mid-90s. Although the Lantern Arts Centre, a theatre and art group, has used the premises for many years and gained publicity for the church, the congregation of the church has continued to dwindle, with its members aging or moving away.

Last week, Easter Sunday, the church implemented several large changes to its layout and its style of service in an attempt to make the church more welcoming and attractive to younger people. With the congregation having jumped up from where it previously stood (thirty on a good day), these changes seem to have been a huge success. However, various aspects of these changes – such as the “coffee shop” feel mentioned below – may or may not be permanent, based on how they work out.

Appearance

The church, a Grade II listed building, has a lovely exterior heavily influenced by Byzantine architecture, with circular arches and domes.

Although there are some plaques on the walls, the interior is rather plain, directing one’s focus toward the large cross on the wall at the front, behind which large organ pipes can be seen. There is a stage at the front of the church, on which is a projector screen and an electric piano.

As a result of the church’s new style of worship, the seating is laid out rather differently from any other I’ve visited so far; chairs are set around circular tables at which the congregation are invited to have teas and refreshments served from a table at the back of the church. This gives the church a very friendly, open feel, almost as if the service is taking place in a coffee shop.

Clergy

The service was led by a female minister and a male worship leader, both dressed casually. They both seemed very friendly, with the latter welcoming me to the church and speaking to me afterwards. A gentleman from the congregation came up to give the reading, and a lady with a guitar led the songs.

Congregation

According to the worship leader who I spoke to after the service, the congregation numbered 56 people, several of whose first visit was today or last Sunday. There was a wide range of ages, ranging from the elderly to several probably in their mid- or late-twenties. There were also one or two families with young children. There were more women than men, to a roughly 2:1 ratio, and between a third to a half of the congregation was of an ethnic minority.

Service

The service began with a welcome to worship and notices, followed by three songs, the lyrics to which were projected in large font onto the projector screen at the front. The first was a traditional hymn, and the other two were more modern worship songs.

After prayers, there then came a short Bible reading, Matthew 6:31-33. This was followed by a talk from a visiting American author, who expounded wonderfully on the reading and went on to speak in detail on God’s love for us and on the topic of spiritual discipline. The talk ended with three questions for discussion, which we were asked to spend a few minutes on our tables considering amongst ourselves.

There were then prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, after which a final song was sung. The minister then dismissed the congregation with a blessing.

Afterwards

After the service, most of the congregation stayed in the church for a while to talk and to get more refreshments from the table at the back. Several copies of a new book by the visiting author were available to take from a table by the exit.

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