West Wickham Methodist Church

History

The church was founded in 1934, originally worshipping in a building that is now the church hall before the current church building next door was built in the 1960s.

Appearance

The church interior has a light, modern feel to it. Most of the decoration is at the front of the church, including a large wooden cross which draws one’s view towards the front. There are banners on either side of this cross, and smaller ones on the pulpits; these were green, which may have been due to the church currently being in Ordinary Time.

An organ is on the right hand side of the church, and notice boards at the back. There are no pews, but rather separate cushioned chairs facing the front. The hymn numbers are displayed on boards at the front, with hymn books found in the back of the chairs.

Clergy

The service was taken by a gentleman in a smart suit and tie, who was a visiting preacher. A lady from the congregation played the organ, and others gave the Bible readings.

Congregation

When I arrived, I was welcomed by some of the members of the congregation, who told me that they were mainly “old ladies.” The congregation numbered 33 people (not including myself), only six of whom were male and none of whom appeared to be below 35, most over 50. The congregation was predominantly white, with two couples of an ethnic minority.

Several members of the congregation approached me before and after the service to welcome me to their church, and were very friendly.

Service

The service began at 10:30 with notices, and the preacher started the service with Psalm 107:1-9 being read with responses. This was followed by a hymn, and then prayers of confession and the Lord’s Prayer.

The preacher then told the congregation a story warning about greed. After another hymn came the Bible readings (Colossians 3:1-11 and Luke 12:13-21) and the sermon, during which he quoted John Wesley. The theme of the service was about avoiding greed, and the preacher made the good point that if first century fishermen and peasants were warned about greed, how much more that warning applies to us today.

Another hymn followed the sermon, after which a collection was taken. After this came prayers of intercession, and the service concluded with a blessing after a final hymn.

The service lasted for an hour.

Afterwards

Tea, coffee and biscuits were served at a table at the back of the church after the service. Most of the congregation stayed behind to talk over refreshments.

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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.

Putney Methodist Church

History

The current Methodist congregation in Putney can be said to have been founded in March 1865, with previous communities formed in the 1840s having by then died out. The foundation stones of the church building – the congregation having previously rented rooms to worship in – were laid in November 1881, and it was opened on 4 May 1882. The church was made a Grade II listed building in 1983.

Appearance

The exterior of the church is in the Gothic style.

The interior is divided in two parts by a screen; almost half of the inside is comprised of an open space where refreshments were served after the service, which took place in the half of the church adjoining the sanctuary area. The screen has small flags on, which represent the countries of origin of members of the congregation.

On the wall at the front of the church is a large white Celtic cross (obscured by light in the photograph to the right), on either side of which are stained glass windows showing scenes from the life of Jesus.

There is a wooden table in place of an altar, on which is placed a Bible, flowers, and the offering plate, and two lecterns stand on either side of it.

Two large projector screens flank the sanctuary area, and displayed the words to hymns and to the confirmation part of the service. The church has a lovely wooden ceiling, with carved brackets for the rafters.

Clergy

The service was led by a male minister, dressed in a black suit with a clerical collar. A lady from the congregation came up to give the Bible readings.

Congregation

The clergy numbered just under sixty people, not including the eight younger children who went out during the service. A large proportion of the congregation were relatively elderly, the ratio of females to males was about 2:1, and there were several people from ethnic minorities. There may have been more people there than usual, due to the confirmations which took place during the service I visited.

Service

I attended the 10:30 morning service.

The service started with the minister welcoming the congregation and leading it in prayers and an opening hymn. He then asked us to think of things we were grateful for, and led prayers of thanksgiving for the things which the congregation had mentioned: family, music, and plants, to name a few. A second hymn followed during which some of the younger children left the congregation to do their own activities in a room at the back, after which notices were read out by a member of the congregation while an offering was taken.

A lady from the congregation then came up to the front to give the Bible readings. These were Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (the repentance of Nineveh) and Mark 1:14-20 (the start of Christ’s ministry in Galilee). The sermon followed, the latter half of which was on the subject of personal faith triumphing over proof or probability, but the first half of which went into great detail on The Theory of Everything; I’m afraid I found any links the minister was trying to make between the film and the readings somewhat tangential at best.

After another hymn, prayers for the world were said, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer. There then followed the confirmation of four younger members of the congregation into the Methodist Church; they came up to the front and made promises, and the minister and congregation said prayers for them. The children who had gone out of the service earlier then came back in, and showed the congregation a banner they had made which read “Team Jesus”, an affirmation of unity in Christ for those who weren’t yet full members of the church. This was followed by a final hymn, and the service ended with the congregation saying grace to each other.

The service lasted just over an hour.

Afterwards

After the service, tea, coffee, fruit juice and cake was served in the back half of the church, where tables and chairs were laid out.

Martin Way Methodist Church, Merton

History

The first church on this site was opened in September 1934. The current building was opened in May 1958, with the original building being turned into what is now the church hall.

Appearance

The building has a modern feel to it, built of warm yellow brick and with padded chairs instead of pews. The chairs are laid out along the sides of the church facing towards the middle of the nave, giving a rather open feel.

A table with flowers, a candle, an open Bible and a metal plate for the collection is situated on the blue-carpeted sanctuary, with a lectern to the left of the table, a small wooden font to the right, and a chair in the back-left corner of the sanctuary. Behind the table in the sanctuary is a large wooden cross on the wall, and in front of the sanctuary is a large lectern with a microphone. A cross made of two pieces of twisted wood stood in front of this larger lectern, although that may only have been there for the service I attended.

Most of the windows are plain, although the smaller ones at the front of the church have stained glass. Decorative organ pipes are above the doors at the back of the church, and a few posters made by children are up on the walls.

Clergy

The service was led by a male minister. Although he had a clerical collar, he was hardly wearing vestments of any kind but rather a leather jacket! This certainly helped to add to the open and modern atmosphere in the church. Some members of the congregation went up during the service to give the Bible readings and lead the prayers of intercession.

Congregation

I visited the church on Remembrance Sunday – this coincided with a church parade by about twenty of the Rainbows, Brownies and Girl Guides affiliated with the church, meaning that the congregation was most likely boosted somewhat by the parents of the girls in the uniformed organisations. Not including the Girl Guides etc, the congregation numbered roughly fifty, about (or just under) half of which seemed to be in their sixties or older. There were considerably more women than men in the congregation, although not so many as to make it completely disproportionate, and there were also four or five people of an ethnic minority.

Service

Being Remembrance Sunday, the theme of the service was praying for peace and remembering those who have died in war. After the Rainbows, Brownies and Guides entered the church with the flags of their groups (which were placed at the front), the service began with a prayer and responses lamenting the devastation caused by war. This was followed by a hymn and more prayers, after which the minister gave the girls in the uniformed organisations the task of cutting out paper doves, which would be used later.

There followed the Bible readings, Michah 4:1-8 and Luke 6:20-31, focusing on peace and non-violence. After a second hymn, and a talk on the futility of holding Remembrance Day if we do nothing to promote peace, the congregation held the customary two minutes of silence at 11 am to commemorate all those killed in war.

After the two minutes of silence – ended with the words “we will remember them” by the minister and repeated by the congregation – the paper doves were handed out as symbols of peace, with members of the congregation invited to write on them a peace-focused phrase from one of the Bible readings. After another hymn and prayers of intercession came the offering, followed by the final hymn. The service ended with a prayer.

Afterwards

Tea, coffee, fruit squash and biscuits were served in the church hall after the service, but most members of the congregation seemed to stay in the church and talk rather than go into the church hall.

Barnes Methodist Church

History

The church was built in 1906. What was originally an upstairs gallery was converted into a new area for worship in 2005, with the ground floor transformed into halls and meeting rooms which are available for hire and used for community events.

Appearance

The church is, to quote their website, “a fine example of Edwardian chapel architecture”. The outside of the building is in red brick, and the upper floor room (in which the service is held – see above) has plain white walls, with several memorial plaques at the back. An impressive display of organ pipes is at the front of the room, in front of which are some tables, the main one of which has a cross and a candle on, and a simple lectern. In the front right corner of the room is a small font, and in the front left corner a piano. A crèche area is to the right of the area in which the congregation is seated, and behind them some tables with chairs around them for when refreshments are served after the service. The room was brightly lit, with sunlight streaming through the windows, which had simple stained-glass patterns on them.

Clergy

Although the church has a minister, according to its website she was away on maternity leave. Although another minister had been appointed to fill in for some of the services, the service which I visited was led by two female laypersons, referred to as worship leaders.

Congregation

The congregation numbered just under 30, a significant number of whom were elderly, but also including a few who were probably in their 30s and younger, and five young children who were in the crèche. There were slightly more females than males, and I can only recall seeing one person of an ethnic minority. I spoke to several members of the congregation during (see below) and after the service, and they all seemed very friendly.

Service

The service started with one of the worship leaders giving some notices, as well as noting that the service would be rather more informal than usual – not what I was hoping to hear, as I aim to capture an accurate reflection of what the services are usually like at each church I visit. She then lit the candle on the table at the front to symbolise the presence of Christ in their worship, which I thought was a lovely touch.

After prayers and a hymn (which, it must be said, many members of the congregation seemed to barely mumble) was a talk addressed to the children on the subject of God’s love – they were given large paper hearts to decorate in the crèche, and smaller paper hearts were handed out to the congregation with the suggestion they be given to loved ones. After a more rousing hymn (with actions) came prayers of confession, followed by Psalm 121. After this came the first Bible reading (2 Timothy 3:14 & 4:5) and another prayer.

After this, the worship leaders asked the congregation to talk in small groups about people who had guided them in becoming or living as Christians, some of whom then shared their stories with the rest of the congregation. After another hymn and second Bible reading (Luke 18:1-8), there followed another “group discussion”, this time on interpreting the reading just heard. After this came the offering, the Lord’s Prayer, and a final hymn before the dismissal.

Afterwards

Tea, coffee and biscuits were served at the back of the church after the service. Some fruit squash was available on request, and I also saw a few slices of cake, although wasn’t sure if this was a regular component of the post-service refreshment or if it was there in celebration of somebody’s birthday.

Wallington Methodist Church

History

The church was founded in 1908, and was actually celebrating its 105-year anniversary during the service which I attended. When founded, the congregation topped 50 people, hitting a peak of 400 in the 1960s and 70s.

Appearance

The inside of the church has mostly blank white walls with brick pillars and arches, with a wooden ceiling. At the front is an altar with some Union Flags behind it and a small font in front of it, with a cross, candle, Bible and flower display on top of the altar. Above the altar is a large stained glass window showing saints kneeling down to Christ. To the left of the chancel is a small pulpit with a banner emblazoned with a cross draped down from it, and further left from that in the corner of the church is a drum kit and piano. To the right of the chancel is a projector screen, and further to the right of that a small table with a cross on it. There are also a few banners and pictures dotted around the inside of the building, with noticeboards and toys for young children at the back.

Clergy

The service was led by a male minister. He was not wearing vestments, but was smartly dressed and had a clerical collar. Another man gave some notices at the very start of the service, and three girls came up to the front to sing.

Congregation

The congregation numbered about 80, with a roughly equal divide between men and women. Almost half the congregation was comprised of ethnic minorities, who tended to be relatively young, in contrast to the white members of the congregation who were generally elderly, although there were of course several exceptions to both. The congregation was very friendly – so much so that I could not sit down and write some notes about the layout of the church before the service without being interrupted by five different people approaching me and welcoming me, which was certainly a nice start to my visit.

Service

The service started with the minister – a former minister of the church visiting from the USA for the church’s anniversary – addressing the congregation on how glad he was to be there, and inviting them to worship and to celebrate 105 years of Wallington Methodist Church. After an opening hymn and prayers, there was a sharing of the peace and a talk on anniversaries and gratitude to God for his blessings before the Junior Church left the service to do their own activities.

There was then a second hymn, followed by the New Testament reading, Ephesians 4:1-8 and 11-13. Songs were then sung by girls who went up to the front accompanied by the piano to the left of the chancel and by a boy with a cello while the collection was taken. After another hymn, the Old Testament reading was read (Exodus 2:1-10), which tied in with the sermon that followed, which was titled “What’s Around The Corner?”

The Junior Church then returned and informed the congregation what they had been doing – reading the parable of Dives and Lazarus. After a final hymn, the service – which had lasted for about an hour – then ended with the minister blessing the congregation.

Afterwards

Tea, coffee, orange squash and biscuits were available at the back of the church. It being the birthday of one of the congregation members, slices of cake were also being given out. I heard mention of a church lunch later, which I was unable to stay for, but gathered that this was a special occasion due to the anniversary and not a weekly event.

Carshalton Methodist Church

History

The church was originally founded in 1861 on a site now occupied by a Roman Catholic church. Requiring expansion due to a rapidly increasing local population, it moved in 1911 to a larger church a few streets away, and then again only 15 years later in 1926 to a site next to the 1911 building, which now functions as the church hall.

Major Sir William James Mallinson, Bt. provided a large amount of financial support for the growing church until his death in 1944, paying for the construction of the current 1926 building, buying its organ, and financing expansions to the church halls. The 1930s saw a period of great vitality and activity for the church, with its Sunday School reaching 360 children in 1932, but this “golden age” came to an end with the outbreak of the Second World War, with men called up for service and children evacuated.

Church membership rose again through the efforts of the post-war ministers, but societal changes and the establishment of other local churches prevented the church from returning to the massive congregations it had seen in the 1930s. Cinema, dance and drama societies based on its premises help keep the church connected to the local community, and the church was host to Songs of Praise in 2010.

Appearance

The church has a white exterior with large arched windows and patterns in brown bricks. One could be mistaken for thinking that the church hall next to it, which has the exterior look of a traditional Gothic-style English church, is the actual church. This was what this building originally was (see above), and a spire was removed in 1926 to prevent confusion with the current church building.

Inside, throughout much of the building there is little to suggest what its function is. Although there are some patterns in the décor here and there, on three sides the walls and windows are rather plain, as is the ceiling, with no religious images or objects. These are all at the front.  In the chancel area stands an altar, with a wood carving of the Last Supper behind it, a table in front of it, and two pulpits on either side of that. To the right of the altar is a plaque listing the names of members of the church who died in the World Wars.

Behind the altar is a simple yet elegant stained glass window depicting a large cross set over a picture of an open Bible paraphrasing II Corinthians 4:6 – “God commanded light to shine out of darkness”. A small baptismal font is hidden away in a corner, behind a piano. Also at the front was a projector screen, although this was not used during the service I attended, and a noticeboard displayed illustrations made by the church’s children.

I found it interesting that I could only see the sign of the cross in two places – on the altar, and depicted on the stained glass window. Furthermore, the woodcarving of the Last Supper behind the altar was the only depiction of a Biblical scene – or religious imagery of any sort, for that matter – other than drawings of St. Paul’s journeys which had been made by the children of the church and pinned up on a noticeboard. Despite this, the church somehow managed to avoid having a particularly austere or minimalist feel to it.

Clergy

The service was led by a male minister, with Bible readings and some of the prayers said by four women who went up to the front from their seats in the congregation. There were no vestments, although the minister was smartly dressed in a blazer and tie.

Congregation

According to one of the church stewards, there were 73 people in the congregation for the service, including the four who went up to the front during it. Despite probably at least half being over 50, that left a good number below that age. I did notice that there were quite a few more females than males, probably at least a 3:2 ratio, and not many ethnic minorities (I can only recall seeing two people who were not white).

Service

Before the service, one of the church stewards read out notices and welcomed the congregation to the church. The service then began with a hymn, after which there were prayers led by one of the aforementioned women assisting the minister.

Being the first Sunday in the month, this was a family service, with children staying in the service instead of going out to their Sunday school. The presence of several young children was evident in the talk with which the minister followed the prayers, in which he likened the call to be in the Kingdom of God to an all-inclusive invitation to a birthday party.

After another hymn, there was a reading from the Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) – this surprised me, as Protestants regard Sirach as being in the Apocrypha, which is not included in the Bibles which could be found in the back of the chairs. The reading (10:12-18) was a warning against pride and arrogance, and although the minister mentioned that it was in a Methodist lectionary for today it was not really linked to the theme of the rest of the service, expounded upon in the sermon.

The first part of sermon followed on from the theme of the earlier children’s talk, that is, that Christianity should seek to be inclusive, but also that Christians should try to avoid excluding others from their lives. After prayers, another hymn and an offering, there was a second reading, Luke 14:1 and 7-14. There followed the second part of the sermon, continuing to stress that Christianity must actively try to include more people. After more prayers and another hymn, there was a final reading (Hebrews 13:1-8 and 15-16) and more prayers before a final hymn and the dismissal.

The service lasted for just over an hour.

Afterwards

After the service, most of the congregation stayed behind to have tea, coffee and biscuits served at the back of the church. Following this there was a barbecue in the church garden, which I understood to take place after every family service in the summer, this one being the last barbecue of the year.