PERHAPS the most instantly obvious change in Britain's churches these past 25 years has been the warmth and width of their welcome. Gone are the half-frozen handshake, the brimstone black back row bouncers. In their place, smiling faces like Anne Gilmore's.

Her lapel badge identifies her as "Senior steward", though Richmond Methodist Church appears to have more stewards than Ford's at Dagenham, and none the worse for that.

Anne not only lays out the red carpet - or something very akin, newly purchased - but having encountered this column before, comes back with a large print hymn book - the approximate size of a tea towel and a sight for sore eyes. A large print hymnal, of course, doesn't turn corncrake into curlew, but the thought is much appreciated, nonetheless.

We'd last been to Richmond Methodists for the "Watch night" service, New Year's Eve 1995-96. "Cold Richmond may have been," the column observed, "stone cold it wasn't".

Last Sunday was colder yet, snow falling mirthlessly from mid-March skies. "Do you know," said the lady in the row in front, "I was looking forward to getting dressed up for this."

The weekend marked the re-opening of church and adjoining buildings after a £250,000 refurbishment. On Saturday afternoon, kick off at 3pm and to the inevitable accompaniment of The Church's One Foundation, well over 200 had attended the formal re-dedication.

Almost as many braved the blizzard on Sunday morning, church and "schoolrooms" - a purpose-built Methodist school opened nearby a quarter of a century ago - immaculate for the occasion.

It was built in 1939, an early marriage of Richmond's Primitive and Wesleyan Methodist churches, the two-storey schoolrooms completed two years later and used almost immediately as a forces canteen.

Many thousands, it's reckoned, have been grateful for its home from homeliness.

Much of the money has been spent on the community rooms at the back, particularly the kitchen, lounge and "welcome" areas, dictated by new legislation on disabled access. The lift, mind, appears to have its ups and downs.

"Some people were doubtful that we could raise that kind of money or anything like it," admits Peter White, the property steward. "It was coming to the end of its working life. You have to be a bit more upmarket these days."

"When they first talked about it, I didn't think it wanted anything doing to it. Now I think it's lovely" admits Sheila Pedley, in October 1939 the first baby baptised in the new church. She still has the christening frock. "Mind," adds Sheila, "it doesn't fit any more."

£25,000 remains to be raised, which is why a table in the welcome area offers copies of an anagram competition - another of Anne Gilmore's little efforts - ten bob a go to unscramble the names of dog breeds.

Exorb, towerliter and dullbog - definitely dullbog - prove within the column's kennel, irestonrobter, washingthewildhet and shaalsoap may, among many others, take a little more exercising.

Sunday's service, at which "stewardship" pledges are to be renewed, is led by Andrew Champley, the superintendent minister. Dorothy Tanfield, 98-year-old faithful, is in her usual place; Henry Coatsworth, there at the opening and on most occasions thereafter, had been at the rededication, too.

The church itself has a new screen at the back, new floor coverings and has been impressively redecorated. "It'll never be an architectural gem," concedes the minister, "but it was a bit dark and dismal before."

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, heartily sung, seems a pretty appropriate hymn with which to begin the proceedings.

Up front there's also a 10ft-high Lenten cross, to which a different symbol is attached each week. Since it's not a large print symbol, however, the column is unfortunately unable to identify it.

Mr Champley recalls that John Wesley, the most ubiquitous of men, preached in Richmond in the mid-18th Century. "Once again there is a new beginning, a move forward," he says.

His address is on stewardship. "It's partly about counting our blessings, which we should do a bit more often. We should remember the 90 per cent we've raised, not the 10 per cent we still have to raise."

Afterwards there's tea and coffee upstairs, a chance to show the new place off and for the bairns to bounce about a bit.

It had been among the most thoughtful, the most enjoyable and - of course - the most welcoming services in memory. They can put that in large print, an' all.

Richmond Methodist Church's principal Sunday services are at 10 30am and 6 30pm. The "schoolrooms" are used for a wide range of weekday community activities, including "Open house" on Mondays (9 30-12 30pm) and Thursdays (9 30-3 30pm). The Rev Andrew Champley is on 01748 823149 and there's until April 11 to resolve Mrs Gilmore's anagrams.