Mystery Worshipper: Party Girl.
Church: All Saints Goodmayes
Location: Ilford, Essex, England
Date of visit: Thursday, 21 December 2017, 10:30am
All Saints is a large, nondescript Anglican church, built in 1913, on a busy main road in a residential area. The church hall is attached to it. Inside, there are traditional pews, stained glass windows and a side chapel. More unusually, there were some sporting-themed posters stuck on the pillars. They said things like: "Live life with a splash. Follow Jesus", "Running on empty? Follow Jesus" and "Teed off with life? Follow Jesus". Perhaps the sporting theme was quite topical (as the soccer World Cup had started a week or so earlier and tennis at Wimbledon was due to start the next day) but they looked a little incongruous in their surroundings.
The multicultural congregation includes families of 11 nationalities. It's a lively evangelical church, with several overseas mission connections and laudable youth work, in the form of a variety of free evening activities for different age groups and a week-long event they call "Whizzbang", which happens annually in the first week of the school summer holidays.
Ilford is a suburb in northeast London, served by a fast train to Liverpool Street Station. There are some shops and a library near the church, and a lovely clock at the top of Goodmayes Lane, which was built by the church to celebrate the millennium. The town of Ilford has a high ethnic-minority population, which is reflected in the congregation of All Saints Church.
The service was led by Revd Canon Richard More, Honorary Associate Chaplain of Chelmsford Cathedral, who was filling in for the vicar, Revd Petros Nyatsanza, off with an Achilles tendon injury. I didn't get the name of the person who led the worship (but he was very good).
What was the name of the service?Focus and Eucharist. I wasn't quite sure what Focus meant! However, the inside of the service book said "The first part of our morning worship is called 'Focus' and includes active participation by different groups of people," and the church's visitor's leaflet explains that "Focus is a family time, informal, time of praise and instruction for the young and young in heart!"
How full was the building?
There were about 50 people there (I'm guessing the church could hold about 300-400). Unlike most churches I've visited recently, most of the people were actually there when the service started!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The first person I saw was not particularly welcoming. He handed me the booklets/leaflets without saying anything or making any eye contact. However, a couple of other people who were hovering around the back said hello and welcomed me.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was fine. Some of the pews (including mine) had what looked like rugs on them. A little strange but very welcome.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Unfortunately (due to the late running of my bus) I arrived a little late so didn't experience the pre-service atmosphere. I walked in during the opening hymn. I'm guessing that as people were friendly and welcoming after the service, they would have been so before the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
I wasn't there in time to hear them.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Quite a selection! The pew bibles were The Holy Bible, New International Version and I was given a selection of books and leaflets which included an Order of Service (which had definitely seen better days), a leaflet called For Visitors to our Church, the weekly newssheet and a booklet entitled Welcome to All Saints Goodmayes: Information Booklet (which had just been updated and I read it when I got home). The songs were displayed on a screen (using PowerPoint), which was good as I didn't think I could juggle any more books and paper! Just one other comment on the books the order of service had an excellent section on the back page entitled: "Things to do with children before/during worship." It had some really good suggestions, including: talk to your child on the way to church about what will happen during the service; sit where your child is able to see what's going on; briefly explain what is happening as the service progresses; don't worry if your child wriggles; adults wriggle too! However, it was a shame that this section was on the back page, rather than nearer the front. I wonder how many people have ever spotted it and read it.
What musical instruments were played?
A keyboard, guitar and flute. There were also four or five excellent singers.
Did anything distract you?
Two minor things and one major! The minor things were a noisy baby in the row behind me (the mother took her out after a few minutes) and quite a few people coughing (one of whom was me!). The major thing was the behaviour of the man who handed me the books when I arrived. Because the service had started, I sat at the back of the church. However, after a while I moved nearer the front because his behaviour was so annoying! He was walking back and forth, reading leaflets, jangling the change in his pocket, talking to latecomers (at normal volume), etc. I noticed quite a few people turning round to see what the noise was (some of whom were sitting nearer the front than the back)!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A mixture. Some of the songs were hymns and others were modern. The congregation made an attempt at clapping but it was a bit half-hearted (I suspect due to English reserve).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There were two. There was a very short talk before the children went out, in which Canon More talked about baptism and reminded us that the point is that we have been baptised, not whether or not we remember the event! He noted that of course most Anglicans, having been baptised as babies, would have no memory of their baptism. The main sermon was 20 minutes long.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Canon More was clear, warm, witty and very encouraging. Unfortunately the PA system seemed a bit hit-and-miss so I had to strain to hear at times. He was worth the effort though.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It didn't appear to be connected to the reading, which was Luke 8:26-39, (Jesus heals the demon-possessed man). However, that quite often happens in the Anglican church (in my experience). He spoke about his role in the church, which is "sounding out" potential ordinands and helping them on their journey. He noted what a variety of backgrounds the people came from. He then went on to say how everyone has a calling (not just clergy!) and that sometimes other people are better at pointing out our calling than we are at spotting it. We need to be bold and tell someone if we think God is calling them to a particular ministry as God won't just tell the person concerned but others as well. He reminded us of Matthew 9:36-38, where Jesus tells his disciples to pray for workers for the harvest. It's one of the very few occasions where Jesus tells us to pray for something specific. No topical, cultural or political issues were mentioned but the sermon was certainly very relevant.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When Canon More reminded us, just before we said the confession, that "God delights to forgive us". I must admit I could feel a lump in my throat as I remembered the truth of that fact. Also his sermon made me think: "What is God calling me to be?" Just for a moment I imagined what it might be like to be a vicar was it God's calling or just my over-active imagination? Only time will tell!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The very annoying man who distracted me so much, and the fact that the church was freezing (in June)! I took off my jacket when I arrived and 30 seconds later I was putting it on again. My hands were like ice by the time the service was over, and this was the day before the longest day of the year! I'm sure the church wasn't expecting it to be so cold but it would have been helpful to put the heating on (unless it was on and would have been even colder without it)! The cold air made me cough virtually all the way through the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I went to the back of the church and started looking at what I thought was a bookstall but turned out to be the church library (you can borrow books for free). A couple of people said hello and then the churchwarden (Angela) came up to me and said she recognised me. (I had been there once before, about three years ago!) I was astonished at her amazing memory. We had quite a chat and she invited me to stay behind for tea or coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was fine (instant, but fair trade). The tea was already in the pot so I don't know if that was fair trade or not. There were biscuits as well. Unusually, it was served not in the church hall, or at the back of the church, but in an empty house across the road. I was a little puzzled, to say the least, until Angela explained to me that they had recently refurbished the curate's house (which would shortly be rented out) so it was an opportunity for the congregation to see all the hard work that had been done. It was very strange drinking coffee in a house, rather than a church hall. I felt as if I was looking around with a view to renting or buying it!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I don't go anywhere on a regular basis at the moment and am looking (in a somewhat casual manner) for somewhere to join. There is a lot about this church that appeals to me (the people are very friendly and have a good sense of humour) but I think I would need to go back when the usual vicar is there, to see what he's like. This church is certainly a contender though.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, especially as it was so multicultural and friendly.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Canon More what a lovely, inspirational man.