Mystery Worshipper: Party Girl
Church: All Saints
Location: Woodford Green, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 June 2006, 6:30pm
Traditional Anglican church with a tall spire and stained glass windows. Interior is a mix of very old (oak beams, stained glass, traditional altar) with modern flooring and chairs – the combination doesn't really work.
I couldn't find out very much about them, but during the service it was mentioned that the church had hired a big screen to watch some of the England games during the World Cup and people were encouraged to bring their friends along. I also read in the weekly pew slip that they do a home run, taking food and clothes to the homeless in central London, once a month.
Lots of very nice houses – this is one of the nicer areas of East London/Essex.
The vicar is the Rev. Paul Harcourt (who didn't look old enough to be a vicar!) and the service was led by someone called Simon (don't know his surname). He was wearing a clerical collar so I presume he's a curate.
What was the name of the service?Evening Service (Holy Communion)
How full was the building?
Mostly full few empty seats.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were two people behind a desk handing out services sheets and various leaflets. They smiled and said hello. My friend and I looked around before we sat down but no one spoke to us.
Was your pew comfortable?
No pews but comfortable chairs. Service lasted about one and three-quarter hours and the chair was fine for that.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of people who obviously knew one another were chatting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening – are you warm enough?" (the weather was extremely hot).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Bibles were available the New International Version. The songs were all displayed using PowerPoint so no song books.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboards, guitars, flute and drums.
Did anything distract you?
A lady sitting across the aisle from me was worshipping rather enthusiastically. There was also an older lady who waved her scarf during the worship as if she were at a football match! Also, a lady arrived about two-thirds of the way through the service and walked right to the front in high-heeled shoes that made a loud noise on the wooden flooring. I did wonder why she was so late and why she couldn't have just crept in quietly and sat at the back!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly happy-clappy, which is fine by me as that's my preferred choice (though I also enjoy quieter, more reflective worship). Most people closed their eyes, raised their arms, clapped, etc.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The vicar preached very well. He was informal and relaxed but managed to challenge us at the same time – always a good combination!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on one of the readings (2 Peter 1:1-9). He talked about the Holy Spirit working in us, saying that God has given us everything we need in order to do what he has called us to, that we can share in the life of God but we need to choose that. The biggest battle is with ourselves. We need the Holy Spirit to be effective Christians. At the end of the sermon, people were invited to stand for prayer or have prayer from the ministry team.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was the thoughtul attention given to smaller details. For example: (1) The curate checked with a member of the congregation that he'd got her name right before saying the banns. (2) The intercessions (done by a member of the congregation) were wonderful and covered all kind of relevant topics – the person doing them had obviously taken a great deal of time over them. (3) After the service had officially ended, communion was still available for those who had been prayed for or had prayed for others.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But why, in what seemed to be such a warm and friendly church, did no one speak to my friend and me? Even after the service only one person bothered to speak to us, and that was someone I happened to know anyway – I'd forgotten she went to All Saints. It made me feel very sad. Also, though this is a trivial point, I did find the radio mikes that those leading the service used a little too high-tech for my liking.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As we were leaving the church, we saw that it had started to rain. We sheltered ourselves in the doorway, as others were doing, and finally got to chat with some people who invited us to a "Girls' Night In" later that month (which we couldn't attend).
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was tea, coffee (fair trade), orange squash and biscuits available after the service. I asked for a second cup of tea (it was a very warm evening) and was happily given it.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I'd love to make this my regular church, but my first act would be to encourage them to be more welcoming to visitors! My home church is also Anglican, with a lovely, caring group of people, but I would rather be at All Saints!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The wonderful, heartfelt intercessions which were so inclusive.