Christ Church, Bangkok

Christ Church, Bangkok, Thailand


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 July 2015, 10:00am

The building

Dedicated in 1905, with construction continuing until 1907, it was built on land granted by King Chulalongkorn, Rama V. An imposing building in the Gothic Revival style, it looks like a typical English town church. The foundation consists of teak logs; the walls are brick and plaster. One enters from a porch through double west doors and looks down colonnaded aisles toward the altar, which is backed by an apse. The east window depicts the Crucifixion. There is a rose window in the west wall, and clerestory windows in the aisles let in plenty of light. Ceiling fans and huge air conditioning ducts run down the inside of the church, which makes worshiping in the hot sticky weather a comfortable experience.

The church

Christ Church is the heart of worship for a large number of English speaking Anglicans based throughout Thailand. There is also a separate Thai congregation. They engage in a number of outreaches and activities all documented on their website. I'll mention only one: an outreach to women who work in the sex industry in the red light district of Bangkok, literally a stone's throw from the church. Quoting from their website, this ministry enables women "to learn new, productive skills that will enable them to take up different careers." There are two services of holy communion in English each Sunday, plus a service in Thai. Morning prayer is said on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The neighborhood

Christ Church is located in the heart of historic Bangkok, on the corner of Sathorn Road and Convent Road, near both the Sala Daeng BTS sky-train station and the Silom MRT tube-train station. We opted for the tube but discovered that the church is a good 20 minute walk from the station. There are not many signposts, and not many locals we asked were able to direct us. However, we eventually found it. Maybe it was just my poor Thai!

The cast

The Rt Revd Kaleem John, Bishop of Hyderabad (Church of Pakistan), who was visiting with a group.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion

How full was the building?

When we arrived at 9.45, there were a number of people hanging around outside, but the church was fairly empty. But as people settled in, we observed an amazing mix of people made up of traditional Anglicans, American Episcopalians, Thais, African Anglicans and Pakistani Anglicans, as well as Europeans – all in one space.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

There was no welcome at all. We entered the church and were simply shown where to pick up a hymn book and order of service. We asked for the toilet and were directed toward some very nice loos in the church hall.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very colonial British armchairs, which were very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Noisy, with lots of chatting, people walking in and out. It was the weekly gossip, and they continued chatting well past 10.00. By the time it got to 10.15, I wondered if we had got the service time right. But things finally got underway at 10.20.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The order of service was Common Worship styled. "Common worship" is in fact different around the world. It is perhaps better to think of it, not as something that is "the same" wherever you go, but as something that is "familiar" in most places but celebrated in a variety of expressions. Scripture readings were from the King James version of the Bible.

What musical instruments were played?

There was a small unrobed choir, and an organ and a digital keyboard.

Did anything distract you?

As we took our seats for the start of the service, the choir were doing their choir practice in the front of the church as the ceiling fans rattled. No chance for quiet prayer, I'm afraid.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

I don't know how to describe it. It really was unlike anything I had experienced before!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

34 minutes. The congregation were obviously not used to such a long sermon. Toward the end, the church warden stood up and was pointing at his watch. It was hilarious!

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

0 – OK, so I know he's a bishop and all that, but his monotone and so ... very ... slow ... way of speaking really just sent everyone to sleep. Literally! My wife and I played a game of spotting who was still awake.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The bishop's text was 1 Corinthians 13 (Paul's famous tribute to love). Sometimes, instead of growing spiritually, we become diminished in our spirituality. How can we become more spiritual? God has blessed us with spiritual gifts; we do not lack any of them. However, as human beings we struggle with weaknesses that can diminish the power of God's gifts. We must ask God to help us overcome our weaknesses. The greatest spiritual gift we have from God is love. Love is patient, love is kind (as Paul says), but sometimes we are impatient and lack kindness. To love God and to love our neighbour is the greatest commandment. If we do not possess the spiritual gift of love, we are (as Paul says) a sounding gong and clanging cymbal – we are nothing but noise, without meaning – absolute rubbish! Useless! With love we can become disciples who will bear witness, bear fruit, love God and neighbour.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I'm afraid we never thought we were in heaven (see below). We were given to believe that services were not usually like this. However, we aren't going to risk travelling back on a 16 hour flight to find out!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

As a cathedral chorister for many years, I have heard many sermons, some good, some bad. With all due respect to the bishop, I'm afraid I can't rank his sermon among the better ones. The choir were also – there's no other way of putting it – horrendous. There was one soprano who decided she wanted her warble to stand out above the others, and so there was no balance to the choir. I have heard so much wonderful singing in Thailand, so it really surprised me that the music standard here was so low.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

There was no announcement as to whether there was any tea or coffee. We exited, and couldn't run away fast enough. We realised afterward that not a single person had spoken to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Never found out!

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

5 – Based on this service, 0, but that would be unfair as the regular clergy were not there. That said, the poor standard of music and the absence of any welcome left me with the impression that this was an ex-pat social club and had nothing to do with Jesus' ministry. Their mission statement says that they are "A spiritual oasis of living water flowing into the community and out to the nation." After much discussion, my wife and I are of the opinion that we had stopped at the wrong oasis. Why, their mission statement doesn't even mention Jesus or God!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

To be quite honest, it made me sad.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Literally running away from a church!

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