Mystery Worshipper: Virginia
Church: Holy Trinity Brompton
Location: Knightsbridge, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 December 2007, 5:00pm
A large Victorian church, hidden behind the Brompton Oratory. The interior is arched and vaulted, with a balcony on three sides. All of the pews have been removed, upstairs and down. The original decor remains at the altar.
Holy Trinity is the birthplace of the Alpha course, a program that answers questions about the Christian faith in an informal setting, founded by Nicky Gumbel, the vicar. The church continues to offer Alpha courses as well as a large variety of social and spiritual programs. Church members are encouraged to join groups called pastorates (home groups) which involve themselves in various aspects of the life of the church. This is a congregation which appears to care about its members. It has an admirable and far reaching mission statement: "The evangelism of the nations and the transformation of society."
Brompton is a locality in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is a very affluent district. Harrods, the world-famous department store that specialises in luxury goods, is down the road.
Tim Hughes, leader of worship (who wrote the popular contemporary Christian song "Here I am to Worship"), led the worship and gave the talk. The Revd Nicky Gumbel, vicar, introduced and closed the service with prayers. Jeremy Jennings, director of prayer, led the intercessions.
What was the name of the service?Evening Service
How full was the building?
Full. I was told the building holds 900 people, and there were very few spare spaces. Inasmuch as the pews had been removed, a few more people could probably have been shoehorned in! It was wonderful to see it so full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There were hosts to greet everyone. A helpful lady explained the relative advantages of sitting up or downstairs. At the beginning of the service we were invited to say hello to the person next to us. A nice touch.
Was your pew comfortable?
All the pews have been removed and the floor has been carpeted. We sat upstairs, where there were wide tiered steps which were also carpeted and which were comfortably large. They were wide enough to kneel down on if one felt so moved.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very lively as it filled up with mainly young people downstairs and a mixture of ages upstairs. I could see a lot of affectionate greeting taking place and a couple of young men downstairs were play fighting with their cushions! There was a lovely sense of anticipation and we weren't disappointed!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Nicky Gumbel said, "Good evening and a very warm welcome to our service!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None, though the Holy Bible, New International Version, was available for reference. I used it to follow the text Tim Hughes based his talk on, Isaiah 6 (Isaiah's lips are cleansed with a burning coal as he offers himself as a prophet of God).
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboards, guitars, trumpet, bongos.
Did anything distract you?
The woman next to me looked at her mobile phone twice, despite notices asking for them to be switched off. It had a bright screen which was off-putting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Totally informal, thoroughly uplifting, and completely from the heart. It rocked! However, the serious bits were serious and genuine.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes but it seemed like 5!
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Tim Hughes was dynamic and informal. He spoke to us as if we were friends in his house.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Worship. When we worship we become like that which we worship, so we should become like Jesus. Worship transforms us. We should aim to be like Isaiah, who said, "Here I am, take me."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
All of it. I can't find enough superlatives. The singing was enthusiastic and inspiring. The prayer time was peaceful and thoughtful, especially when we were invited to offer prayer ministry to people near us who wanted it, and when we were invited to wait on the Holy Spirit, who was there in buckets throughout! I didn't want to leave.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing! I can't fault anything I saw or was asked to do.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There were lots of hosts in evidence as we left, so no doubt if we'd wanted to ask anything we'd have got a reply. But we had made reservations at a restaurant and so we didn't have a chance to hang around. There was coffee in the adjacent cafe but we didn't have time to stay.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If this church were remotely accessible to where I live, I'd be prepared to travel a considerable distance to worship there. The sincerity and enthusiasm of the worship and the message it conveyed are everything.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes! Yes! Yes!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
That so many lively people could pack a church on an ordinary Sunday evening to worship God.