It is a traditional building of reasonable size, dwarfed behind the Roman Catholic Brompton Oratory. The building is constructed of browny-red bricks, with a tower unfortunately hidden by scaffolding during our visit. Behind, there is a large churchyard with benches, which is a little oasis in busy Kensington. Inside, the church is very interesting. It has stained glass and some lovely old memorials on the walls, yet it has been heavily modernised. All the walls and ceilings were painted white, with little spotlights under the gallery that light up the people sitting below (but they weren't quite bright enough). The sanctuary was lit with blue and purple lights. There was a large TV camera at the back of the aisle.
Holy Trinity Brompton is very well known for planting and rescuing other churches. The Brompton Road location is, however, the original church. On many, many occasions, they have sent congregations to struggling churches and turned parishes around, increasing numbers from the low teens to several hundred people. They have a very impressive record, and, I understand, a special team of people whose job it is to identify churches at risk of closure, and re-ignite them. They seem to do genuinely fabulous work in this area, bringing strong preaching to parts of the country otherwise deprived of it. There is a bookshop as well as a caf that is open from 9.00am to 9.00pm on Sundays and also at various times during the week.
The church is just down the road from Harrods. The roads around were very busy with a mixture of tourists, shoppers, and locals. I wandered past an estate agent offering a six bedroom town house for 8,000,000. I'm sure there are cheaper properties as well.
I sometimes find it hard to get the names of the cast, but HTB helpfully have all the information on their website, including photos! Speaker: Rob Wall; service pastor: Pete Wynter. The person who opened the service introduced himself as Dave Matthews, one of the worship leaders there.
What was the name of the service?It didn't really seem to have a name, and with no service sheets I could only identify the service by what was written on the website, so let's call it 11.30 Sunday
How full was the building?
Full. I'd say 90 per cent as the service started, but by 20 minutes in, stewards were directing people to the few remaining single chairs dotted around. The galleries were also full. According to a throw-away comment by the preacher, it would be about 500 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. We arrived quite early to make sure we got a seat. The previous service had only recently finished, which could explain it, but it was only 20 minutes before the start of the 11.30 so I was surprised not to be welcomed. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find a jug of water and some plastic cups on a table just inside the door, which refreshed us after out 85-minute commute!
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden chair, which was OK at first but ultimately inadequate. Nothing special, and a bit hard. I understand that at the evening service they have cushions on the floor. I could have done with one of their floor cushions on my chair!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Loud. There was a CD playing some kind of (I guess Christian) music that I didn't recognise, which was slightly louder than would have been comfortable. The congregation gathered with a lively buzz.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Good morning. Welcome to HTB. If you're new here, I'm Dave Matthews, one of the worship leaders.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. There were Bibles in the pews (New International Version, I think), which some people used to follow through with the reading. Everything was projected onto the screens. This was a problem, though, as I couldn't see the centre screen and the side screens were way too small, and as there were no printed service sheets, it was impossible to read the words to the songs.
What musical instruments were played?
A rock band: an electric keyboard (that couldn't be heard over the noise of the others), two guitars, bass guitar and drum kit.
Did anything distract you?
I have good eyesight, but on those tiny screens I found it virtually impossible to read the words to the songs, which were in white against pictures of the rock band. Larger words on a black background would have helped.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I go to quite a low church and I thought I'd get something similar here, but this was considerably more informal than I'm used to. There was clearly a focus on the band. Most people in our part of the church stopped singing after the first verse of the songs because we couldn't read the words on the small screens. I'm sure we would have liked to keep singing, but the setup meant that we couldn't. And the music went on for ages! It was almost constant for the first 40 minutes of the service except for a couple of minutes for prayers and to watch a video about HTB news. I spent a lot of the first half of the service standing still unable to join in the songs, which made me feel a little irritated.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Everyone else obviously thought Rob Wall scored about 15 out of 10, as they applauded at the end of the sermon. He used a video in the middle of the sermon, which I though was unnecessary and and that his point would have been better explained by his words than by breaking the flow of the sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We have a lot of what ifs in our lives, where we hesitate to do things or worry about them, because what if something goes wrong? This is Satan talking to us and undermining our faith in God. Psalm 27 ("The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear?") inspires us to turn these negatives into worship. Sometimes we don't try hard enough to get into God's presence because it doesn't always fix our problems, but really it's about changing our perspective. We should step out in faith despite our fears. Faith is the presence of Christ, which is greater than any fear we'll ever have.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We usually go to a very busy city centre church, so being in a packed building wasn't a novelty. However, it was nevertheless encouraging to see so many people gathered to worship on a Sunday morning. Also, as HTB is so well-known for its outreach and church planting, it was nice to be there and experience it first-hand.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Unfortunately, I can't narrow this down to just one thing. There were many things I didn't like about HTB. I was disappointed that no one welcomed us as we arrived. The music was way too loud. Mrs Charles and I have a small baby, and Mrs Charles had to go outside during each hymn as she found the volume distressing. This resulted in me slipping out after the sermon and missing the end of the service, which was a shame. We had to struggle down the church steps with our baby in a pushchair, yet no one offered to help despite there being a number of people standing around chatting. The aspect of the service that I was most uncomfortable with, however, was the applause. The congregation applauded the band on a number of occasions, and the preacher after the sermon. This, coupled with the close-ups of the band on the screens during the songs, felt as if they were performing for their own appreciation rather than to give glory to God.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We left after the sermon, as the volume of the music was upsetting our baby. Mrs Charles had wandered into their bookshop and said it was well-stocked with lots of Alpha material as well as others.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There is a caf there but we didn't try it.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I'm afraid this isn't my style of service at all. I admire HTB for their work in promoting the Christian faith, but I like to attend church services rather than rock concerts on my Sunday mornings.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not particularly it was too loud and lacking in any kind of reverence at all. There seemed to be a huge focus on getting the congregation pumped up with music and speech, but I didn't feel that God had come to church this week.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Wondering if the music would ever stop.