The church meets at the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Church, a German Lutheran church that was destroyed during World War II but rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1958-59. The building is a memorial to German-born theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lived and preached in the area for a short time, and who was executed by the Nazis in 1945. The building is a fairly small one, rounded at one end, with some modern stained glass windows.
This was the original Ichthus church, established in 1974 by Roger and Faith Forster. After the congregation grew from 14 to around 400 people, the Forsters set up other churches around London and the south-east. They now have over 100 churches in the rest of the UK and Europe. The church also runs an after-school club for local primary school pupils, and they hand out hot chocolate to the school children on their way home on Friday afternoons. Once a month they do "Saturday Church on the Street," when they (quoting from their website) "get out onto the streets of Forest Hill and connect with people." There is more, but view the website for details.
Forest Hill is part of the London borough of Lewisham, situated between Dulwich to the north-west and Sydenham to the south. Its rather a misnomer, as there is not a forest to be seen, and the description of "hill" is pushing the boundaries of plausibility. It does, however, host the Horniman Museum and Gardens, a lesser known museum in London but well worth a visit if you're in the area.
The service was led by Debbie Laycock, who also leads the church. The sermon was given by Roger Forster.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Morning Meeting.
How full was the building?
I think every pew was occupied, though there was no need for people to squeeze up. At a quick count, there were about 50-60 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was greeted on the door and given a leaflet. Once I had sat down, several people came over to welcome me and have a quick chat.
Was your pew comfortable?
No. It was fairly plain wood, with cushions in short supply and seemingly available only to the older members of the congregation.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite chatty. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, with me standing out a bit as the new face.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
I didn't quite catch them, as someone was talking to me, but I think it was "Good morning, all."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books used. All songs were projected onto a screen at the front of the church. All readings were taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.
What musical instruments were played?
A semi-acoustic guitar, an electric mandolin, and a small sort of bongo-type drum that one young chap played with his hands, though I couldnt quite see precisely what sort of drum it was.
Did anything distract you?
Quite a lot. Some members of the congregation shook maracas as they joined in the worship, though their timing wasnt always spot-on. There were some little bells coming from somewhere over to my right, but I couldnt see precisely who was using them. There were also frequent gremlins in the technology, with microphones failing and the video projector having to be turned on its side at one point.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I'd describe it as modern hymns, with more than one by the Northern Irish songwriter Robin Mark. There was nothing over the top, but those used to a more conservative Anglo-Catholic style of worship would probably describe it as happy clappy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – In spite of suffering a little from asthma, Roger spoke very well, referring to his notes only once or twice. He didn't stand right at the very front, but came part way down the central aisle, so anyone in the third row or further forward would need to turn their heads. His sermon was well-researched and very challenging, but delivered with gentleness, grace and a touch of humour.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Anointing. This was the start of a series on 1 Samuel, focusing here on 1 Samuel 16:1-13 (the Lord sends Samuel to Bethlehem). Samuel is the figure through whom the old kingdom came about, foreshadowing the New Testament notion of the kingdom of God. Parallels were drawn between the anointing of David and Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Mid-way through the service, we were shown a video of two the members of the congregation getting baptised at a recent event called Revive, including their testimonies, which was lovely to hear.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Very little. If I had to say anything, it would have to be that the two young girls sitting next to me were munching on sweets throughout the service, which made me rather jealous.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I chatted for some time with Roger, as it turned out that we knew quite a lot of the same people from previous churches I had been to. We talked about the history of the charismatic movement and modern evangelicalism. I was invited back for lunch, but had to decline due to other plans.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Passable. It was served in a paper cup, which is never to my taste, but the quality of the coffee within was quite good, and it wasnt searingly hot. I'm not sure if there were any biscuits, as I arrived at the table a little late. There were some empty plates showing evidence of having hosted some grapes.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – There was a great mix here of heart-felt worship, challenging teaching, and a real sense of community. I may well return.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. There was something here for everyone, whether a life-long churchgoer or someone whos never set foot in a church before.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The sermon, which has given me much food for thought in thinking about the nature of God, in particular the attribute of immutability.