The church meets at St Peter's, Vere Street, which also goes by the names of Oxford Chapel, Marylebone Chapel and Marybone Chapel. It's dwarfed by the nearby department stores and is easily missed. Dating back to the 18th century, it's quite well preserved, with some nice stained glass windows at the sanctuary end. There is some gilded art work, the most striking of which is the depiction in the ceiling of the Holy Spirit as a dove.
Kingdom Faith London was set up as a church plant from the mother church in Horsham about 12 years ago and retains strong links with Sussex. On the evening I visited, there were several people who had come up from there. The church is mostly populated by people who either work or study locally. They acknowledge that it's unusual for a church to have its main meeting on Friday night and they are looking to change to a Sunday. The current pastors have only recently taken over, after the previous pastors left to go to South Africa.
The church is based just off Oxford Street, London's main shopping thoroughfare. It's a loud, busy place, but if you step down a side street then all becomes comparatively peaceful. The surrounding area is not in the least bit residential, but is dominated by the clothing retail and marketing industries, with a few international embassies dotted around. It is also one of the most highly polluted locations in the UK, due to the high volume of traffic on Oxford Street.
The service was led by the pastors, Helena and Jonathan Croft. Pastor Helena led worship, while Pastor Jonathan preached.
What was the name of the service?The service didn't have a name
How full was the building?
Pretty full, though it only took 40 or so people to do so.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
It was a little difficult to get in, as the door was locked and had to be opened by someone on the inside. I walked in behind some others but no one greeted me until I sat down, when a couple of people came over and asked me how I came to be there.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had individual chairs that were well padded and far enough apart from one another so that there were no great intrusions upon personal space.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pretty chatty. There were lots of hugs and hellos while some modern worship music was played quietly through the PA system.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening. It's lovely to see so many faces here tonight."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. All words were projected on a screen.
What musical instruments were played?
A semi-acoustic guitar and a cajon. The guitarist broke a string after 10 minutes but carried on playing regardless.
Did anything distract you?
At the end of the sermon, Pastor Jonathan led us in some quite exuberant prayers, which got faster and louder, building to a sort of crescendo that made me think he was a commentator on a horse race. That just reminded me that the grand national was being run the next day.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It ticked just about every box one could think of when identifying a church as charismatic and evangelical. In the first 40 minutes, we only finished three songs that were sung and over again (one from Hillsong, one from Vineyard and one by Matt Redman) and interspersed with prayers that asked for "breakthrough" in a number of things. There was lots of swaying going on, arms raised to the sky, that sort of thing. Just before the offering, we were asked to hold our money up in the air, but it wasn't clear why.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Pastor Jonathan is clearly an experienced public speaker and spoke with humility and wit, though the formulaic content of the sermon and scattergun approach to picking lots of verses out of their context made it feel a little contrived and shallow.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Open your eyes. Be prepared for evangelism. If the spirit prompts, we must be willing to speak to anyone about Jesus. There are five ways to pray for someone; these include praying that the spirit that binds them may be let go and that a spirit of revelation may be released upon them. However, these five ways are only suggestions. We should make sure that those we pray for should feel as though they are loved, rather than targeted.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Not one part in particular, but as I spoke to some people before, during and after the service, I felt great hospitality and warmth from the church. They are a very welcoming people on both an individual and a corporate level.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was all a bit chaotic at times. As prayers were said or shouted impromptu, the person praying the loudest had a tendency to silence the others. When it came to communion, the idea of an orderly queue was completely absent, as people jostled one another to get to the bread. There was also some contradiction, as one of the prayers verged into prosperity gospel, praying for "financial breakthrough or promotion." We were told that the offering was a sowing that we would reap later. Yet in the sermon, one of the things we were specifically asked to pray against was a spirit of prosperity and materialism.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat in my chair for a few minutes, but nobody said hello. I went to the back of the church to get some coffee, whereupon there seemed to be an epidemic of clumsiness. No fewer than three people bumped me, the last of which resulted in half my coffee spilling over me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
What little coffee that didn't go on my shirt was actually pretty good.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The disorderly worship is the sort of thing that gives charismatic Christianity a bad name.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I'd say more embarrassed than glad.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Praying like a horse racing commentator as the field enters the final furlong.