Mystery Worshipper: ChurchInvisible
Church: St Luke’s
Location: Peckham, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 March 2023, 10:00am
Mid-century, red brick exterior. Fairly plain interior, with an attractive high altar. Wooden chairs, and the same flooring as my school’s sports hall. The building is nicer than I’m making it sound. There is a pleasant, fairly new church hall in the grounds. Everything seemed in good repair.
Very welcoming and friendly. The congregation is mostly African with a smattering of elderly Caribbean ladies, which is fairly reflective of the parish.
In the middle of a very large social housing estate, rebuilt about 20 years ago.
The vicar led and preached. A guest speaker had been expected, but was unwell.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service, Second Sunday in Lent.
How full was the building?
About two-thirds full, with about 50 people. Someone commented later that the congregation had been larger, pre-pandemic.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Oh yes. I snuck in while the choir were processing, but I was noticed at once and greeted with hymn books and a smile. The peace was very long, but lots of people came up to welcome me, and someone went to the effort of getting the vicar to come and greet me, since I was new.
Was your pew comfortable?
The old-fashioned wooden church chair (the sort with a cross in the back, usually only found in rustic cafes these days) was surprisingly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived extremely on time, so didn't see the pre-service gathering.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Welcome. I'm afraid our guest speaker is unwell, so I'll be preaching today.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Laminated spiral-bound service booklet with the words of the communion service from Common Worship; Hymns Ancient and Modern (2013 edition), service sheet with readings, etc. on one side, and notices on the other.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, plus a small robed choir.
Did anything distract you?
The organist and congregation did not seem to hold similar opinions surrounding the speed of the hymns. At some points the congregation were a whole bar behind, and it was difficult trying to decide which tempo to go with. I liked the organist’s choice of tempo, but she was fighting a losing battle.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Extremely middle of the road. The altar was bowed to, and some crossings went on, but there was no incense or bells; the altar party were in chasu-albs (except the vicar), and celebration was versus populum. The four hymns were fairly traditional, although perhaps more traditionally Free Church than Anglican. I was intrigued to see a large drum kit off to the left, suggesting that other types of worship are perhaps dabbled in from time to time.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — The acoustics and/or amplification made it slightly difficult to hear at some points. Given that the vicar found herself preaching at short notice, it was a good sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Faith without works is dead. Faith should change the Christian, and the church needs to be visible in the community. The Mission Action Plan (currently being written) got a mention.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The congregation were so friendly and welcoming; not just a couple of key people, but everyone: children gathering up hymnbooks enthusiastically at the end of the service; people sitting around me; people sitting in other parts of the church who noticed I was new and came over to say hello; and the clergy who took the trouble to come and greet me and even drag me over to coffee.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It’s one of those churches which does the peace for 5-10 minutes, which I find absolutely terrifying.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As mentioned, everyone was very friendly, keen to speak to a newcomer and make me feel at home. I could not have felt more welcome.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was tea, coffee and cake. Drinks were served in polystyrene cups. The tea was good and strong, which is just as I like it. Oat milk was available for the lacto-free.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — Making another visit is very likely.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It definitely did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
How lovely everyone was.
Image: Google Maps