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10: Christ Church Highbury, London
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Christ Church Highbury
Mystery Worshipper: Doubting Thomas (Mrs).
The church: Christ Church Highbury, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Victorian stone church, beautiful if you like that sort of thing. Light, airy and modern inside – very welcoming in feel.
The neighbourhood: Very mixed neighbourhood in true Islington tradition, with rich and poor side by side. Adjacent to Highbury Fields, one of the few green areas in Islington. The church is renowned locally for its music and flower festivals, which have high standards of quality and are very successful. The choir is particularly good, run by a jazz musician.
The cast: The curate, Nigel Mason, led the service. The preacher was a theological student.
What was the name of the service?
Evening service of Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
About 20 people in a church capable of seating 300.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The curate and preacher were standing at the door at the start and both said 'good evening' to me, but no more, which was fine. During the 'peace', my hand got shaken by almost everyone, but no questions!

Was your pew comfortable?
Individual chairs with cushioned seats. Comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet (although the musicians were rehearsing at full volume) and reverential. There was no gossip, which wasn't surprising, as the few people there were mostly sitting in separate rows, spaced far apart. That was OK for me, being used to churches, but I wondered what a newcomer would make of it – why the separateness?

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Good evening and welcome to Christ Church for our service of Holy Communion.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A modern version of the Bible, plus 'Mission Praise', and the red communion books taken from the ASB (Alternative Service Book 1980).

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, flute and cello.

Did anything distract you?
Funnily enough, nothing distracted me except my own wandering thoughts (during the sermon)...

Christ Church Highbury

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship style gave space. The songs were a mix of old and new and were played well by the musicians – an elderly pianist and cellist and a younger, bearded flautist. It was good to have older musicians involved in worship for a change! The curate's leading style was quiet and non-manipulative and the language was inclusive (we said 'neighbour' rather than 'fellow men' in the General Confession).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4. It was too defensive and theological. No sense of being drawn closer to God through love. No connection with real life.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
'Who is Jesus? Is he the real Jesus?' The sermon was a strong defence of Jesus' claim to be 'the way, the truth and the life', but I came away none the wiser about what this actually means in our experience.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Nothing was exactly like heaven, but it was a restful place to be, and that sometimes is enough, and therefore like heaven. Heaven without the ecstasy, if you like.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon left me cold – but can hell be cold? It makes me angry when people preach doctrine without knowing where people are and what they need to hear.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood on my own near the coffee and tea hatch and was ignored by all the men standing opposite me. Eventually, a young mother came to the hatch and immediately spoke to me. We had a good conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had tea in a china cup. It tasted good. It was hot, not too strong and not too weak. Chocolate biscuits were also on offer. I resisted!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5. If I was thinking of changing churches (which I'm not!), I probably wouldn't make this my regular, as it's too evangelical for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Neutral. It didn't make me embarrassed or unhappy to be a Christian.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The unpretentiousness of the service, and that it wasn't manipulative.

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