|285: New Park Hall Evangelical Church, Barking, Essex|
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Mystery Worshipper: Mystery Librarian.
The church: New Park Hall Evangelical Church (or E angelical Church, as the sign outside proudly proclaims), Axe Street, Barking, Essex.
Denomination: Independent Evangelical, with Brethren roots. A member of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches.
The building: The main church is a typical and fairly austere Brethren/non-conformist chapel. This particular service was held in a small upstairs room normally used by a "mums and tots" group whose toys were much in evidence.
The neighbourhood: The church is near the town centre of Barking with local shops and blocks of council flats not far away. There is a fairly horrendous one-way system in force in Barking which sometimes proves a problem to visiting motorists visiting the area.
The cast: Sam Leeman and Tony Pearce both from the organisation, "Messianic Testimony" plus the pastor, Alister McKenna.
What was the name of the service?
Prayer, Praise and Bible Devotions.
How full was the building?
The room was full with about 50 people: too many for the size of the room.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No! I found great difficulty in finding the room where the service was being held. The main church doors were closed as the meeting had been relocated to an upstairs rear room, but the only notice in evidence was intended for members of the weekday "mums and tots" group. There were no other signs and no stewards on duty to give directions.
Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on reasonably comfortable moveable church chairs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I didn't actually make the beginning of the service,as the organisers had seen fit to begin the proceedings before the advertised starting time of 6.30pm.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No hymn books were used, but the congregation seemed to know the words of the songs. The Bible version was not identified, but I would guess that the NIV was used.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Several late arrivals, all of whom had to be seated in a room that was already crowded. I was also mildly irritated by the frequent "hallelujahs" and "praise the Lords" from my neighbour sometimes at inappropriate moments, such as during a reference to the number of Jews who had died in the Holocaust.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There were several low-key choruses led by Tony Pearce on guitar, but nothing that could be called happy-clappy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There were actually two sermons Sam Leeman spoke for 55 minutes and Tony Pearce for 15.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Sam Leeman's style was personal and anecdotal with a nice line in self-deprecating Jewish humour. Tony Pearce gave a straightforward and traditional Bible exposition.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Sam Leeman gave a personal account of his conversion from a non-practising Jewish background to Christianity. He also spoke about his current work with Messianic Testimony, an evangelistic agency working with Jewish people. Tony Pearce spoke on Isaiah 53 and how Jesus had fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I was impressed by the first speaker's honesty and humour, which recognised the funny sides of both Jewish culture and evangelicalism. In view of the length of the preaching I was glad the organisers kept the congregational singing to a minimum.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The poor stewarding arrangements and the pastor's insistence that everyone should hold hands during the closing benediction.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Tony Pearce and Alister McKenna shook my hand and thanked me for coming.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was served though I understand that some people had had tea together before the service.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5. I enjoyed the service, though I suspect that New Park Hall's fairly conservative Brethren/FIEC ethos would discourage me from making it my regular congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. In view of the service's emphasis on Jewish mission, I was glad that the speakers steered clear of the dafter interpretations of Old Testament prophecy and their application to current Middle Eastern politics.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Jewish unleavened bread that was used in the concluding communion service or perhaps the first speaker's story about having been baptised in a 1960s drip-dry suit.