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299: All Saints, Wandsworth, London
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All Saints, Wandsworth, London
Mystery Worshipper: Mystery Librarian.
The church: All Saints, Wandsworth High Street, London, SW18.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: This was the original parish church of Wandsworth. Much of the present building is Georgian, dating from 1780, but there has been a church on the site since 1159 and the tower dates from 1630. The attractive interior of the church includes a gallery and a memorial to a knight who died in 1420. More recent embellishments include some attractive church banners.
The church: All Saints is now part of a team ministry and is linked to the parish church of Holy Trinity, where the vicar for the parish is based. The church's historical connections include John Wesley, who preached there, and H.G. Wells, who was married there. The church runs a pioneering midweek lunchtime service for local office workers.
The neighbourhood: The church is in the geographical centre of the so-called "brighter borough" of Wandsworth, a rather deprived inner-city area, and is also on a major traffic route through London. Other local buildings include the Wandsworth town hall, a public library, shops and offices (including a very run-down shopping centre) and a brewery.
The cast: Rev. Sandy Christie, the curate responsible for All Saints, plus various members of the congregation who took prayers and readings and gave the notices.
What was the name of the service?
All Age Service.

How full was the building?
There were probably about 70 adults and children, filling about one-third of the available seating space.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes – I was warmly welcomed by the curate and other members of the congregation, some of whom (but by no means all) remembered me from the time when I worked locally and attended the midweek service.

Was your pew comfortable?
As comfortable as a wooden pew can ever be!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The atmosphere was friendly with a sense of anticipation for the service to come. People chatted and greeted their friends, but without forgetting that they were about to take part in a service of worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everybody – welcome to our service..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
NIV pew Bibles were provided, plus an order of service, song sheet and notice sheet for the week. Some of the prayers were taken from Carol Watson's "Prayers for a Fragile World".

What musical instruments were played?
Guitar, piano and various percussion instruments, such as tambourine.

Did anything distract you?
There were the usual distractions that you expect at a "family"-type service – restless children, dropped hymn books and a young man who remained seated and completed a crossword during the last hymn.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was fairly contemporary, with some restrained hand-clapping and arm-waving during the singing of such songs as "We Want to See Jesus Lifted High". It was all fairly low-key, however. The only concession to traditional Anglicanism was the inclusion of the "collect for the day" during the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Six minutes – though there was an earlier session in which Sandy Christie compiled the front page of the "Jerusalem Times" on an OHP and asked members of the congregation how they thought the press would have reported the miracles of Jesus.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – This was, perhaps, not the best service to assess the preacher's style, but I thought that he tried hard to be contemporary and relevant, and to hold the attention of his varied congregation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme was the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus and the meaning of Lent. Jesus's miracle was contrasted with the earlier temptation in the wilderness. God has provided the good things of life – such as food – but man cannot live by bread alone.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I was impressed by the congregation, which seemed to be a genuinely multi-racial group of people, representative of the local community, and with people from all age groups present. They seemed to be making a genuine effort to spread the gospel message in a not very promising inner-city environment.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing, really, though I thought that the congregational singing was rather weak and uninspiring. As a general criticism, I do have doubts about the effectiveness of "family" services and wonder whether they often fall between two stools: too adult for the children and too childish for the adults. I am not sure that the service at All Saints entirely avoided these pitfalls.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Once again, I was warmly greeted and spoken to by members of the congregation. When I expressed an interest in the building, one person gave me a copy of an informations sheet explaining the history of the church and parish.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fairly standard church coffee was supplied in polystyrene cups, and there were also biscuits.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I would think seriously about attending this church regularly if I lived in the Wandsworth area.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, for reasons already explained.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The grace attributed to Homer Simpson – "Lord, we paid for this food ourselves... so thanks for nothing"! I also liked the song lyric from Emmylou Harris quoted on the notice board outside: "We drink our fill and still we thirst for more, asking, 'If there's no heaven, who's this hunger for?'"
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