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442: St Michael & All Angels, Stockwell, London
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St Michael & All Angels, Stockwell, London
Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: St Michael & All Angels, Stockwell, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Victorian building with a tall spire. Inside, the East End was partially enveloped in polythene, perhaps due to mending. There was an organ, not hidden away, but in full view, up beside the altar, painted with brown paint. This paint was also over the iron pillars holding up the balcony, which was varnished brown, with exhortations painted along each section, eg., "He giveth His Beloved Sleep", "Bear Ye One Another's Burdens". The clock above the west door had written underneath it "Redeem the Time". The high roof was creamy with brown beams. There was a beautiful black madonna and child picture.
The church: It seemed to be a good mixture of black and white, old and young, different social classes. There seemed to be a strong lay ministry.
The neighbourhood: South London - a weird place to a visitor from north of the Thames. The street has lots of little houses with tiny gardens. And you can park there from 5.30pm!
The cast: The Rt. Rev. Dr Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark. The local archdeacon (no name supplied). The churchwardens (Gloria Benjamin & Matt Godfrey), Bunny Matthews, Rebecca Nondo, Glenfield Benjamin SPA, Margaret Fletcher (lay worker), Philip Fletcher (lay reader), Jackie Oviri – all members of the church.
What was the name of the service?
Licensing of the Reverend Canon Andrew Grant as priest-in-charge of St Michael & All Angels, Stockwell.

How full was the building?
Pretty packed, a few spare seats if you looked carefully.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A woman gave us an order of service and said, "We're encouraging people to sit near the front."

Was your pew comfortable?
Plain wooden pew with a strip of carpet along the seat. Narrow book ledge. Blue kneeling cushions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Buzzing. Loads of quiet talking, quite a few children squawking, people arriving and greeting each other. Anticipation and excitement.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, and a very warm welcome to those of you who have come to this service. Normally, the area bishop of Kingston would take this service, but Bishop Peter is on sabbatical, probably in a cave somewhere in Ireland," said the archdeacon with a smile.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Special order of service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ mainly. Electronic keyboard to accompany the choir of the Pentecostal City Mission.

Did anything distract you?
Trying to read all the painted bits of writing up along the balcony. However, there was so much going on in the service, so many different people involved, and so much liturgical moving around that it would have been difficult to be bored. The ladies who collected the offering wore beautiful shimmering silk jackets, one green, one cream.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed, cheerful and solemn. Everyone sang the hymns enthusiastically and said the responses clearly. There were two choirs who sang, and the St Andrew's Community Choir led the singing of a psalm. There was a great deal of parading around, as the church wardens led Canon Andrew to the font, lectern, centre, altar, where he was required to take on various responsibilities.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – He was a bishop, so he was wearing fancy clothes and a gold mitre.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
1. History of Father Andrew, from his beginnings in south London, to Ghana, to the risky territory of London north of the river, back safely to Stockwell. The true church is truly to be found here in this parish. 2. This church must reach out in harmony and service to the changing world around. 3. Just as Andrew uses the keys of the church to open the west door, they must use the keys of harmony and service to unlock the church to those who seek God, to unlock the hearts of those who do not yet know they seek God, and unlock their own hearts to God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The archdeacon's constant smiling – I did not know archdeacons were allowed to smile...

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having to venture south of the Thames to that strange place that is south London.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance! The food and drinks were already laid out on long tables in the aisle, and we all headed for that. The Mayor of Lambeth, Claudette Hewitt, chatted to me, as did the group of older ladies in the pew behind me, and from then on everyone I ended up next to had a few words with me. Ever so friendly, they were.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee. Juice, white or red wine, chicken pieces, nibbles, sandwiches, patties, spherical sweet spicy balls, cakes, dips, loads of wonderful nosh.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If I lived near, I would certainly try it out, and if my impression of the friendly and involved church community is accurate, it's a good place to be. They do, though, have to cope with administrative changes and mend the roof soon, so it wouldn't all be a bed of roses.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The first reader, an elderly man, was wearing a Scout uniform. I never got to ask him why.
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