|620: Oak Tree Anglican Fellowship, Acton Green, London|
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Mystery Worshipper: Chapelhead.
The church: Oak Tree Anglican Fellowship, meeting at the Church of St Albans, South Parade, Acton Green, London W4.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A red brick, probably Victorian, neo-gothic building. The interior is also bare brick with stone pillars. A conventional arrangement of nave, side aisles and a chancel containing a large pipe organ (not used at this service). Many of the pews at the back and sides have been removed and the remainder are probably movable as the presence of two lighting rigs suggest that the building is used for more than "traditional" services. A large cross stood in front of the holy table and above and behind the table was a banner, probably 8 feet wide by 16 high, depicting an up-stretched hand.
The church: Although this is a CofE church, it does not form part of the traditional parish structure. A church plant from another church that was itself established by Holy Trinity, Brompton, its particular purpose is as a church for the unchurched and to serve the other churches of Acton. It is part of the New Wine network.
The neighbourhood: The church is on the edge of a small park, between a busy road and a railway line. The neighbourhood is one of mixed housing and quiet streets. Children's playgrounds and municipal tennis courts speak of respectable suburbia, while graffiti on walls and broken railings speak of the stress of city living.
The cast: Both the vicar and curate were away and the service was led by other members of the team (who probably play a high-profile role even when the vicar and curate are present). The service was led by Caz Dunk, the sermon given by Paul Bradbury. A baptism was conducted by the candidate's grandfather (the Rev. Ian Durie).
What was the name of the service?
The service does not seem to have a name, it is just "Sunday at 10.30am".
How full was the building?
About 70 people, mainly teens, twenty- and thirty-somethings, made the pews about half full. There was also a lot more space behind the pews and towards the back of the aisles.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The person handing out notice sheets wished me "Good morning". As I was looking round to decide where to sit, Caz Dunk welcomed me, asked if I was a visitor and invited me to stay for coffee afterwards. It was good of her to take the trouble to talk when she was also getting ready to lead the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly standard pews. Getting a bit hard towards the end of the sermon.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The band were playing and singing, some of the congregation joining in while others greeted friends, so fairly noisy.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The words of the songs were displayed using an overhead projector, as was the liturgy for the baptism.
What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic guitar (with electric pick-up), electric guitar, drum kit, electronic keyboard and (for some of the music) flute.
Did anything distract you?
The radiant heaters hanging in the arches of the nave were surprisingly effective it got pretty warm and I half-expected to leave with a suntan.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Informal in style, amplified music, hands raised in the bouncier songs, some people sitting in prayer during the more reflective pieces. The only sign of anything approaching vestments was Rev. Durie's bright green clerical shirt, which nicely matched his wife's skirt. A thoroughly evangelical experience which seemed to move many in the congregation deeply. The singing was enthusiastic, even during the tricky ending of the setting of Philippians 2:6-11 ("Who, being in very nature God"). The sound system was handled well and, unlike other churches I have been to with amplified music and singing, I could (just) hear the congregational singing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Conversational in style, slightly hesitant but delivered clearly.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Saying our goodbyes well. There were to be a number of people leaving this church to move elsewhere not long after my visit, and the sermon was particularly relevant to this church at that time.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The prayers, which were simply worded, simply delivered and with no dressing them up to sound "religious".
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Seeing the attractive members of the band and congregation, and realising that I am too old.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service ended with the "us" form of the Aaronic blessing (given by Caz, slightly sheepishly, perhaps self-conscious in leading the blessing although not a priest) after which she said that the band would play a few more songs and that we could join in, go to the front of one of the aisles if we wished to speak with any of the pastoral team (which a number of people did), stay seated and pray by ourselves or go to the back for tea and coffee. Hanging round looking lost was therefore slightly harder than usual as it was easy to be mistaken for a "staying to sing" or "staying to pray" type. After a short time of standing up looking lost one of the congregation engaged me in conversation about a forthcoming event and when I went over to get a cup of coffee a couple of other people (including Caz) also came and chatted to me. With this type of ending to the service a more positive encouragement to get visitors and regulars to talk would probably be helpful.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea or coffee in polystyrene cups with little cakes (chocolate crispies or mini-muffins very nice).
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 The style is a little too evangelical for me, but they seemed to be a deeply committed group. This is a church that sees the weekly small-group meetings as being the heart of church life, and much would depend on the nature of those groups.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. An enthusiastic congregation looking to use the talents of a wide range of people and working hard to serve the community.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The curious way in which the trappings of Anglicanism church organ (not played), paschal candle (not lit), holy table (not used), etc. seemed irrelevant to what was actually happening in the service.