|638: Manor Park Christian Centre, Manor Park, London|
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Mystery Worshipper: Schadenfreude.
The church: Manor Park Christian Centre, Manor Park, London.
Denomination: The church is a member of Newham Christian Fellowship, the Evangelical Alliance and the Hands Across Manor Park group of churches.
The building: The building is an imposing red brick building on East Ham High Street. Inside are a variety of halls and meeting rooms. The main church hall seats around 150 people with a gallery seating probably another 100 plus people. The hall is a bit shabby in appearance, with a rather strange grey and bright yellow colour scheme, large electric radiators and posters on the walls. At the front is a stage with a lectern and a backdrop of a cross, overhead projector screen, banners and a large poster denoting the streets for which the church is praying. There are doors at the side of the stage leading off to activity rooms. Rather incongruously, when one of the doors opened during the service I saw a cat strolling past.
The church: The congregation was a fairly good mix of black and white, old and young, male and female. There did not seem to be many younger children around (this was the family service), but it is possible that they were catered for elsewhere. Also this was the October half-term, so many families may have been away. In such a mixed congregation it was noticeable that (with one short exception) everyone doing anything at the front of the church was white and male. The church is led by a team of leaders including the pastor, known as the senior elder. The senior elder has only recently joined the church.
The cast: As far as I could make out from the service sheet, the service was led by two of the elders, assisted by various members of the congregation. The senior elder preached the sermon.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The main hall was 90 per cent full; the balcony was mainly empty. I sat up there with about 20 teenagers and a few latecomers.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had a service sheet thrust into my hands, together with a welcoming nod. Another usher said a friendly "hello". A young man with a small child was very helpful and showed me how to get to the stairs leading to the balcony.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was reasonable. In the balcony there were comfortable cushions on rather narrow straight backed traditional pews. The main hall had no pews and was an open space with rows of plastic chairs arranged facing the stage.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I'm afraid I missed it. I arrived a couple of minutes late, only to find the service already under way.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
When I arrived, a member of the congregation was standing at the lectern on the stage praying. He then handed over to an elder sitting at the keyboard on the stage whose opening words were "God is with us", followed by a rather threatening interrogatory "yes?" You really didn't feel inclined to disagree. He then asked members of the congregation to be brave and shout out some of God's characteristics. A few duly obliged.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. All the songs were displayed on an overhead projector. Some of the quoted Bible verses were put up too, along with notices at the end of the service. During the sermon the preacher quoted Bible verses which were not displayed. There were no pew Bibles up in the balcony.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard and drums plus a few other instruments. To my untutored ears, the band sounded quite good, although I couldn't see them from where I was sitting.
Did anything distract you?
I made a mistake going up to the balcony. My side was nearly deserted, and I felt rather conspicuous. I much prefer merging into the background in a new church.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was fairly standard evangelical, and mildly charismatic. The service started off straight into 30 minutes of worship at the beginning. It was led from the front by the keyboard player. I didn't know many of the songs and found it difficult to join in with the first few songs, which were fairly lively, but complicated more akin to Billy Joel than Graham Kendrick. Nearly everyone, including many of the teenagers in the balcony, joined in, with quite a few hands raised and people clapping in time to the music. The worship then moved on to more "slushy," slower songs, which were easier to follow. This was accompanied by a few people shouting out in tongues, and people applauding one or two of the songs. Looking in from the outside the mood change seemed a little manipulative and staged. Although the music and songs were pleasant (like listening to an easy listening radio station) I was bored quite quickly.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I have to say I was fooled here. One of the elders got up after the worship and started off on a seven minute sermonette. I made the mistake of thinking this was the main sermon. This actually came half an hour later and was 45 minutes long, followed by a 12 minute altar call, asking people to come forward and be renewed.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 The sermonette was punctuated with lots of slightly intimidating (not intended, I'm sure) "isn't that true?" type rhetorical questions which rather put me off. The sermon itself was part of a series on God's purpose for the church. The preacher's style was quite low key and engaging, although he got more excitable towards the end. He would have got a higher score if the sermon had been shorter.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermonette was about the need for the Holy Spirit in order to be truly joyful. If you're a regular attender at this type of church, you'll have heard this sermon a hundred times. The main sermon was about sharing the good news of Jesus. Unbelievers go to hell; believers don't. This, coupled with the command to "go and make disciples of all nations", means that we have to evangelize everyone. The reason we don't, as was the case for the original disciples, is because of fear, unbelief and pride. God can change this, as he did for the disciples, by us repenting (not entirely sure what of); and having faith, because we already have the Holy Spirit as a free gift.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The communion was very nice. Quiet and reverential, with a tape playing a rendition of "When I survey the wondrous cross." The passion of some of the prayers after the communion was quite humbling.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Although I had been expecting it, the theology wasn't really to my taste. More importantly though, the service lasted over two hours, which is a long time, especially when a visit to the toilets begins to take on a certain importance. Fortunately, the toilets were near the front door and easily accessible in the middle of the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung around looking forlorn for nearly 10 minutes afterwards with a cup of tea as a prop. A couple of people said a friendly "hello" and one person asked me if I had been sitting in the balcony. We exchanged a few more words before he moved on.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Quite nice tea in a plastic cup. I noticed that the tea in the pot already had milk added so it was a good job I didn't take it black. There was squash available, too, and even biscuits were provided.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 After the first hour, and after the communion I felt quite positive about it. One hour later I had had enough. If the service had gone on any longer I would have had to leave. I couldn't put up with this every week.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really, but perhaps if the theology being espoused is closer to your particular brand, it might.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?