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765: St Mark's, Battersea Rise, London, England
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St Mark's, Battersea Rise, London, England
Mystery Worshipper: Cynic Girl.
The church: St Mark's, Battersea Rise, London, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: An impressive, grade 2 listed building in warm browns with a towering spire. It looked welcoming for an Anglican church, possibly because it is a relatively young building and improvements on the building continue.
The church: A lot of young professionals seemed to be in the congregation; this contributed to an extremely professional atmosphere in the service.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated near Clapham Junction, a busy, trendy area of south London.
The cast: Worship was led by Paul Perkin; the speaker was Lyndon Bowring.
What was the name of the service?
Morning service.

How full was the building?
Fairly full. I would guess that at least 200 people were there, filling most of the seats.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I came into the crowded entrance hall and hung around looking lost for a while before finally realising that no one was even going to give me a notice sheet (which might have been useful). I then found my way into the main church with some difficulty.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable chairs with warm cushions. Very modern.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Buzzing. Everyone seemed to know everyone, except me. There were lots of young families and babies, and the children were generally remarkably well-behaved.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome everyone, especially newcomers and visitors." There was an early mention of visitors from South Africa. Apparently someone said hello to them.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The songs were beamed onto an OHP screen. The New International Version Bible was used during readings and preaching.

What musical instruments were played?
The music was impressive. The modern worship group sounded very professional. It consisted of an electric piano, guitars, two vioins and two singers plus a worship leader. They played extremely well together.

Did anything distract you?
There was a lot of noise from the entrance hall outside, where Sunday School groups are apparently held. People kept coming in and out of the main church for a while. My own bad habit of playing "How evangelical is this church? Let me count the ways" didn't help, either. (I decided on "very evangelical" quite early on, after multiple references to everything from healing to visions.)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy. Modern songs, most of which I didn't know – and my regular church is contemporary enough.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The speaker didn't seem to have an argument or development and read the same story at least twice. Otherwise, I enjoyed listening to his anecdotes of God's work in his mission.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was entitled "Active faith". The speaker was very enthusiastic about his mission, which of course he had a right to be, but he pushed the "give money to us!" thing a bit more than was necessary. There was also what I felt was a highly inappropriate altar call at the end. This was conducted in a dishonest and over-emotive manner: he first told the responders that every eye would be closed while they raised their hands in response, then cajoled them into coming up to the front. It was particularly distressing to see an elderly disabled woman struggling up, having been told someone would help her – no one did.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The beautiful music.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The altar call.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I'm afraid I rushed away at the end. Having experienced visitor invisibility syndrome at the beginning, I was in no mood to experience it again.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't go, but apparently there was cake.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I don't think I'll be worshipping there again. Not quite my thing, all that slick professionalism. Give me a tiny local congregation with a cheerful vicar any day.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. More embarassed, by the time the altar call was over.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The fantastic music. Despite the fact that I didn't love the service for personal reasons, the worship was led extremely well.
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