|824: Bookham Baptist, Bookham, Surrey, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Iconoclast.
The church: Bookham Baptist, Bookham (near Leatherhead), Surrey, England.
The building: As can be seen from the picture, it's a conglomeration of older buildings considerably modernised. If you like traditional or visually interesting buildings, then it probably won't appeal to you.
The church: Judging from the notice sheet and other available bits of paper (and there's plenty of it on the reception desk!), as well as the website, this church has numerous links with other local churches and places throughout the world. From what I saw, it's a mainly middle-class white church, as one would expect in Surrey commuter land. There are a good number of young people who seem to be active in the church. There also seems to be a good element of social concern – I saw a Tearcraft Christmas card stall and a stall selling olivewood carvings from Palestine.
The cast: Mel Commandeur, who turned out to be female, with the full name Melanie.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Full, except that I couldn't see the balcony. I'd estimate 150 in the main part of the church.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
People said hello, and as I went into the main church (you enter through a reception area), someone showed me a seat. Baptists don't seem to have "the peace", and the people sitting near me didn't speak to me. But I felt welcomed overall.
Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable chairs, no problems there.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived late at the service so missed this. From the atmosphere in the service, I'd guess pretty noisy!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
I missed it, but think the service may have started with a song rather than a spoken intro.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None at all. There were Bible readings, but I didn't see people following them, and all the songs were on the overhead projector.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboards, guitars, drums, didn't see what else. Far too loud for my taste.
Did anything distract you?
Where do I start? There was plenty of entertainment here! Children small and medium sized crawling up and down the central aisle and chatting, people up the front waving flags during some of the songs, a few people raising their arms or punching the air. Adults also seemed to leave and return from time to time, not always to the same seats. There was also constant repetition of "Lord" and "Father" in the prayers, at a rate of one approx. every five seconds.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy. This is obviously a church which is well in the swing of evangelical charismaticism. If this service was typical, then I'd say it tends strongly towards the triumphalistic end of the charismatic, as nearly all the songs were in that vein. I'm reasonably familiar with that world, yet I knew only one song, which I think was the only quiet one: "Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus". If I were grieving or depressed, I think I'd have left very early in the service, as there was really no place for pain or problems.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 I hate rating the sermon by numbers, because there are so many aspects to it. I had the impression, from a comment our preacher made, that she wasn't used to preaching – in which case, she did very well in terms of delivery. She included some young people, who did readings and mime, which added to the interest.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about darkness and light, but I'm not quite sure what the main thrust was. To begin with, it seemed to be that God meets us in the dark places, but later she said that where there is no light, there is disease and death. So I ended up not quite sure whether I was to value the darkness or not. There seemed to be a polarisation of light and dark, which I have a problem with.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
None of it, really – sorry!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Loud triumphalistic music, no time for reflection or quietness. Songs which by and large the congregation didn't know.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were quite friendly and talked as much as I wanted.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't go into the hall where drinks were being served, as I didn't want any (I was assuming it wouldn't be sherry!). There was no evidence of cakes or cookies that I saw.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 I simply can't cope with triumphalistic worship. Also this seems to be a very busy-busy church, very activity focused, with lots of paper. Are they following the latest fashion in what seems to be a big emphasis on "cell" church? What on earth is a Prayer Clinic? – the link on the website wouldn't work, but the very name makes me cringe. No, this is definitely not my type of church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No... embarrassed to be a Christian. And also guilty that I am not better at accepting this particular manifestation of Christianity!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Feeling uncomfortable with the ethos.