|875: NRG (New Roots in God), Manor Park, London, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Mark
The church: NRG (New Roots in God Manor Park Youth Church), Manor Park, London.
The church: The congregation is independent, but looks to members of Manor Park Tamil Christian Church for oversight. About 80 per cent of the young people are of Tamil background and almost all are under 25. The youth pastor is aged 26.
The neighbourhood: The congregation is gathered from a wide area, and so not representative of the local working class population, who live in mainly council-owned housing. The building is situated in a far-flung corner of Newham borough, off the main thoroughfares.
The cast: Only Jonathon (the youth pastor), who preached, and a worship team.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were 30 people present in a large room which would seat 50, so it felt comfortable.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people came up to me to welcome me very warmly. I think the first young man suspected that I had walked into the wrong place (he told me it was a youth service). There were handshakes all round.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable chairs were provided for everyone.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The service was preceded by noisy chattering, along with a guitar player tuning-up. This seemed to me to be entirely appropriate to the needs of those gathering for worship.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We're about to get started, so can you take your seats, please, and can I have the worship team here, please."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Everything was done via laptop and projector on a screen. The computer program was written by the young man who operated the system. The sermon was accompanied by notes and pictures; a very helpful (and for me essential) practice these days.
What musical instruments were played?
The worship team included three guitars, a keyboard, and an electronic drum pad, as well as three "cheerleaders". The music was not at all overpowering.
Did anything distract you?
I had hoped to find a form of worship radically different to any of the mainstream styles of worship, but found a rather watered-down semi-charismatic expression, obviously valued by those present. So the expectation became a distraction for me. I also found the very deep voice of the main worship leader a bit off-putting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a "song sandwich" 20 minutes singing on our feet, 30 minutes sermon and prayer in our seats, followed by 15 minutes singing again on our feet.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
28 minutes, followed by a short prayer of committal.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Jonathon spoke in a voice which was easy to listen to, and his sermon was jargon-free, and obviously aimed at the young people. The scripture passage and his points were projected on the screen and his message was quite simple and clear, yet broad and thought-provoking. He lightened his sermon with a few stories and jokes.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He took James chapter 2 to teach about faith and action. Faith leads to action. We verbally support high ideals but when it comes to the time for action we cry, "It's time to sleep!" We must engage our bodies as well as our minds. Faith equals belief plus actions.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I was enthused by the lively and serious faith of a relatively large group of young Christians. I am confident that as they broaden their experience they will become more like heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a lot of singing. Not surprisingly (because of my advanced age!) I knew only one of the songs. I am sure that heaven is more broad in appeal; in fact, the lack of variety (don't all charismatic songs sound alike, anyway?) reminded me of the other place.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people spoke to me and seemed interested in who I was and why I was present.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Although refreshments were promised they did not appear while I was around.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 never but only because I was 40 years older than most of the congregation. If I were a teenage Christian I might rate it near to ecstasy.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, in that here was a group of young Christians taking their faith seriously.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
A notice at the end of the service told us that finding ten names to sponsor an evangelistic effort was "not optional".