|1000: Kensington Temple, Notting Hill, London, England|
|Other reports | Comment on this report|
|Mystery Worshipper: Nick O'Demus.
The church: Kensington Temple, Notting Hill, London, England.
Denomination: Elim Pentecostal.
The building: This compact, stone-built Victorian church was once known as Horbury Chapel. It was planted by a nearby Congregational church in 1848, when the streets of Notting Hill were first being built. The 19th century missionary Gladys Aylwood came to faith at this church, and the great Baptist preacher CH Spurgeon preached here. In the 1920s, the building was rented (and later sold) to the Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance, and was renamed Kensington Temple. The interior is not a thing of beauty, but is entirely utilitarian. At the front is a speaking platform, with a drum booth on the right. Above is a u-shaped balcony covering three sides of the building, supported by spindly metal columns. TV screens abound, and ugly stage lights are up in the ceiling. At the back is a noisy vestibule with a bookshop.
The church: Kensington Temple ("KT") is the centre of a network of churches across London known as the London City Church. Video links connect worship services on Sundays, and some 15,000 people are said to belong to this giant web of churches. According to KT's website, the network operates G12, a church growth system popular in charismatic-style churches around the world. The basic idea is that small cells of people work together in prayer, Bible reading, fellowship and winning new people to become believers. The website claims some 900 cells in London.
The neighborhood: If you've seen the movie Notting Hill, you already know what the nicer bits around the church look like. Just around the corner is Portobello Road, home to what is reckoned to be the world's largest antiques street market, held every Saturday. The area is also home to the Notting Hill Carnival, held every year.
The cast: Pastor Bruce Atkinson was in charge of the service from half- time onwards, and delivered the sermon. A six-strong music group led the first half.
|What was the name of the service?
Holy Spirit Ministry, at 7.00pm.
How full was the building?
Downstairs was completely full, and upstairs looked to be half full, totalling about 300 people. Which was impressive, since this was the fifth and final service of the day.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. The church foyer was a scrum, as people from the 5pm service were leaving, and people for the 7pm service were entering. But there was clearly no welcome team looking out for visitors. I was hoping KT might have improved on their non- welcome of newcomers since my last visit, seven years ago (in the first-ever Mystery Worshipper report), but no.
Was your pew comfortable?
My chrome and blue fabric chair was very comfortable, thanks. Not that I spent much time sitting in it.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Imagine the trading floor of London's Stock Exchange, and that's about it. There were people wandering the aisles talking happily into mobiles. A girl a few chairs from me was reading a magazine and eating an apple. Others were nosily saying goodbye to friends, or saying hello. The only people sitting quietly were the unwelcomed loners like me. A woman stopped at the chair in front of mine and dumped an important looking folder on it before hurrying off again. She was wearing an official badge with the word "Consolidation" on it, and gave me a short smile.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, everyone," said the worship leader from his seat at the keyboards. "It's good to be in the house of the Lord tonight."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The lyrics of songs appeared on big flat screens all around the church. During worship, the screens frequently showed us ourselves, as cameras zoomed in on members of the congregation. I half expected people to wave frantically when they saw themselves on camera, just like in football matches. But everyone was very well behaved.
What musical instruments were played?
Roland X7 keyboard, lead and bass guitars, conga drums and a drum kit inside a transparent drum booth. The music group also included a lead female singer.
Did anything distract you?
Distraction is the essence of Pentecostalism, but one distraction distracted more than all the other distractions. A young woman went forward during the ministry time at the end of the service. A man from the prayer team put his hand on her head and prayed loudly for her. She stood there, eyes closed, hand raised high, a broad smile on her face, her body trembling. Suddenly her knees seemed to give way, but she recovered, still smiling. And again. And then she shook violently, like a child having a major tantrum, but still with the great smile, and then down she went, caught by a couple of the prayer team who had seen it coming. She was on the floor for a while, face down, but soon got up again and went to her seat on the front row. No one was very surprised by this, and I realised, seeing the other people lying on the floor, that this is almost routine for KT. It would be madness or extraordinary elsewhere, but here it's as regular as taking up the collection.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
We were on our feet for the first 46 minutes singing contemporary worship songs. The first few numbers were a bit dull, but once the band kicked in with "And we'll be a dancing generation..." the place took off. I was especially thrilled to see a man dancing in the front row, with every appearance of being an accountant, pointing dramatically in the air, rotating on the spot and fixing everyone around him with a joyful glare. The worship was the join-in type: even during the Bible reading, people were calling out "amen" and "yes" every time the reader paused for breath. It was, actually, rather wonderful.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I'd give him a 5 for tonight's delivery, but I'm sure he regularly hits 8 or 9. Pastor Bruce has a beautifully clear speaking voice which becomes very powerful when he goes into Pentecostal overdrive, which he did about half way through tonight's sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He preached from Isaiah chapter 61: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor..." This was the passage read by Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth, and Jesus had commented after reading it that "this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing today". Pastor Bruce told us that every time we gather in the name of Jesus, this scripture is fulfilled. Every time it is preached and heard in faith, it releases power. The experiences it talks about can be "downloaded from heaven". The captives are freed, those who mourn are comforted, and the poor hear good news.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Well, your Mystery Worshipper went forward for ministry, too. I tucked my notebook under my coat and left them on my seat, and joined maybe 50 people who had also walked to the front, seeking prayer for experiencing "heaviness" in their lives. As I waited in line, a woman in front of me fell to the floor and curled up in a foetal position. Then one of the prayer team came free, put his hand on the back of my head, and his other hand on my chest and prayed. It would have been good if he'd asked my name, or why I'd come forward, so the experience was curiously impersonal. And I can't report experiencing anything more exciting than a few tingling feelings.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As we were singing a rather beautiful song with the lines, "Every breath I take, every moment I'm awake, Lord have your way in me", something on the low ceiling under the balcony in front of me suddenly moved. It was a remote-controlled camera, and it twisted like a reptile until it was pointing directly at me. Since my section of the congregation never appeared on the big screens around the church, I was left wondering what the camera was for... worship surveillance? Am I still on tape? Will the Praise Police be sending me a ticket?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. You could stand around all day in KT looking lost, and no one would notice. You could probably die in your seat at KT and people would ignore you until you slumped to the floor.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any. Fair enough, though. It had been a long day at the church, and was now past 9pm.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 Megachurch isn't for me. And church growth systems called "G12" are definitely not for me. Can you imagine Jesus saying, "Go forth into all the world and implement G12"?
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I appreciated seeing the genuine, shining faith of people around me, especially during the singing.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
During the whole time I was on KT's premises, no one spoke a single word to me. But then, as I walked out of the church gate, Jimmy, who was sitting on the pavement in a sleeping bag and pulling on a cigarette, asked me if I had any change. I crouched beside him and we talked for a while. He told me that when he moved from Gloucester to London, he'd been recommended to KT by a friend, and what a great church it is. "Everyone knows me here, even the pastors," he said. KT should employ Jimmy. They could do with his interpersonal skills.