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1009: St Barnabas, Kensington, London, England
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St Barnabas, West Kensington
Mystery Worshipper: Purple Sparkler.
The church: St Barnabas, Kensington, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: On the outside, a fairly ordinary church building, currently with substantial amounts of scaffolding on the side. The steps up to the church are very steep – well, I found them so and I'm tall, so I don't know what they'd be like for older or less able-bodied folk. I'm ashamed to say I didn't notice whether there was wheelchair access.
The church community: Lots of children. And a good mix of ages. I was also impressed with the friendliness of the place.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated in a lovely tree-lined avenue. Since I'm used to the concrete jungles of other parts of London, this was quite new for me, but then it is Kensington. You can see the Olympia conference centre at the end of one of the streets close to the church.
The cast: Rev. Tim Humphreys was the preacher. There was no eucharist this week, and therefore no celebrant. Worship was led by the worship band.
What was the name of the service?
It had no specific name – just the 10.30am service.

How full was the building?
About three-quarters full, which was good considering what a large building it is, and the fact that the service I was at was just one of three "main" services. I gather that the evening service is particularly popular with young people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes – I was welcomed at the door, and then in the narthex area a chap called Hugh came up and introduced both himself and about five other people in the space of 10 minutes, as well as getting me a cup of coffee. When I went into the church itself, the worship part of the service had already begun, so there wasn't really a chance to talk to the person next to me.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were traditional church pews (I expect remaining after the building's inside had been refurbished – and refurbished it certainly had been at some point), but these were at the sides. I was sat on a modern version of a pew: a row of wooden chairs (perfectly comfortable), all joined together by their metal frames.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Chatty. It was part a pre-service and part a post-service atmosphere, as the 9am service had not long finished. There were kids running round everywhere, and people drinking coffee and tea and talking. The band were rehearsing in the church, and when they struck up properly, everyone went inside.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, welcome." This was followed by an apology to visitors for having come on the church's six-monthly gift day (there was a special collection, and standing order forms were made available for people to covenant their giving).

What books did the congregation use during the service?

I was handed a New International Version copy of the Bible, and that was the only book we used. As you would expect in a reasonably evangelical church, the hymns were projected, which I actually prefer to hymn books. If everyone's looking at the books, it makes the worship somehow less communal as an experience.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano, and two guitars. There was a drum kit, but it wasn't being used. There was also one singer who was just singing as opposed to playing an instrument as well.

Did anything distract you?

The fun the projector operators were having with the PowerPoint hymns. There was the odd word missing which got a little confusing for me as I wasn't terribly familiar with the hymns (or should that be "worship songs"?). I was also a bit distracted in a girly, clucky way by the cute newborn baby on one of the side pews. But that happens to me all the time.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was happy without the clappy. The songs were classic evangie numbers, such as "My Jesus, my Saviour", but perhaps because the tempo was quite calm, there wasn't any clapping. There was, however, much joining in on the action song sung by the children's group (Powerpack for 3-11s, and Lazers for 11+ respectively) "God's people aren't super-brave superheroes" was very gamely and enthusiastically performed by the childrens group leaders and an increasing number of the children as the song went on.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

21 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – He was very confident and relaxed, which was great. He had a good rapport with the congregation and cracked jokes in a very different way to most Anglican preachers, more as casual afterthoughts than prepared Comic Beginning to Sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was entitled "Why it's good to belong to a church", and talked about how the church is people, not a building, that we have the opportunity to form real and meaningful friendships with others at our church, and how as a church, we can accomplish a lot more than we could on our own.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I really appreciated the sermon because it touched on something that concerns me very much about some Anglican churches in London. The need for refurbishment seems to result in an emphasis on the building, not the community, and encourages an attitude that the only really valuable contribution an individual can make to his or her church is a monetary one. I was also impressed with the welcome I received.

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

At least two people mentioned the Alpha course to me (they run it at the church). I was a little taken aback by that, as I've been a Christian all my life and always understood that Alpha was for people just coming to the faith, or who had questions about it. I just felt that there are newcomers and newcomers.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

When I hung around on my own with a cup of tea, people came and introduced themselves. This, as I mentioned above, happened before the service as well. The minister came over and asked if he'd seen me here before, and then proceeded to introduce me to the lady on the welcoming desk, who introduced me to other people too.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Very good. Fair-trade tea and coffee (both caff and decaff, bonus!), plus biscuits.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I was so happy about making this church my regular that I am. It was just the right blend of Anglican and evangelical, and the worship, sermon and prayers hit the right note for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very – it's good to know that there are churches around that are so enthusiastic in greeting newcomers, and that there are other Anglican churches apart from the one I grew up in that put the emphasis on people. I think that churches which meet in schools and other places bear witness to really well, so it's good to find a church in a church that does so too.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The friendliness of the people.
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