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1108: Potter's House Christian Centre, Manor Park, London, England
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Potters House Christian Centre, Manor Park, London, England
Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo.
The church: Potter's House Christian Centre, Manor Park, East London, UK.
Denomination: Part of a network of Potter's Houses across London and the UK (40 churches). Headquarters: Potter's House in Prescott, Arizona (1300 churches worldwide).
The building: Potter's House hire their meeting place from a long-established community organisation which manages an attractive, red brick, late 19th century building, once Presbyterian, then United Reformed Church, then a general "Peace and Justice Centre", now the Shalom Employment Action Centre.
The church: This branch of the Potter's House was established 10 years ago. All the information I have been able to gather (from the service, from chatting with members and from the church website) indicates that the church is not active in social outreach except where this has the specific aim of conversion to Christianity. People appeared to worship as individuals, facing the front, rather than interacting with neighbours as might be expected in a Pentecostal service. It seems that the Potter's House in America has attracted some attention from the anti-cult movement, but I did not observe any excesses beyond behaviour which I see in many Pentecostal and charismatic churches. The church is certainly trinitarian. The majority of the congregation were Afro-Caribbean in background; there were a few of Asian origin.
The neighbourhood: The building is sandwiched between retail outlets and terraced houses, situated on a very busy main road. Very close by is another charismatic church, Manor Park Christian Fellowship. The area is multi-ethnic in population. Not far away are several mosques and temples.
The cast: Pastor Jimmy Robinson led and orchestrated the whole service.
What was the name of the service?
Worship at 10.30am.

How full was the building?
About one-third full. There were 20 adults and 9 children present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, two men shook my hand warmly at the door, one took me to my seat and shook my hand again. On two further occasions before I left the building, the same man shook my hand yet again. In addition, several people greeted me before and during the service. Yet, it sometimes felt that people were surprised to see a stranger amongst them.

Was your pew comfortable?
It could have been much better – a smallish, plastic chair which grew harder as the sermon progressed.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was a quiet, fairly reverential gathering of the faithful. The service began 10 minutes after the advertised time, the pastor arriving after 10.30am.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let's stand this morning, amen. Let's give God praise, amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books – just a PowerPoint presentation. People took their own Bibles. I did not recognise the Bible translation used by the preacher.

What musical instruments were played?
Well, none and many! All of the music was supplied through an electronic keyboard, operated by the pastor, using inbuilt songs with all the instrumental sounds imaginable. There was a female singer who otherwise did nothing but look totally wrapped-up in her own worship, with eyes closed for the duration. For a small church, I was surprised to see so much technology. A radio-controlled public address system, sophisticated song software and digital projection were all an excellent aid to this form of worship.

Did anything distract you?
The constant use by the leader of the word "amen" was very distracting. It appeared usually to be a method of gaining personal affirmation, although sometimes it was used to emphasise a point or to elicit a positive response to a point he was making or to fill a gap between other totally unconnected words.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I would call it an "open hamburger sandwich with sauce on top". Twenty-five minutes on our feet singing, which began and ended with prayers supported by background muzak, was followed by the sermon, then an altar-call of 10 minutes and ended with one short song and another short prayer. During the altar-call, over half the congregation prostrated themselves at the front of the church. The style was Pentecostal, without the influence of tongues-speaking or healing. We were frequently called upon to give God a hand-clap of praise.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
40 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – His voice was loud and quite piercing. I might have been able to cope better if some of the 24 occasions when he used "amen" had been omitted. One example was "Brother Lesley, would you turn down the heating, please, amen?"

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor Robinson drew a picture from the Old Testament of a land where giants lived and which needed to be conquered. Man was given dominion over creation and now needs to conquer sin by the power of God through Jesus' death. Alcohol, cigarette-smoking and lust are struggles which we experience as part of our fallen nature. Fears also need to be conquered: fear of losing an unborn child, or of entering marriage because it might end in divorce and death. The Holy Spirit helps us in our struggles, but we must pray to overcome the fear we have in irrational situations. Trust God – and take on the world! Pastor Robinson gave an example of the pre-Christian person who is full of worry and fear and who only wants to commit suicide, against the Christian person who is happy and contented and says, "O Lord, take me home". This caused some amusement to the preacher and congregation alike. He ended by quoting the Bible verse, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Lesley, the church elder who stood at the entrance, was very warm in his welcome and he made sure that I was comfortable – this felt good.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Had I been dropped into the worship space from above, I would have thought that I had come for a political or humanitarian gathering. The only symbols at the front and around the hall were national flags. There was no cross or Bible or baptismal font. When I asked an elder about this, he seemed unable to understand that flags and artificial flowers focus the eyes and mind just as much as Christian symbols which he called "idolatrous". His hope was that the word of the preacher ("actually the word of the Holy Spirit", he said) is that which focuses and convicts those who worship. The church has a deliberate policy of excluding all Christian symbols. The flags are to emphasise the church's desire to "reach out to the whole world", I was informed. I was perturbed by the fact that the children (all except the baby who was taken out to a creche) were expected to remain in the service from start to finish; there was no special provision for them.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few people said they were glad to see me, and hoped I would attend again. One person asked me about my normal church allegiance.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee or tea, or any method for people to continue in fellowship together. However, the pastor did invite me to speak to somebody before I left.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I am not Pentecostal and would not feel that this church would allow me the freedom to be myself.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I enjoyed worshipping God in one or two of the songs; otherwise, the less said the better, as far as I am concerned.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The flags and flowers which took the place of the cross and the chalice.
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