|923: Cann Hall Methodist Church, Leytonstone, London, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo.
The church: Cann Hall Methodist Church, Leytonstone, East London.
The building: A modern, airy, brick built building with a very comfortable worship space, complete with three attractive stained glass windows showing Christian symbols. A largish hall and other rooms are also provided.
The church: The church has apparently grown in the past five years. Numbers fluctuate, I was told. I got a sense of togetherness and of congregational involvement in the church's ministry (the minister has two other churches, so this is probably inevitable). The congregation was obviously happy to respond to the minister (for example, party-poppers were used to express the "amen" at the end of the prayers of thanksgiving). I did not hear any references to involvement in the community. The vestibule is small and there were lots of people moving about so I was not able to look at notice boards.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated in the middle of a residential area, mostly small older terraced houses, probably owner-occupied. The building itself is on a busy main road which runs between Leytonstone town and Epping Forest.
The cast: Rev. Dr Janet Corlett, minister of the church. A steward gave the notices and officiated at communion.
What was the name of the service?
Morning worship with baptism and holy communion.
How full was the building?
Full. About 70-75 people with only a very few spare seats.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, even before I got near the building! I was standing opposite, taking a photograph, and a man passed me saying, "You are in the right place". I later saw him in church. On the other hand, when I walked in, the woman on the door (who could not have seen me photographing) seemed surprised that I had actually come to worship; I think she is a bit shy or reserved. Once inside the worship area, a number of people warmly welcomed me. The minister noticed that the door steward had only given me one sheet instead of two, although the steward was already chasing me with the second one.
Was your pew comfortable?
A very comfortable soft seat and back, a proper church chair!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quietly reverential and expectant.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"You are very welcome to Cann Hall Methodist Church this morning."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The hymns and orders of service were all on the two sheets. There was a reference to pew Bibles but I did not see any.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The main organist also teaches in the Sunday school, so it was left to the minister to play for two of the hymns. Apparently, the church often uses music on CDs.
Did anything distract you?
It was hot and a door was thankfully left open but this meant that the sounds of the Sunday school did intrude a little bit until I got used to it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a typical Methodist hymn-sandwich, except the way it was conducted was less formal than I have sometimes encountered. It also was very "busy" too busy, really, as it included both a baptism and holy communion. Janet made us feel welcomed by the church and valued by God; she was calm and exuded thankfulness to God for many blessings. The whole service lasted for just over 90 minutes, but nobody seemed to get fidgety. The minister conveyed an excellent mixture of seriousness and informality. I noticed that on two occasions when there was nothing going on that involved her (for example, as the children left and later as they returned), she spoke with members of the congregation. This gave an impression of a pastoral heart for the people. She made a lot of eye contact during the service and was clearly confident in herself. She explained both the baptism and the communion perhaps because there were people present not used to attending church? She made it clear that children were welcomed to take communion if they were baptised or, if not, if their parents approved.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Janet was relaxed, spoke without a lot of reference to notes and conveyed her thoughts with warmth and obvious sincerity. She told a funny story about moving into her house a dead mouse had caused a nasty smell which fitted the theme. This helped to "earth" her in our minds.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Janet spoke about King David who couldn't see what was wrong in his own actions while condemning another man, and Simon Peter, who thought he was ok because he kept all the rules. They were self-righteous, just as we can be sometimes, and this is "a bad smell". However, the fragrance of God's love comes first to us this is what we experience before any condemnation. She helpfully linked this to the service of baptism, which is a sign of God's love already here for us. At this point she deliberately brought the baptism family into the sermon a wonderful moment, I felt. Often we fail to respond to God and to others in love because we have failed to appreciate God's love.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Quite a lot of it. The smell of lavender oil, the breeze through the door, the sun through the stained glass, the sense of thankfulness to God.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
For a few minutes, my attention dropped and I wondered whether the preacher had her motor-bike leathers on underneath her robes. Then I remembered I had seen her before the service and she hadn't been wearing them, so I came back to reality feeling ashamed! But nothing else.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was invited by several people to join the lunch. This enabled me to chat with a grandmother and her granddaughter. They told me that the minister is leaving soon and that she is very popular. The food, supplied in honour of the baptism child, included spicy chicken, rice and all the trimmings. The meal was a very happy and relaxed affair.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee? I didn't see any behind all the good food.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 My only hesitations are to do with Methodism rather than this particular Methodist Church, which is very close to the sort of congregation I would like to be associated with.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I actually got tearful at times, and that means it was good for me.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
We shared the peace by having lavender oil passed on our hands to each other. Given that a main point in the sermon was about the fragrance of God's love, it was very appropriate, and I could smell the oil for many minutes afterwards. I will also remember with joy that Janet used inclusive, non-sexist language throughout.