|946: Metropolitan Community Church, East Ham, London, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo.
The church: Metropolitan Community Church, East Ham, London, England.
Denomination: Linked with United Fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Churches.
The building: The church meets in St Bartholomew's Church and Community Centre, East Ham. This was the first meeting in this venue. St Bart's has a history of social care and welcoming of community groups into its premises. It runs a daily coffee bar which is open to the public, and the linked buildings accommodate a doctors' surgery and housing for the elderly.
The church: The literature pack of Metropolitan Community Church states: "We are a Christ-centred church of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities, inviting and welcoming all people to share in an adventure of spirituality and faith." Discussion confirmed that the ethos of the group includes having a strong support network as well as reaching out to both Christians who have been hurt and those with no faith. The church sees itself as a community and its working groups reflect the value placed on all the members and on the abilities brought by them to enhance both the life of the community and their worship. The community is made up of Christians from a variety of traditions and worship styles. It is multi-ethnic and has a wide spread of ages.
The neighbourhood: The congregation is drawn from the east London area; it had been meeting in a university chaplaincy in Whitechapel. At present, the East Ham neighbourhood is of little relevance to them, as they have only just moved in. It may be that they will find another venue nearer to the centre of London, as this would be easier for members to reach.
The cast: Jane (the minister) led the service, Alison preached and celebrated and Derek and another person read the scriptures.
What was the name of the service?
"A celebration of pride and a new home."
How full was the building?
There were 20 adults and two children present. I was told this was less than usual. Being the first meeting in this venue, the group is still deciding how to arrange the furniture. Today we sat in two crescent-shaped rows. Most seats were taken so it felt comfortably full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people warmly welcomed me (one checked that I had come to the right church, as another group was meeting on the premises). Others made a point of talking to me afterwards. People shared the peace in a very friendly way.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, a good comfortable chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was an air of friendly, informal chatter.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
After we had sung, "Be still and know that I am God", Jane said, "Good evening and a very warm welcome".
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service sheet was distributed which enabled everyone to follow and participate. People did not seem to use Bibles; the Gospel passage was not identified by chapter and verse.
What musical instruments were played?
We sang some hymns unaccompanied, and others with flute and/or guitar.
Did anything distract you?
I found the occasional use of acronyms a bit off-putting. I'm not in the same network as the members of this church and I didn't always get the point because I was unable to ground it in the organisation mentioned. That would change if I attended regularly, and perhaps other visitors to this church would be familiar with the organisations, anyway.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a fairly sedate liturgy, made special by its use of inclusive and affirming language. It seemed to be a home-made mixture of Iona-type and traditional liturgy and was certainly easy to follow. A couple of the hymns, not known to me, were sung to familiar tunes.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 The church always has at least two people taking leadership, one as worship leader, another as preacher. This evening, the preacher was also the celebrant, and she was not the minister. Alison was outwardly quite confident and she spoke clearly. I think I heard a reference to this being a new task for her in the church; if so, it was amazing.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Alison celebrated the PRIDE festival which had taken place the day before in London. She referred to the event and to the stall that the church had been responsible for used as a means for telling people that they are ok and the Metropolitan Community Church is ok about God and ok about them. We all are on a journey, but the institution of the church sometimes gets in the way of God. "Yes, I am being who God wants me to be and we all are here at God's table by God's grace. On this day of a new start in a new venue, may we let our imaginations run riot." One of the stories told was of a man who had approached the stall at the festival, but when he realised it was staffed by a church, went away quickly before "the message" could be given to him. At this point the congregation laughed at itself. I picked up no hint of anger, frustration or hurt.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sense of fellowship amongst the group could be felt in the laughter at the stories told and the way that people were free to be themselves (for example to participate in the holy communion in the form they find most comfortable, and the fact that a child walked around during the worship without anyone apparently being unhappy about it).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I cannot say that anything reminded me of anywhere other than where I was in the presence of God and of God's people.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was invited to tea and a cake celebrating the new venue. I was given a welcome pack and invited to sign the visitors' book. I did not feel that anyone made any assumption about my sexuality (I honestly don't think it mattered), although I suspect that a number of people came up to me to gently check me out (which I was happy about). I did get into an interesting conversation with a man who said he thought he was made especially welcome some years ago because it was thought he was straight. I think that the community now is unconcerned about people's sexuality, except, of course, support is available to people who have been hurt by other Christians. On reflection later, I realised that the conversations were very unusual for church, and I felt privileged that people had shared their personal stories with me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A choice of tea in a mug (I decided the strength of the brew), with coffee and nice cake.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The obvious acceptance of a really wide diversity of people, not something I experience in many churches.