|963: Woodgrange Baptist, Forest Gate, London, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo.
The church: Woodgrange Baptist, Forest Gate, East London, England.
The building: A brick-built suite of rooms and halls, the worship area being upstairs, converted from a previous balcony area. A rather nice stained glass window is at the front of the brightly decorated worship area, which contains a couple of fairly attractive cloth banners on the front wall.
The church: It was impossible to gain much information about the church community. The monthly magazine and the lack of notices on the church walls suggest that the church is either hiding its light under a bushel or doesn't want to get its hands dirty when it comes to outreach or service in the local community. There was no mention of anything other than church activities in the magazine, nor during the worship. However, there is obviously some concern about missionary work as seen in a notice requesting money for "very poor people in countries of the world". The previous minister of the church retired only two months ago after being minister here for 35 years, so it is possible that some of my comments are unfair if the church is going through a bereavement process.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated on the very busy main road which runs from the East End of London through to Romford in Essex. It is surrounded by offices, a petrol station and Forest Gate police station, as well as large houses, some of which have been converted into hotels. Newham has expanded its commercial and business facilities and is the London borough hoping to host the 2012 Olympics, and so is rapidly expanding its hotel provision.
The cast: Tom Ward was the preacher, although no information was available as to who he is, apart from his own admission to being a Baptist minister. Several other people shared in leading the worship, including a couple who led us in singing modern songs, and others who read scripture passages, prayed or gave the notices. No names were given.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were about 60 people present, mostly adult, occupying about a third of the seats. The congregation was mostly of Caribbean origin with a sprinkling of Asian and white people. Unusually, most of the spare seats were around the edges of the congregation (perhaps because they were wooden benches), thus giving a sense of being more full than it was.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A number of people smiled broadly and said "Good morning", although some seemed surprised to see a stranger. One or two shook my hand as I entered the church. My first impression was that this is a friendly church, but it was not backed up by any personal conversation. Once the service started, visitors were asked to stand to receive the congregation's welcome. A little later in the service, it was publicly noted that "some visitors were too shy to stand like the other brave souls". This is a sure way to make visitors feel uncomfortable, unhelpfully singled out and, in fact, not welcomed.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was a metal-framed, padded seat.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A quiet and reverential buzz gave me the impression that people were pleased to see one another.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everybody. Nice to see you all again after our holiday."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Baptist Praise and Worship hymn book. The Bibles were New International Version, I think.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ was played for the hymns and a keyboard and guitar for the songs.
Did anything distract you?
During the songs, it seemed that the keyboard player's hands were not quite working together. The bass chord was quite regularly played after we had sung the melody, which gave an impression that one of us was lagging behind.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a hymn-sandwich service, interspersed with some charismatic behaviour, including a spontaneous prayer, repetition of verses and lines of the songs, and a little hand-clapping and hand-raising by some.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Tom had an unusual way of emphasising a point: he raised his voice to a high-pitched, fast squeak, which meant that I lost most of the crunch points and jokes. On the other hand, it was a real pleasure to see his sermon backed-up by scripture verses on the screen.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
What motivates us in our daily living? Hunger motivates a search for food; unemployment makes us gain working skills. Negative things like hate, bitterness, jealousy and hurt can motivate us unhelpfully. In the Old Testament, King Saul was motivated by jealousy and so wanted to kill David. David was a man of prayer and asked God what he should do, although he actually wanted to attack the Philistines. What needs do we see? In the UK, Baptists tell God what needs to be done and then get on and do it; they lack patience. The New Testament church continually prayed and this should be our practice, too. If we take time to know God, He will guide and strengthen us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The PowerPoint presentations were operated by a nine-year old boy. He must have been given a script of the sermon, because he got it all correct, with the right timing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
One of the responsorial readings was a shambles because we were given unclear instructions. The microphone needed adjustment at times, but no one person seemed to be taking responsibility for this. The organ was rather slow and only the long stops were used, giving a very deep sound and making me feel rather miserable.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much at all. Apart from a smile or two, I was left to wander out of the building on my own without anyone saying goodbye.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. It was announced that coffee would be available and that two people were needed to serve. The expectation of the person who announced this was greater than the actuality, so we had to go without.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 The general theology would suit me, more or less, but the pace of worship was too slow and there was little enthusiasm or sparkle shown by the worshippers.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me feel rather dull and lifeless, and sad that I still have not found a regular place to worship.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
A negative thing, I'm sorry to say: the fact of not having stood when expected to do so during the welcome, and then being made to feel embarrassed.