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  1407: Bloomsbury Central Baptist, Bloomsbury, London

Bloomsbury Central Baptist, Bloomsbury, London

Mystery Worshipper: Mordicus.
The church: Bloomsbury Central Baptist, Shaftesbury Avenue, Bloomsbury, London.
Denomination: Baptist. They are members of the London Baptist Association, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and the Baptist World Alliance.
The building: The church dates from 1848 and is one of the first non-Anglican worship venues in London to have a decidedly ecclesiastical appearance. From the front, it's an almost square looking building with two towers, one at each end, that originally supported twin spires. A large, round stained glass window marks the centre of the facade. Inside are three sections of pews angled to face the front. A glass panel at the back of the church separates the worship area from the entrance.
The church: Bloomsbury Central Baptist appeals mostly to people visiting the capital, although there are also a fair number of regular members. They conduct several ministries in the community, including a regular Sunday lunch to which the local homeless are invited. Judging from the welcome pack, there seems to be no end of things that are going on in the church building: Bible readings, youth groups, talks, etc.
The neighbourhood: Located on Shaftesbury Avenue off London's New Oxford Street, the church is surrounded by offices, shops and theatres. The British Museum is just up the road.
The cast: The Rev. Dr Simon Perry, minister, presided. The church youth group, called Megabytes, also did a few sketches. Readings and prayers were given by other people who were not named.
The date & time: Palm Sunday, 1 April 2007, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Service.

How full was the building?
The downstairs seemed reasonably full, but the upstairs gallery appeared empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman held the door open for me and asked if I was a visitor. He handed me a welcome pack and pointed me in the direction of the stewards, who greeted me with a handshake and gave me a service sheet. A woman entering the pew after me smiled as she sat down.

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden pew, fairly comfortable at first but becoming less so over time – or that might just be me. Small mat-like cushions were available.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Piano and violins playing quietly in the background and lots of people chatting quietly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
After a choir anthem, the minister opened with: "Christ Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Printed service sheet and New International Version Bibles in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, two violins, two guitars, a cello, and a trumpet. A CD player was used for one song.

Did anything distract you?
I found the church rather warm, and so had to take my coat off halfway through the service. Stupid spring weather! A man had to adjust the microphone halfway through the notices. A baby gave out a yell a few times. The sound of police sirens could be heard whizzing past outside.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Upbeat and even fun, with traditional hymns, except for the jaunty Robin Mark tune, "These are the days of Elijah." The Megabytes youth group put on a sketch about a TV crew awaiting the arrival of the Messiah in Jerusalem, interviewing people about what kind of person they expected the Messiah to be. This segued nicely into the sermon.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – A very interesting man to listen to. He backed up what he was saying with examples from the war in Iraq and his own family.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Barabbas. The Greek word for thief should really be translated as freedom fighter. Barabbas wasn't the mindless thug most people have come to picture him as. The Jewish people of Jesus' time wanted a Messiah who would liberate them from the Romans, not someone who would start criticising them.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sketch by Megabytes made the whole service more interesting.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The U2 CD played halfway through the service was incoherent. That, and my realisation far too late that they had a collection plate, not a bag, and I hadn't brought an envelope to put my calling card in!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The woman in the pew behind smiled and asked if I was visiting.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
My fruit tea, served in a paper cup with a little plastic holder, was very good and extremely hot. As someone who doesn't drink tea or coffee, I was pleased to be offered an alternative. A tin of biscuits was also available.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I enjoyed the service I attended and wouldn't mind going back occasionally, but it is too much hassle for me to get to on a regular basis. I also get the impression that their regular services are not always this much fun.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It actually made me think about my faith.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sermon really made me think. It has given me a whole new perspective on why the crowds who hailed Jesus as the Messiah on Palm Sunday yelled "Crucify him!" less than a week later.
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