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2345: Christ Church, Brixton Road, London
Christ Church, Brixton (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Barbara Pym.
The church: Christ Church, Brixton Road, London.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Southwark.
The building: A very attractive late Victorian stone building in the Byzantine style, replacing an earlier non-conformist chapel that had become inadequate to serve the needs of its growing congregation. Begun in 1898 and consecrated in 1902, it is the work of British architect Arthur Beresford Pite. An outdoor pulpit was added at the southwest corner in 1907. The fabric was damaged during the blitz of World War II but was restored in 1954. The inside has been reordered, and above the altar there are attractive stone carvings of the Lord's Prayer, the Commandments, and the Creed.
The church: The parish profile describes them as a "lively multi-cultural congregation" with "priests, laity, paid staff, volunteers sharing their lives and ministry seven days a week." They are involved in a number of local projects, including a charity shop and a youth club. They pride themselves on being an inclusive church.
The neighbourhood: North Brixton is that rather run-down area between the Oval, Camberwell, and Brixton proper. There are streets of Victorian terraces and many low rise estates. Brixton Road, the A23, is a busy artery road leading into Brixton, and finally to Brighton.
The cast: The Revd Julie Connell presided. Preaching was the Revd Tim Jeffreys, priest-in-charge. There were two teenage girls serving.
The date & time: 5 February 2012, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
All Age Eucharist.

How full was the building?
It was the morning after snowfall and there were about 15 children and 15 adults. Most of the children were with older siblings, and most of the adults were older single people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A very nice man greeted me at the door, and I picked up a printed sheet containing the whole service, the same in large print, and a notice sheet. Then someone else spoke to me as I came in and said I should sit with him and his wife as it was so cold. He then called someone else over, so in an almost completely empty church I was sat in a row of four.

Was your pew comfortable?
These were modern, individual, seats arranged in a semicircle of four rows facing the altar and the sanctuary. Unremarkable, but very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Although the church was almost empty, it was bustling. People were setting up, a girl was practicing her reading, a priest lit some incense in a bowl in front of an icon.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. We start this service by singing Jubilate."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The printed service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
The type of electric organ that sounds like a pipe organ.

Did anything distract you?
It was cold, although the heating had been on since 6.00am. There were a few unsupervised children running backwards and forwards noisily to an activity table. The service also started 15 minutes late, which made me wonder what time we'd get out of there.

Christ Church, Brixton (Exterior pulpit)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly informal, although it closely followed order one of Common Worship. The servers were robed, and the clergy were vested. I got the sense that maybe the clergy were slightly more Anglo-Catholic and the congregation more middle of the road, but it was only an impression. There was a creative activity for adults and children before the gospel, where people were invited to draw or make clay models showing God's love. The eucharistic prayer included a South African call and response. The Lord's Prayer was sung, with everyone holding hands. The music was eclectic: the second hymn was "Have you seen the pussycat sitting on the wall" and another one was "My God is so big, so strong and so mighty", done with actions. There was an Ionian communion hymn, and another modern communion hymn that I'd never heard before.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
This was tricky to work out. There were two talks in the order of service, but I thought that the preacher was giving short introductions to the readings. It was only later that I realised he was preaching. One of the talks lasted two minutes, the other three minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The talks were pitched at children. Ironically, none of them were listening, as they were all doing pew activities. I'd certainly be more interested in hearing the Revd Tim Jeffreys preach to adults.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The first talk was about the supposed tension between scientists and the faithful. The second was about how God comes to heal us as we draw near to him. If we make time to be alone with God, we will draw closer to him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The gospel acclamation, sung back with zeal and purpose. Until that point I hadn't really wanted to be there. Also, I noticed one little girl's voice during the Lord's Prayer, and it was beautiful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pew activities. The whole service was pitched at the children, and because they had clipboards and things to colour in, none of them were paying attention.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was shivering from the cold, and so and I was first at the coffee. Both the preacher and the man I had sat next to chatted with me, and both were delightful. Then one of the children spoke to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Filter coffee, or tea, in a polystyrene cup. No biscuits or children's drinks, because someone hadn't turned up with them. The coffee was lovely.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I got the sense that this is a place were people are very fond and supportive of each other. They were certainly friendly. Had it not been an all age eucharist, my least favourite type of service, I think this would have been an 8.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, eventually, and absolutely.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The interior of the church is beautiful. I would like to go back just to sit quietly there.
 
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