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Oak Baptist, London
Union of Great Britain. They are also a member of the Evangelical
It's quite an impressive building to look at from the outside,
standing out from among the local shops and houses. It was recently
redeveloped so that the church uses only a function room on
the ground floor and a portion of what was the attic as the
main hall. The rest is domestic dwellings. Though the church
meets on the top floor, there are lifts in place, so it is very
accessible for the disabled, the elderly, and those with children
(each of whom were represented in the congregation).
The church officially formed in 1889 and has been meeting in
the same area since then. There was something of a schism in
the mid-1920s with some members leaving to form Honor Oak Christian
Fellowship under the leadership of Theodore Austin-Sparks, who
resigned his Baptist ordination and would later become known
for several books on the divinity of Christ. Today, the church's
key ministry seems to be the hosting of a Girls' Brigade, though
judging from the notices it seems this group is struggling to
attract numbers. Their website also mentions a Monday ballroom
dancing group, Tuesday "friendly morning", Wednesday
prayer group, and Thursday coffee morning for "tea, coffee,
biscuits and chat knitting optional."
Honor Oak straddles the border between the London boroughs of
Southwark and Lewisham. The area is named after a local legend
of Queen Elizabeth I taking picnic near an oak tree that became
known as the oak of Honor Hill. The church is located a short
walk from Peckham Rye Park, which makes for a lovely spot to
have a picnic if you're visiting the area. The area's most famous
residents were the comedian Spike Milligan and the actor Boris
The service was led by "Jim", a retired minster from
Glasgow, who also preached. There was also a short farewell
address by the Revd Paul Gardiner, their outgoing pastor.
The date & time:
Sunday, 27 April 2014, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
The retirement of the Revd Paul Gardiner.
How full was the building?
About 40 people present the hall was just under half
Did anyone welcome you
Upon arrival, I was utterly perplexed as I appeared simply to
be in a hallway with no sign of where the church met. There
were a few people talking near the door. One, Hazel, directed
me up several flights of stairs to the top floor. After arriving,
I was greeted by the Revd Paul, who was very welcoming.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had nicely cushioned green seats, complete with arm rests.
They were wide enough for the, erm, larger worshipper but not
so plush that one might fall asleep in them.
How would you describe the pre-service
Quietly friendly. There was some choral music being played through
the sound system. The Revd Paul was going round to those who
had arrived early, talking to as many as people as he could.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning. Welcome to our morning worship. We had a lovely celebration last night."
What books did the congregation use during the
We sang from Mission Praise and read from the New International
Version of some encouragingly well-worn Bibles.
What musical instruments were played?
Just a lone piano, which was very well played.
Did anything distract you?
There was one gentleman behind me who managed to sing one note
and one note only for every song. I am sure there was a good
reason for that, but it was still a bit off-putting nonetheless.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was fairly middle-of-the-road for a Baptist church, as hinted
at by the use of Mission Praise. There weren't any
strong singers so it was a little muted (barring the above).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 There wasn't a great amount of structure to the sermon
and it rapidly diverged from the text that was read. That said,
when it came to the anecdotes, Jim was a very good storyteller.
It was suggested to me afterward that his Glaswegian accent
may have been difficult to understand, but I didn't find it
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
From a starting point of Psalm 92:12-15 ("The righteous
shall flourish like a palm tree"), there was an encouragement
to the Revd Paul that "In old age they shall still produce fruit."
From here it moved to a more general message of the sufficiency
of God's grace through some anecdotes that seemed unrelated
to the passage that was read.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The Revd Paul's final address to the church was a wonderful
and heartfelt piece. Having been the pastor for the past ten
years, during which he oversaw much of the renovation of the
building, he was generous in his thanks to those who had supported
him. There were a couple of video messages from those who couldn't
be there. The impression I garnered from these is that he has
been a great pastor at a personal level to a great number of
people. His parting exhortation to the church was: "Keep telling
people about Jesus."
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
One of the videos that was made for this service was rotated at right angles, so we had to crane our necks rather awkwardly to see it. It also cut out rather disturbingly just as the person making the video picked up a large chainsaw!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were invited downstairs for drinks and some food that was
left over from a bigger celebration held the night before. I
had a cup of coffee with Hazel, who had met me when I arrived,
and with Jim, the visiting preacher, though I still didn't catch
his surname. We had a lovely chat in which Hazel described how
she had recently returned to church after many years away.
How would you describe the after-service
It was reasonable, but not spectacular. There was a presumption
that people would have tea, so I felt a little awkward asking
for a drink that wasn't on display. Given it was a buffet very
much for the church congregation, I felt out of place being
there, but they were all marvelously welcoming and open to strangers.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 Given the church will be having a new minister soon,
it is unlikely that this service was representative of what
is to come. But the community I witnessed is a great example
of an open, welcoming evangelical Baptist church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. There was a great warmth amongst the people, and this reflects
very well on the pastoral leadership of the Revd Paul.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hazel's testimony of returning to church.
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