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3109: St Peter’s, Brockley, London
St Peter's, Brockley
Mystery Worshipper: Wes Charles.
The church: St Peter’s, Brockley, London.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Southwark.
The building: It's a medium-sized building dating from 1866-1870, built on the former grounds of Premonstratensian Abbey. The architect was Frederick Marrable, who, as the first chief architect for the Metropolitan Board of Works, designed their headquarters as well as the Garrick Club, one of the most highly esteemed private clubs in the world. Marrable used sea-worn stones from the coast of Kent. From the outside it blends nicely with the style of surrounding houses. The hand-wound clock in the tower is by Smiths of Clerkenwell, who also created Big Ben. The interior is not particularly full of chairs. There is a pretty large space at the back with a table and little chairs for children, a book shelf, and space to mingle. Then there are some rows of chairs, more space for an altar at the front of the nave, then the chancel behind with a lovely ornate altar and paintings. There is some lovely stained glass in the church.
The church: The vicar, the Revd Corinne Tournay, is from Belgium and speaks fluent French, which I guess attracts people who might have French as their first language. The church is very involved in the art world – they are running a course at the moment discussing how to communicate your faith using pictures, and in the summer they host a local art festival. There is a play group called Little Fishes on Monday and Tuesday mornings, as well as prayer groups.
The neighbourhood: Brockley is "a well-preserved suburb," in the words of Nikolaus Pevsner, about seven miles from the centre of London. The church is in the heart of the Brockley Conservation Area – a leafy road with lovely Victorian houses. Nearby is a real mix of people, from many students at Goldsmiths’ College, some social housing in the form of apartment blocks, and many commuters who take the train to central London for work each day.
The cast: The Revd Corinne Tournay, vicar. The guest preacher was the Revd Philip Ratcliffe, pastor of Brockley Community Church (which actually shares the building with St Peter's).
The date & time: Sunday, 29 January 2017, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship and Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
The chairs in the centre of the nave were, I guess, about full. Hard to say how many, as we were sat near the front and didn’t like to turn round and count, but I guess about 40 adults plus plenty of children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There were two ladies at the front giving out hymn books (which we didn’t use!) and service sheets. They gave us a very warm welcome. We were quite early, and as other people came in, they spotted that we were newcomers and came over to say hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a padded cloth-seated chair, and was fine. We also grabbed one of the children’s chairs from the back so our daughter had a suitable chair to sit on, although she declined the offer.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. Well, not quiet – almost empty! We were beginning to wonder whether we’d got the service time wrong, but it gradually filled. A lady sitting behind us told us that most people arrive late and there’d be a good atmosphere just after the start.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Missed them, I’m afraid. My opening words were, "Darling, don’t climb on the chair” to our daughter, and I’m afraid that I was concentrating on keeping tiny muddy shoes off the seats at that time.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed service sheet, which turned out to be optional, as most of the service was projected onto their new screen. We were given a big green hymn book but we didn’t use it. I didn’t notice any Bibles around, but I could have missed that. The screen showed the words to songs and the liturgy with pleasant “image bank” photos of natural scenes in the background.

What musical instruments were played?
An electric keyboard with a built-in drum synth and a singer with a microphone. They were both plugged into the PA system, which was a little too loud for comfort. Even the singer asked for it to be turned down, so it must have been loud!

Did anything distract you?
This was one of the most distracting church services I’ve been to for a while. One thing was their projector – the aforementioned scenery on some of the PowerPoint slides looked very much like somewhere I’ve been to on holiday a few times. The other distractions were children – the vicar had to leave her seat a number of times to go and retrieve children from behind the altar, pulpit, etc. There were also younger children being quite active at the rear of the church and down the sides of the nave. There was a sign saying, "Parents: you are responsible for your children at all times" but this was clearly either wishful thinking or an outright lie, as most of the parents there were clearly not showing the slightest responsibility for their children at all.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional liturgy with a low-church feel. It was very informal within the structure, with the vicar or singer explaining what was going on (“We’re going to pray,” “We’re going to thank the Lord for his goodness,” etc.). The singer and keyboard player, placed centre-stage, also gave it a very informal feel.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
I forgot to time it, but I guess around 15-20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Philip Ratcliffe was a good preacher.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He took us through the Sermon On The Mount, cross-referencing it against Psalm 9 (God upholds the righteous against their enemies), helping us to see Jesus’ words in the context of David’s. It was a good sermon, talking about integrity and the very high standards Jesus sets for us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Not my “heaven” moment, but my daughter’s – during the songs, the vicar got out some large coloured flags for the the children to wave around. Watching Miss Charles wave hers with such a happy look on her face was lovely!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the end of his sermon, the visiting preacher announced he was going to pray, and explained that he likes to do it with one hand on his heart and one hand stretched towards heaven. He also pointed out that he does it with his eyes closed, so he wouldn’t know if anyone was doing his suggestion or not. I couldn’t resist a sneaky peek round the church and noticed that most people took advantage of his eyes being closed and just bowed their heads. I guess there are some things that just don’t translate from a community church to the Church of England!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Unfortunately we had a lunch appointment straight after church so we couldn’t stay. However, the vicar caught us at the door and said she hoped to see us again. Had we been able to stay, there was birthday cake on offer from someone who’d had a birthday the previous Friday, so it was a shame to miss that.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Their website states, "Our coffee is strong!" so I assume it’s good.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – This was an odd mix and I felt like the church couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. On the one hand, the liturgy was very structured and the softly-spoken Belgian vicar’s mannerisms suggested a service of lovely quiet reflection, which would have been lovely. In contrast, the singer and keyboard player were more up-beat and the antics of the children suggested a more evangelical community church feel. Either would have been good, but a softly-spoken vicar in that setting just didn’t seem to work. On the other hand, we’re bringing our daughter up to speak French as a native language, so the fact that the vicar is a native speaker would be an important factor to consider.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
“Parents: you are (clearly not) responsible for your children at all times!”
 
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