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3154: St Andrew's, Brockley, London
St Andrew's, Brockley (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Ken T. Poste.
The church: St Andrew's, Brockley, London.
Denomination: United Reformed Church, Southern Synod.
The building: The first thing that strikes you is the tall spire that rises from among the relatively low rise buildings in the surrounding area, making it one of the most noticeable structures in Brockley. The main body of the church, referred to as the sanctuary, has long rows of pews in the centre, with some more comfortable looking chairs off to the side. There is a wonderful round window at the front of the sanctuary – one could spend some time looking at it.
The church: They have has an active community engagement programme, including as a host for the action group, South London Citizens. They also host a nursery during the week. They are a supporter of Christian Aid and Fair Trade. They also link up with a local Anglican church in an ecumenical partnership in nearby New Cross. The church is currently in an interregnum.
The neighbourhood: Brockley is a fairly nondescript commuter suburb of south London, situated in the borough of Lewisham. Predominantly residential, it has a large Afro-Caribbean population, many of whom arrived shortly after the Second World War to work in nearby Deptford. The area has a reputation for being a bit "arty," which is partly due to its proximity to Goldsmith’s College. Brockley cemetery, a few yards from the church, provides an area of peace and is replete with bluebells in the spring.
The cast: The service was led by a visiting minister, the Revd Phillip Crumb, who also preached. There were three readings by various unnamed members of the congregation.
The date & time: Good Friday, 14 April 2017, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Good Friday Service.

How full was the building?
It was a good turnout. I estimated about 80 people. At a squeeze, the church could maybe accommodate 200.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered through the front door, it wasn't immediately clear as to where to go. There was a lift over to my right and another set of doors ahead of me leading upstairs, but there were no signs. It was only when someone else came in that they helped to indicate that I should go upstairs. Coming into the sanctuary, someone at the door greeted me and handed me a service sheet and a nail; the purpose of the latter will be revealed below.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were hard but were far from the worst I've ever experienced. Some had cushions on them.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a gentle bubbling of chatter in various corners of the sanctuary.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Minister: "Good morning." Congregation: "Good morning." Minister: "Good Friday."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We just had a service sheet, which had the lyrics to the hymns.

What musical instruments were played?
For some of the hymns, an organ was played. For the rest, a piano. Both were played by the same person.

Did anything distract you?
It seemed that not everyone was given a notice sheet on the way in, so during the first gospel reading, someone went round the sanctuary handing them out to anyone who indicated that they wanted one.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a solidly middle-of-the-road hymn sandwich, with "There is a green hill far away" and "When I survey the wondrous cross" being typical of the kind of sung worship. There was no liturgy or formal vestments, giving it a comfortably low church feel, though it wasn’t too casual.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
4 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The Revd Phillip Crumb is not an orator by any means. He spoke very gently, so one was faced with the choice of either falling asleep or being compelled to listen intently.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The message opened in a quite interesting manner. He declared "Jesus is the light of the world" before blowing out the single candle on the altar and then declaring "Jesus is dead." Good Friday is like a funeral and it is customary to say something about the deceased. He went on a tell a story (possibly apocryphal) about a young woman pleading guilty in court to some offense and being fined £100, whereupon the judge stepped down from his seat, took off his robes, and paid the fine. Turns out the judge was the woman's father. This was to illustrate that, much as God might desire to forgive ours sins, he is nevertheless just, and so the penalty must be paid. That penalty was paid by Jesus. Good Friday is a time to reflect on Jesus' humanity, his humiliation, his suffering – but also on his triumph. The sermon ended with the candle being relit because "Jesus is alive."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Part way through the service, a choir seemed to spring up from nowhere. They had been sat by the piano, though it hadn't previously been clear that they were a choir. Made up of about 20 or so people, they sang very well for an amateur grouping. The piece they were singing was unfamiliar to me, but it was very moving.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Near the end of the service, we were invited to bring the nails we were given down to the front of the church and throw them at the cross. It wasn't stated why we were doing this or what it was meant to symbolise. Most people gave a gentle, underarm lob, though one lady had picked up a handful of them and threw them with some venom, almost like a baseball pitcher. In fact, in reminded me of the practice of the stoning of the devil that Muslims do during the Hajj. What irked me was the lack of explanation as to why we were doing it. I'm still none the wiser as to what the intention was.

St Andrew's, Brockley (Interior)

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the service we were asked to leave in silence. As I headed back down the stairs, it quickly became apparent that there was no room to hang around in the church, as we were squeezed out of the front door. I loitered around, but no one spoke to me, so eventually I walked off.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There weren't any drinks or nibbles to be had.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – If I lived locally, I'd definitely consider it.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hurling nails at the cross for no apparent reason.
 
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