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  1034: The Salvation Army, Regent Hall, Oxford Street, London

The Salvation Army, Regent Hall, Oxford Street, London

Mystery Worshipper: Hurdy Gurdy.
The church: The Salvation Army, Regent Hall, 275 Oxford Street, London W1.
Denomination: The Salvation Army.
Comment: We have received a comment about this report.
The building: Known locally as The Rink, apparently this building is sited on a former ice rink. The building is modern with smart furnishings and paintings by a relative of Richard Branson (of Virgin fame). The hall is spacious and light, and there is a traditional row of Salvation Army flags along the back wall.
The church community: During the week, the entrance of the church changes into a coffee and book shop. They also have a drop-in centre for homeless people, and a clothing shop around the back. On a Sunday the church holds two short services on Oxford Street for Joe Public, and has a march back to the church hall afterwards.
The neighbourhood: The church is smack bang in the middle of Oxford Street. It's a strange feeling leaving church and having to fight your way through hundreds of shoppers. Since most shops are not allowed to sell until 12 noon on Sundays, going to a service at the Regent Hall would be a good way of spending your morning waiting for the shops to open.
The cast: Majors John and Anne Read led most of the service; they are the ministers of the church, but are called Commanding Officers. Another Salvation Army man, Major Charles, gave the sermon.

What was the name of the service?
Gospel praise concert at 3pm.

How full was the building?
The building was buzzing with activity, and the lower seating was almost full from the start. Upstairs, there is a balcony with ample seating, and this held a small number of people. The congregation included people from a wide selection of the community, and not everyone was wearing the dark suits that The Salvation Army seems to prefer. There were groups of young people, children and older people, and also a mixed group of races and class.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A number of people were waiting to welcome those coming to the church, and some others said hello. I was greeted warmly at the entrance, but inside the building everyone seemed to be very busy.

Was your pew comfortable?
Downstairs, there were wide, comfy chairs, while upstairs (possibly the cheaper seats!), the seating was in the style of a theatre. Beware when you stand to sing: your chair flips up!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Busy, chatty, loud. One child was having fun banging the drum. There were several rooms leading off from the main hall and many people were busy fetching and carrying. The service began with the band marching to their seats. They then played a loud piece of music to start the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, thank you very much, band!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
All the words we needed were shown on two screens at the front of the hall. Books were not really available, but I managed to find a small pile of Good News Bibles and The Song Book of the Salvation Army available at the door.

What musical instruments were played?
There were musical instruments everywhere! A 25-plus piece brass band played for most of the service, and there was also a smaller beginners' band, which played on their own once, and also with the main band, but sat apart from them. I spotted several drum kits, guitars, and a piano, but apart from the brass band only the piano was played. The church also had two choirs, one with young children, but they saved the best till last. A choir, hiding among the congregation, sang the benediction.

Did anything distract you?
The brass band played a very pleasant piece of music on the theme of peace. But the snare drum managed to buzz constantly throughout. This, I think, was supposed to be a quieter part of the service, but the snare drum sort of spoilt the moment by playing its own merry little rhythm.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It seemed as though the congregation needed a little warming up. The first song was sung straight-faced, with a few people doing a sort of "silent clap" thing with their hands. By the final verse of that song, a couple people started clapping, followed quickly by the majority of the congregation. Sadly this was a little late, since the song ended a few lines later. By the second song the whole congregation seemed to have the same idea and had all begun clapping from the start. Each song was introduced in a friendly, chatty banter, which was used throughout the whole service. Some of the songs were well known, but embellished with band parts between the verses.

The Salvation Army, Regent Hall, Oxford Street, London

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The church has been following a sermon series on the fruits of the Spirit; this week's theme was on peace. The preacher, Major Charles, started his sermon by announcing, "I love Sandra Bullock!" He then talked about his love for Sandra and turned his declaration of love around to talk about peace in the world. Anyone who can do that deserves extra points! However, his sermon was shouted down the microphone, which was turned up loud. He also appeared to be reading from a script, as at one point it appeared he had lost his place. This lost him points.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Sandra Bullock, peace in the world, not having peace in the world, and God providing you with peace.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir, who were hidden among the congregation. No wonder the singing was good! At the end of the service, the choir came onto the stage and sang a choral benediction about peace. This was wonderful, but I was disappointed that the band seemed to play so much during the service and the choir sang so little.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
We sang a new version of an old song, which wasn't fully known by the congregation. There was an embarrassing moment when some people started singing too soon, and by the time we had all sorted ourselves out and caught up with each other, the words on the screen changed. The wrong verse was being shown.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
No major world figures were prayed for. However, the church's family feel came out when on two occasions church members were mentioned who were in need of prayers.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As had happened just before the service, a sense of business took over, and all the instruments that had been played needed to be put away. The little rooms on the side of the building were in full use and people were rushing to pack up and go home. I realised there was a back door to the building and many people were quickly leaving. At the main entrance, a good number of people hung around and there was some friendly chatter.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee is served after the morning service, but not during the afternoon. However, someone offered to go and make me a cup of coffee. This was a kind gesture, but I declined as I felt guilty!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – The jury is still out on this one! There was a sense of community and family during my visit, and people seemed to be genuinely interested in meeting me. The service was very homely and there was a lot of smiling and laughter from the preacher and congregation. The church seems to consist of a lot of musicians; if you are a musical person then you would have no problem being made to feel a part of the church. But should you not be blessed with musical talent, I wonder what other opportunities you would have in the church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. At one point a young man, Matt, gave a testimony about his life as a Christian. He said that he had realised that on the occasions when he had gone to work without praying to God, he had missed God. It takes a real man to admit to things like that.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Sandra Bullock and images of Major Charles will sadly remain in my mind for several weeks to come.
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