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  1039: Regent Square United Reformed, Bloomsbury, London

Regent Square United Reformed, Bloomsbury, London

Mystery Worshipper: Cynic Girl.
The church: Regent Square United Reformed, Bloomsbury, London.
Denomination: United Reformed.
Comment: We have received a comment about this report.
The building: Built in the 1960s, this unassuming, modern building would be easy to miss – which in fact I did – were it not next to a larger and more obvious hall which the church presumably uses for general functions. The noticeboard, when I found it, helpfully told me exactly how long the service would be. I like this idea, and would appreciate it if massive Pentecostal churches would indicate their three-hour services before I go in there, too.
The neighbourhood: Bloomsbury hosts an eclectic mixture of expensive houses, student halls and council flats. You might expect the congregation to reflect this mix with some student members, but it consists mainly of older local people.
The cast: The service was led by Rev. Maggie Hindley, minister of the church.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday service, 11am.

How full was the building?
I had an entire, decent-sized pew to myself. There were about 20 people in a church that looked like it would cope with at least 100. I was told that this was a fairly good turn-out.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I think every member of the congregation did at some point. I arrived just after the service had started, having walked straight past the unassuming building. Despite this, as I was sitting down someone took the time to come and give me a Bible, hymn book and service sheet and to shake my hand. Afterwards, almost everyone there shook my hand and welcomed me. Interesting.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew itself was fine. It was a very warm morning, however, and I was sitting next to a heater turned up so high that I was worried I might burst into flames. It was turned off halfway through the service, by which point I needed the loo and had no idea where it might be, on account of having had no time to explore the building, on account of having arrived late, on account of having got lost, on account of the building being unassuming. It was never going to be a comfortable experience.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
My particular skill at arriving seconds after the service has started did not fail me this week. The atmosphere throughout the service was quiet and contemplative, as I noticed when I had got my breath back.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
As I arrived, some very positive-sounding announcements were being made. These notices were cheery and inspiring, although they did go on for several minutes. There were references to the Make Poverty History campaign and various church projects. Just as they were ending all this talk of social justice in action, it struck me that the minister was wearing a red AIDS ribbon, along with her white Make Poverty History bracelet. Unusual.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Rejoice and Sing, in encouragingly accessible large print, and the New Revised Standard version of the Bible, with Apocrypha. This made me wonder fleetingly whether I'd stumbled into a Catholic church by mistake. Do Reformed congregations usually read the Apocrypha? What Would Luther Say? This gave me something to think about during the sermon (and then to look up on Google later).

What musical instruments were played?
Just a piano. While it was nice, by the last hymn I was starting to miss both swoopy-voiced high church choirs and jangly charismatic guitars. If you like restraint in music, this is your kind of church.

Did anything distract you?
The heating, clearly. The Apocrypha. The fact that even towards the end of the service, I wasn't doing very well with the "How evangelical is this church?" game – the style being pleasantly unexcessive, concerned with social justice and focused on people, yet also very informal, involving congregational participation and with much talk of prayer, calling and conversion. I'm not sure I was any clearer by the end, but I was quite impressed with the balance. Uncanny.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very quiet and reflective, in a sincere way. "Blessed city, heavenly Salem" was the bounciest hymn we sang. Although it wasn't quite my preferred style of worship, it was certainly reverential.

Regent Square United Reformed, Bloomsbury, London

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Three readings looked at Jesus' disciples at the Last Supper, Stephen's martyrdom and 1 Peter. The title was "Spiritual temples" and this concept was related very closely to a retiring church official. The sermon then became something of a personal address to him. I may have lost the thread and gone back to worrying about catching on fire, but this was not really the fault of the minister, who did tie the threads together at the end. The sermon didn't help me decide the "How evangelical?" question as it should have done, although exhorations not to become too politicised, but instead to focus on prayer may have been a bit of a clue. Thought-provoking.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Listening to the congregation talk. There were moments where they were invited to provide "news from the people of God" and prayer requests which revealed real commitment. This theme was more than lived out in their actions afterwards, where they continued to be implausibly welcoming to me.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Literally: the heating. They need standard radiators.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
Requests were taken from the congregation, who suggested prayer on a range of personal and world issues including poverty in Africa, the people of Iraq and persecuted Christians in China. The minister also prayed for Benedict XVI and the people who will be blessed during his time as Pope, which was rather impressive for a low church. Other evangelical churches take note: entertaining the idea of ecumenical relations does not necessarily mark you out as a lukewarm liberal.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get a chance to. The man who first welcomed me came over immediately the service ended, asked me about myself and invited me to coffee. I tried to say no (trapped in an evangelical church, confused by misleading clues as to the theology and now invited to coffee...) but the minister insisted, too. I was starting to wonder if they ever got visitors there at all.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
In real cups. With biscuits. The nice lady serving it apologised that it wasn't from a pot. Even more people introduced themselves and asked me where I was from, then actually listened when I told them. Leading to actual coversations. Extraordinary.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It's not my style of church, since I will live and die an Anglican and have a weakness for happy clappy tunes with those nice jangly guitars, but I really couldn't fault that welcome. If I still lived in this area, I'd visit again.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The service made me a bit confused and very overheated. The people made a fervently post-evangelical cynic feel just a bit less... cynical. I think that's a yes, then.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That I Mystery Worshipped at an evangelical church, yet did not come home wanting to pour forth vitriol into the word processor. Amazing. Also that I should only ever go again during the winter.
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