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  1049: The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Tooting, London

The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Tooting, London

Mystery Worshipper: Whatever.
The church: The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Tooting, London.
Denomination: The church claimed to be in the Livingwater parish ' whatever that might be – but I couldn't find any direct reference to denomination.
Comment: We have received comments about this report.
The building: Located above Snappy Snaps and opposite Tooting Broadway tube station, this church is on a very busy junction. The church has a large green and orange sign on the outside with details of the many services. The 60s-esque windows were filthy, and hung with what looked like dirty net curtains. At the side of Snappy Snaps, there is a little side-door, through which there are red-carpeted stairs leading to the "auditorium", as it was so described. This room had fake wood-panelling around the walls (up to picture-rail level), interesting decorations consisting of baby-blue and baby-pink drapes, ribbons and balloons. The perspex lectern proudly carried the logo of the church. There were two noteable pictures ' one which seemed home-made and owed its very existence to the invention of the glitter pen. The other was far more disturbing. It was a picture of a red umbrella with the words: "My family is covered by the blood of Christ." It certainly gave me nightmares.
The church community: There are services in English, French and Indian, so I imagine the church reaches out to various sectors of the community, enticing them to the auditorium above Snappy Snaps.
The neighbourhood: On one side of Snappy Snaps is a Weatherspoons pub, and on the other side, the Halifax building society. Tooting is a very multi-cultural part of London and this particular area is near St George's hospital, but I imagine the members of the church have no need for this, as the waiting list for healings are considerably shorter.
The cast: They were either "Brother" or "Sister", depending on gender, as we were all brothers and sisters. The preacher was introduced, but I didn't catch his name, and even if I had I would not pretend to be able to spell it.

What was the name of the service?
First English Sunday service.

How full was the building?
When we arrived at bloody 8.55am (for the 9am service), there were only eight of us in the congregation, plus about eight worship leaders. By 9.30, there were about 40 and this number rose to approximately 60 by 10am. I don't think the auditorium could have held many more.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, we were greeted by two people on the door who shook our hands with a nice firm handshake ' but not a knuckle-cruncher. We were then shown to the exact seats we should sit in, and we were moved when we accidentally missed the spot. There was no "peace" during the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard padded chair, but I have had more leg room on an EasyJet flight.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was music and singing as a warm-up for when people arrived. I confess to being a bit worried that the eight of us would be the sum total of the worshippers that morning.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hi, Hallelujah". This was the first of many, many hallelujahs that plagued the service.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Nil. Rein. Nada. Nothing. We had a sheet with the notices, which included a mission statement, mandate and vision statement ' and it also had an order of service and details of the "pastor of the week". There was no overhead projector for the words of the songs, although, to be fair, it was not hard to pick them up.

What musical instruments were played?
There was a white synthesiser which looked as if it had once belonged to Duran Duran, bongos and a drum set. A guitar was heard but not seen, and two tambourines were vigorously used in the congregation. The worship group had about six people.

Did anything distract you?
The number of "hallelujahs" uttered was a bit irritating, as half way through I wished I had been counting them. Some of the "amens" made me jump out of my skin. We were also very aware that we were the only white people.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was happy-clappy, Gospel and Pentecostal, but the worship was very controlled and so did not terrify my English sensibilities. I was expecting healings and prophecies and words of knowledge, but they never emerged ' something for which I will be eternally thankful. Just think: if someone had had a word of knowledge, the Lord (hallelujah!) might have directed their thoughts to unmask the Mystery Worshipper. The singing was fantastic, with marvellous harmonies, and the joy in the worship was tangible.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
45 minutes. It would have been over a lot sooner had there not been so many "hallelujahs" along the way.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The preacher actually held my attention all that time.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The preacher was making bizarre analogies matching types of disciples to the tools found in a toolbox, according to our personality. He was saying that each tool was needed to build a pulpit (hallelujah!). We were ultimately encouraged to get on the shelves of the nearest Homebase or B&Q ' a challenge I don't think I am quite up to.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The people were warm and genuinely friendly, and the singing was absolutely fantastic.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The heat was well within the temperatures found in hell. We were singled out as new people and welcomed publicly three times, which was somewhat disconcerting. But I think the weirdest part was when we had to rub our bellies while praying to nurture our metaphorical baby within us. The point of that exercise will forever be a mystery, and I felt more than a little uncomfortable.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
Now this bit was like listening to a shortened version of the Grand National. The pray-er was giving it loads of welly, getting faster and faster and then people would cheer along. Some people were cheering on Hallelujah, others were backing Amen, and Jesus You are Beautiful was coming up fast and furious. It gradually became impossible to hear what was being prayed for. But one thing did stand out: each prayer had the words, "as it says in the Bible", mentioned several times, and I'm sure As it Says in the Bible won by a nose.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance. Before we were able to stretch our cramped legs, our hands had been shaken by a pastor, who said, "Come into my office now". I was terrified and thought we had been rumbled! We were frogmarched to the back of the church where we and a couple of other visitors were shown into chairs and someone was placed on the door to guard us. Our visitors' cards ' which we had been forced to fill in ' were then read through, some Coca-cola was brought in and blessed for our nourishment and the pastor talked things through with us, asking why we had come. It was a nice touch, but it was poorly handled and very uncomfortable. At any moment I was expecting to see the Mystery Worshipper calling card produced.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We didn't get any. Just the blessed Coke and some chocolate chip cookies, which were also blessed for our nourishment.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – While there was a wonderful and happy atmosphere, it is quite simply not my style. I was also encouraged to stick at my own church, as that is where I would be able to grow best. That was qualified with a "Do come and visit us from time to time, but not too often." Sweet rejection.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
There were many reminders of God's promises and the joy in the worship was infectious ' but I can't say it really floated my boat. That is probably more because it wasn't my cup of tea... or can of Coke.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Being called to the Headmaster's Office after the service for a grilling.
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