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  1065: Waterloo Road Church, Uxbridge, Middlesex

Waterloo Road Church, Uxbridge, Middlesex

Mystery Worshipper: Philo.
The church: Waterloo Road Church, Waterloo Road, Uxbridge, Middlesex.
Denomination: Evangelical.
The building: This is an inauspicious building, built in 1932 and with art deco influences and neo-Egyptian front gableling. The main roof is tiled, and the walls are of solid brick laid in Flemish bond. The interior is largely utilitarian, with very little decoration or architectural interest.
The church community: Waterloo Road Church originally started as a Victorian Ragged School in 1846. A lady living by the canal in Uxbridge taught poor children in her own home, including Sunday School. This transferred to a building of its own in 1864. The building is still there, but is now a Japanese car parts centre. About this time, the local parish started to take over responsibility for education, but the Sunday School (which now included the teaching of adults) remained and became known as Waterloo Road Mission. The work declined towards the end of the 19th century, but was given a boost in 1903 when St Margaret's Church in Uxbridge took an interest in it and appointed a superintendent to the mission. The superintendent was a local businessman called Milton Hutchings, who led the church until his death in 1940.
The neighbourhood: Mixed residential and commercial properties, including late Victorian houses and 1960s low rise flats. Brunel University is approximately half mile away.
The cast: Worship was lead by the lead singer in the band whose name escapes me. The sermon was by Pastor Peter Lillystone.

What was the name of the service?
Evening worship.

How full was the building?
Initially there were very few people; it seems that most souls arrive just before the service begins. There were approximately 60 and I would estimate the building was less than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
They most certainly did. There was a friendly welcome at the entrance as I was handed the service sheets. I went to the loo for obvious reasons, but also to check out the quality of the ablutionary facilities. I was just about to photograph the urinal (my digital camera takes an age to charge up) when someone walked in. Having received a slightly bemused look and not wanting to be caught flashing in the toilets, as it were, I quickly put my camera away and left. So I am afraid, dear readers, there are no photos, but be assured the sanitary appliances were slightly dated but in functional condition – although no formal tests were undertaken. Please excuse the slightly scatological references but I do believe cleanliness is next to godliness (and so does God – just read Leviticus). It was shortly after having found a seat that I was approached by a lady called Dee and her husband. We had a discussion on what brought me there. I said I was interested in visiting churches from time to time and that I had occasionally carried out surveys of houses in the area. I felt they were genuinely interested in what I had to say.

Was your pew comfortable?
The plastic chair was reasonably comfortable. The temperature was about right.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The band were having a pre-service warm-up session.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Because the service was started by the lead singer who had been singing only minutes before, I completely missed the opening words. There was a reference to the morning service and Romans chapter 8, I think.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New International Version of the Bible, and Songs of Fellowship volume 3.

What musical instruments were played?
The three singers (two female and one male) mainly sang the melody, but with some harmonies. There was a drummer with full kit, but unfortunately he was using "spaghetti" sticks on every song. The bass player had a Fender or similar and tended to favour using a plectrum which produces a higher tone than finger technique. There was a female pianist playing a Technics keyboard with a piano sound; she appeared to be sight-reading. The male acoustic guitarist was near the back, so I couldn't see the make. He provided the rhythmic heart of the sound. The female flautist was sight reading what sounded like the top line. The electric guitarist played a Les Paul copy through a tiny Peavy amp which had seen better days, and he was sitting down.

Did anything distract you?
Probably not enough distractions. I was too near the front (hoping in vain for some amazing guitar playing) to check out the totty. No chance of a stained glassed window in a non- conformist church. The roof structure was perfunctory and of limited aesthetic appeal; give me a timber hammer beam or queen post timber structure any day – Jesus was a carpenter, after all. If you want a biblical precedent, check out 1 Kings chapters 6 and 7.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Tending towards happy clappy, though I didn't notice a great deal of clapping. The words were on an overhead projector. Most of the songs were fairly up tempo and, to be honest, a bit samey. The playing was reasonably tight, but not over-exiciting. Oldies but goldies included "As the deer pants" and "You are the vine", which worked by being slightly punky. Guitar solos – no chance!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
29 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The pastor had a colourful short-sleeved shirt and hailed from Middlesborough. The sermon would have benefitted from more non-biblical references, and few more jokes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The text was from John 15:1-17 – the vine and the branches. I was slightly disappointed at the subject matter, having heard numerous interpretations of this text in the past. Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. God is the owner or gardener who wants a vine to produce fruit. This is done by training the branches on wires to grow upward, and we are thus lifted up. He cuts out the parasites and also prunes the sucker branches which produce leaves but no fruit. The pastor went into some detail on this by comparing tomato plants he had grown; in fact, if you closed your eyes you could imagine it was Alan Titchmarsh talking. The pruning could be painful, but it produces better fruit. How do we produce spiritual fruit? By abiding in Christ. It is no good doing the right thing the right way, but with the wrong motive. We abide by reading the Word, by memorising verses. The sermon lacked passion and the ending was a little weak. Surely abiding in Christ is much more than studying the Bible?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Mainly that people were welcoming and genuinely friendly.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The drummer using spaghetti sticks. The guitarist sitting down. Lack of visual stimulants, both architectual and decorative.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
I do not recollect any mention of the Pope or many things outside the immediate concerns of the church.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The welcomers continued their good work and pointed out where I could get refreshments. I spoke to one or two of the band. Then I went into the hall at the rear for a drink and had long conversation with Frank, a pathologist, about the place of women in the church (they are not allowed to become pastors), and the elders/deacons system, which makes the Church of England episcopal hierarchy seem simple. I then had a chat with Peter (the pastor) and questioned his over-emphasis of Bible study as a means of abiding in Christ. By the time the conversation was over, everyone had gone and I had to be let out the back door.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Had a nice cup with saucer of tea (there was a choice of tea or coffee). I did not see any fair trade stuff. Then a very pleasant girl from Canada gave me a Custard Cream, which certainly beats Rich Tea biscuits.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I am, I'm afraid, a dyed in the wool Anglican who likes some ceremony, communion from a chalice and wonderful old buildings. Having said that, I would attend here in the future for the welcome, if nothing else.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I went to Waterloo Road Church with every intention of putting the metaphorical (Wellington) boot in. By the time I arrived I was in a good humour, Palace having beaten Liverpool and The Saints having been stuffed earlier that afternoon. By the time I left, I felt I had a glimpse of God's kingdom. The fact that people acknowledged my existence and were prepared to have meaningful conversations, sometimes at length, spoke volumes. Surely this is part of abiding in Christ.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The welcome.
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