City of Peace Community Church meets in a room at Canary Wharf College, a Christian school accepting students ages 4 through 18. Given the hard floor and the markings upon it, the room appeared to be a small sports hall. It was very light and airy. A small wooden cross had been placed on a covered table at the front. Everything happened on the ground floor, with no steps, so it would be readily wheelchair accessible.
City of Peace was started in 2002 and has met in a few locations around the Isle of Dogs in this time. From what I could gather, it was spun off from another church in the area, taking many of the members with it. The church is affiliated with the London City Mission. City of Peace is currently in an interregnum, as their minister left two months ago.
The Isle of Dogs is a peninsula in East London that forms part of the borough of Tower Hamlets. Though a peninsula, it is usually referred to as an island and has a character of its own that makes it an unusual corner of London. One congregation member described it to me as a giant cul-de-sac, as it gets no through-traffic, making it relatively quiet. The north side of the Isle is dominated by the high rise buildings of London's financial district, including Canary Wharf tower, which was the tallest building in Britain from 1991 until the Shard was built in 2012 (so called because its all-glass conical facade resembles a giant shard of glass). The southern part of the Isle is more residential, with a large park in the centre of it.
The church was led by Simon (no surname given; not identified on their website so far as I can tell), one of the three church elders. The sermon was given by a visiting preacher, Colin Clark.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Meeting.
How full was the building?
It was about two-thirds full. People came in throughout most of the service, with about 40 or so present, representing a broad range of ages and nationalities.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone opened the door for me and spotted me as a newcomer, asking what brought me here. After taking my seat, I was approached by Hilton, one of the elders, and we chatted for a bit, which was only interrupted when the person who met me on the door brought over a notice sheet.
Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on generic blue plastic chairs that got a bit uncomfortable after 20 minutes.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Arriving eight minutes before the start of the service, I found the place deserted. It seems the congregation like to arrive either just in time for the start of the service or up to half an hour afterwards. The worship leader was practising a few songs.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Simon opened the service by saying, "Good morning, everybody. Welcome to City of Peace." Somebody then heckled him, asking him to speak up.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The notice sheet had a sketch outline of the service and the relevant scripture passage printed on it. The visiting preacher read from the New Living Translation, which wasn't the version that was printed. The songs were projected onto a wall at the front of the church.
What musical instruments were played?
It was a very simple setup, with a single guitar and two singers.
Did anything distract you?
At several points in the service there was an odd sound that came from the ceiling. It sounded a little like rain, but it wasn't raining. It was like a strange creaking, which prompted someone to joke that the roof was going to fall in. Also, during the sermon, through some glass panels on side of the room, one could see a child repeatedly escaping from the children's workers and getting up to various antics including ringing a small bell and sticking his head in a bin. Each time he was picked up and carried back to the room where the rest of the children were.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Before the service, Hilton said that it would be fairly conservative and not charismatic. I didn't see many signs of a particularly conservative approach, but it certainly wasn't charismatic. In fact, I would say it was quite lifeless. The songs were sung without passion and the service leader, Simon, seemed to lack any conviction to what he said.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Colin spoke confidently and clearly, but his sermon lacked structure, often getting diverted onto personal anecdotes seemingly unrelated to the passage. At one point he took off the jacket of his light suit and later dropped to his knees to make a point, while he was noticeably starting to froth slightly at the mouth.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Under the heading of "It's all about Jesus," it was very loosely based on Luke 17:1-10, where Jesus appears to advocate an aloof and ungrateful attitude towards servants. It's a tricky passage to a modern, Western understanding. Much of what Jesus taught was about what our lives would look like if we were to follow him; so did Jesus get it wrong when he said that a slave, hot and tired from working all day in the field, should be ordered to cook and serve dinner rather than be allowed to eat? There followed a cultural history lesson about 1st century attitudes toward slaves and servants, though the question was circumvented rather than answered.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The words for the songs were controlled by a laptop computer that was being operated by a young child who I would estimate was around 7 or 8 years old. It struck me as a nice example of including the children in the service of the church. He also seemed to garner joy from doing it.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Any time Simon was speaking, the life was drained from the service. It wasn't that he was unpleasant, but he made the whole service seem unutterably drab and lifeless.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One chap came up to speak to me and he then whisked me around the room, introducing me to various people. We all sang Happy Birthday to a boy, his son, who had just turned 2, and shared in a rather sumptuous birthday cake, while the same boy enjoyed tugging at the base of my shirt.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Since I was being taken on a whistle-stop tour of the church, I wasn't able to get any coffee, which was a shame as it looked and smelt pretty good.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – It's the kind of church I would normally go to, but it just didn't click with me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No; it left me feeling quite flat.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The antics of the young child who kept escaping.