Mystery Worshipper: Ken T Poste
Church: Dulwich Grove United Reformed
Location: East Dulwich, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 August 2013, 11:00am
An impressive but not overbearing red-brick structure, built in the late 19th century, with a steeple just higher than the level of the houses nearby, making it easy to spot on approach. The interior is well appointed, with a dark wood balcony on either side of the building.
The congregation have been meeting here as a United Reformed Church since the 8th October 1972. There is a list on the wall of all those who were present on that day, some of whom were still present on the day I visited.
East Dulwich is a residential area in south London that has seen gentrification in recent years. The organic food shops, trendy boutiques and good restaurants located along Lordship Lane, at the heart of the district, make it an attractive area for the lively young professional crowd. The church is situated in a leafy area just a few steps from East Dulwich train station and Dulwich Hospital.
The service was introduced briefly by Pat Smith, but most of the service was led by the minister, the Revd Iain McLaren.
What was the name of the service?The service didnt have a title, but it did include the ordination of a new elder as well as her induction and the induction of another elder to replace two who were stepping down after serving a fixed term
How full was the building?
If you included the empty balconies as potential seating, then the church was about 20 per cent full, with around 40 adults present and a handful of young children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There was good teamwork on display. One person held the door open for me, another filled my hand with books, and another shook me by the hand as they asked if I was visiting.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had individual chairs that were well padded. It was noticeable that some had little memorial plaques on their backs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
In terms of the people, it was quiet. There were a few pockets of isolated chatter. However, the organist was playing very loudly and it did give me a headache.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were handed Bibles and a hymn book called Rejoice and Sing (melody edition). I was later told that they had a problem with people stealing the Bibles and the large print editions of the hymn books. So from now on, the new Bibles were to be kept in a safe.
What musical instruments were played?
Just the organ. There was a drum kit that was set up behind the organ, but it was not used.
Did anything distract you?
I couldnt get over the idea that the organist bore something of a resemblance to the title character from The Demon Headmaster, a series of British children's books and television shows popular in the 1980s. Plus, as mentioned earlier, it was a very loud organ. Given it was the summer holidays, the children stayed in the service all the time and they got a little restless by the time we got to holy communion.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was fairly formal, but not dour. Most of the hymns dated from mid-19th to mid-20th century. I think youd be unlikely to hear anything by Graham Kendrick or Stuart Townend here.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Revd Iain McLaren is a very clear communicator and made his message understood, though it was a little too short to encapsulate any great detail. I would have preferred something longer and with a little more depth.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about holy communion (which we celebrated later) and how it became a sign that one was part of a Christian community, just as the Passover meal had done previously for the Jews.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a lovely moment near the start of the service where three birthdays were announced, and flowers were brought out and given to each person who was celebrating that week.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a moment where anyone who was new was asked to stand up. I was the only person who stood up, making me feel rather exposed and awkward.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was given a Bible and a welcoming card, with several people wanting to ask me what brought me to Dulwich Grove. I was then shown where the tea and coffee were being served.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very good. The coffee was served in a small mug and they asked whether I wanted it black or white and how strong I liked it. I prefer this by far to someone making an assumption. I was told that normally they have biscuits, but these were not around today as those who were being inducted as elders had brought cake.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It was wonderfully friendly. It is clearly a close-knit community but not so tight that newcomers are made to feel like intruders.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Even though the organ gave me a headache, it was a lovely, simple celebration of holy communion.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Probably the sharing of the peace, which, even though it was a small congregation, lasted for about as long as the sermon.