Everyday Church, Clapham (Exterior)

Everyday Church, Clapham, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Everyday Church
Location: Clapham, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 April 2017, 11:00am

The building

The church meets in a cafe space of Lambeth College on the south side of Clapham Common. The college was formed in 1992 after the combination of three former institutions. The Clapham site underwent redevelopment work in 2013. The entrance to the cafe is situated just to the right of the main entrance and is quite easy to miss. The meeting took place in a very small room with noticeably low ceilings. Off to the left was a bar area upon which sat the refreshments, though the very large coffee machine at the back was not used.

The church

Everyday Church was founded in Wimbledon in 2012 by three churches with Methodist and Baptist backgrounds. There are six campuses across five London boroughs, with the church at Clapham having been planted about a year and a half ago. Because of this, some of the church members commute across, while others moved home to be closer to Clapham. There is also a separate online church in English, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian that complements the physical meetings. They also meet in life groups for friendship, care, challenge, discipleship and leadership development.

The neighborhood

Clapham, part of the London borough of Lambeth, is one of the most gentrified areas of London, with a high street full of trendy bars and restaurants. The heart of the area is Clapham Common, a 220 acre green space replete with joggers and dog walkers. Nearby Clapham Junction boasts that it is the busiest train station in the UK, though this is disputed and depends on how one defines "busy." The spiritual history of the area is dominated by the Clapham Saints, a group of evangelical social reformers who played a pivotal role in the abolition of slavery. Their members included the 18th century Anglican clergyman John Newton, who wrote the words to the hymn "Amazing Grace," and the 19th century champion of the abolitionist movement, William Wilberforce.

The cast

The service was mostly led by Zac Guy, venue pastor. The sung worship was led by his wife, Zoë Guy. There was also a testimony from a man named Michael.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Service.

How full was the building?

In such a small space, the 30 of us who attended did a good job of making it feel very full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

It took a little while to find the right door, as it wasn't entirely clear which part of the building the church met in. When I did eventually get inside, I was immediately met by someone who spotted me as a visitor straight away and was extremely friendly and helpful, telling me about the church, getting me a coffee, and inviting me to meet other people.

Was your pew comfortable?

We had wooden seats and they were marvelous. They were concave in all the right places, which was very helpful as I'd been suffering from a poor back that morning.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was quite bustling. There was some music played over the PA while people stood around chatting. Some toddlers were playing on a small mat by the front door. A countdown to the start of the service appeared on the screen, at which point Zac scrambled to try to get his microphone attached.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Well, good morning, everyone."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There were no books. There was a single screen that showed the slides for the sermon, the videos, and the lyrics for the songs. On the seats were a Gift Aid envelope and a small welcome pack, which included a free pen.

What musical instruments were played?

There was just an acoustic guitar.

Did anything distract you?

As the whole church was in one room, the noise of the young children disturbed us a few times. I was also a little put out by the colour scheme on the slides. There was a yellow box on a purple background. In the UK, this particular colour scheme has one of two political associations. Firstly, the "Standing at the back and looking stupid party" from an episode of Blackadder III. Secondly, the far right UK Independence Party (UKIP). I'm not sure if the connotations were intended or merely careless.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

This was very low church, with the one exception of an Isaac Watts hymn to give a slightly more middle-of-the-road feel. Other than that, it was a mix of music from the American worship group Bethel Music and the contemporary worship songwriter Stuart Townend. Fitting in with the ethos of "everyday," the leaders were dressed casually in jeans and shirts. There was no communion in this service. At one point, a young man called Michael was invited up to give a testimony about the interaction between his faith and his depression.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

40 minutes all in all. This was split up into several sections, with scripture readings and sung worship interspersing the preaching. It was later explained to me that they had tried to model the service on a traditional carol service. While this could be seen in hindsight, it wasn't entirely apparent at the time.

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

5 – Zac took a fair few liberties with his paraphrasing of some texts, which was reflective of a broader, very casual style. He also had a unique way of pronouncing the word "scourging" that made it sound more "score-gin."

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was a paraphrasing of the Passion narrative, based largely on Luke, who was (he said) "a doctor and a great historian." This included a graphic description of the violence meted out upon Jesus. Jesus' death is regarded as good because we deserved to be punished for our rebellion against God. The Resurrection then demands a response, to which we might dismiss the idea and put it in the same basket as UFOs or life in distant galaxies. But what if Jesus did exist, lived a life without sin, died, and was raised to life? What difference does that make? (At this point, Zac got rather diverted into a story about wanting to meet Jimi Hendrix, before closing with an invitation for people to pray a particular prayer. We were asked to close our eyes and raise our hand if we had been "converted." No one did.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I was very moved by Michael's testimony of his depression. It's hard enough to talk about such things privately, so to stand up in front of a room full of people and talk openly took some considerable courage, for which I congratulate and thank him.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Zac's attempts at humour were an unmitigated disaster. While a little frivolity is not amiss in a church service, he not only failed to be funny but then laboured the point. For example, I don't think anyone ever gets confused between Pontius Pilate and pirates.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I had a short chat with both Zac and Zoë about the church and what brought me there that morning. Eventually, I made my excuses and wandered off, tucking the Mystery Worshipper card under a basket full of Easter eggs, as there had been no collection taken during the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was pleasantly strong. I had a cup at the start of the service, but certainly didn't need another at the end. There was a good selection of pastries on offer. Some medium sized Easter eggs were distributed at the end of the service.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 – It felt like a church that is there to serve a niche – that niche being a predominantly young, previously unchurched demographic. To paraphrase St Paul, it is a church that serves spiritual milk. Great for some, but perhaps not for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Just about.

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

The warm, friendly welcome.

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