The church meets at Crofton Baptist Church. The main body of the building is only just inside the front door, all on a level, making it wheelchair accessible, though to get to the back hall one does need to go up some steps. The main body is very modern in appearance, with a strong white and purple theme. On the far wall there was a large wooden cross. The back hall, where the coffee was served, had appalling, echoey acoustics that made conversation very difficult.
The church has been going for five years, after it was planted out of Grace Church Dulwich, some four miles to the west, which itself was a church plant out of St Helen's Bishopsgate. At present, the church is looking into the possibility of making a further church plant in nearby Catford, a mile to the south. The church holds midweek fellowship groups where groups of six to ten people meet to pray, study the Bible, and get to know one another. They are linked to various local and national social action campaigns, including Lewisham Foodbank, Street Pastors, and Christians Against Poverty.
The church is located on the border between the districts of Brockley and Crofton Park, both within the London borough of Lewisham. Across the road is a large cemetery. The area of Brockley takes its name from "brock," an old English word for a badger, though these days the area is populated more by friendly neighbourhood cats, working professionals, and arts students at Goldsmiths. It was once home to the comedian Spike Milligan, who referenced it heavily in his memoir Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall.
The service was led by the minister, Ray Brown. The sermon was given by a visiting minister, John Samuel.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
It was a little over half full, with around 60 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered the door, someone behind a table handed me a Bible. The minister spotted me as a visitor and a made a beeline for me, greeting me with a good handshake. After taking my seat, I was also greeted by one of the elders, Simon Abrams.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had plush cushioned seats in a fetching shade of purple. The backs leant back slightly and had good lumbar support. They were wide enough to accommodate the worshipper of greater width, and there was plenty of leg room for the worshipper of greater height. A more comfortable seating experience would be hard to come by.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People came in and chatted to one another, but took their seats promptly ready for the service to start.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"So it's four 'o clock. A very warm welcome to Grace Church Brockley."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We read from The Holy Bible, New International Version, which was marked as "First Edition," which struck me as unusual, not least because it appeared to be fairly new. The words to all the songs were projected onto a single screen, as were the notices.
What musical instruments were played?
It was led by a keyboard and guitar, aided by flute and drums. The musicians were accompanied by a couple of singers.
Did anything distract you?
Two babies did, for differing reasons. One in front of me spent the entire service asleep and looked absolutely adorable. The other, behind me, started crying rather loudly in the middle of the sermon.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was very middle of the road, with a fair mix of older hymns and more modern choruses, including "In Christ Alone" and a truncated version of "Amazing Grace." The service was loosely themed around a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It included a video presentation that showed a simplified account of the life of Martin Luther, depicted in animated Playmobil toys. Though an independent evangelical church, they retain some vestiges of their Anglican roots, such as the "This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God" language after the scripture reading.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – John Samuel is a slightly unusual preacher. He had about him the air of a columnist for either The Times or The Guardian. He spoke with great clarity and had a rich voice that would not be out of place reading the news on Radio 4. Though a visiting preacher, John carried on a sermon series that he was doing at his home church on the "Alones" of the Reformation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Christ Alone. The passage in focus was Acts 4:12 (salvation in no one else but Christ), looking at the uniqueness of Jesus' person. His incarnation was likened to a bridge across the Thames, where Jesus had to be fully God and fully human, just as a bridge must exist on both sides of the river simultaneously. The sermon moved on to look at sacrifices, positing that Jesus' death was wholly necessary. Intelligent worshippers in Old Testament times would've been very aware that the sacrifice of an animal would not suffice, as Paul pointed out in Hebrews 10:4. With reference to Martin Luther, it was stated that his battle was with sacramentalists, but that the question of the person of Jesus was never in dispute though today there is no such agreement.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the end of the sermon, there was a Q&A session. It had to be kept short, as the visiting minister had to catch a train over to the other side of London. But I thought it was good that the congregation had a chance to question and even to challenge the sermon. That said, one of the questions turned into a bit of a ramble about blood sacrifices in black magic and ended up with talk of portals opening up between this world and the spiritual realm. I don't think I was alone in being both confused and uncomfortable with this part of the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
In my discussions with the church members, I detected distinct hints of snootiness about other churches, particularly Anglo-Catholics. It wasn't a sort of friendly banter there was a nasty edge to it, implying that what other churches taught wasn't in line with the Bible. I found it lacking in grace and it made me feel a bit uncomfortable.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Before I had a chance to look lost, someone came over to say hello and introduce themselves, before inviting me to the back hall for some coffee. I spoke to quite a few members of the church, all of whom seemed very interested in knowing whether I was a Christian and what I thought of the service. At times, though, they struck a slightly sour note by some disparaging of other Christian traditions, in particular Anglo-Catholicism.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The rather good filter coffee was served in a robust but somewhat generic mug. I noted that Ray Brown, the minister, was on the team both serving the coffee and clearing up afterwards, which struck me as a nice example of servant leadership.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I got the impression that this is a church that is Reformed with a big "R," which doesnt quite line up with my theology. But I was made to feel as though I was among friends.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Most of it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The Playmobil Reformation.