From the outside, it appears to be a traditional Baptist chapel. Once you get inside you get a mixture of the old and the new. There are old-fashioned pews in place, but the building has evidently had a fresh lick of paint, which makes it look very smart. Its well kitted-out in terms of the PA equipment and projection. There were a few random pictures dotted about and quite a gruesome looking cross on the old pulpit, above and behind the low-rise stage from which the worship team led and from where the sermon was preached.
They have undergone a lot of changes recently. The modern appearance of the inside is largely attributed to the pastor, who has been there for two years, following a seven-year-long interregnum. Theres a childrens ministry called Crazy Club, which is well-supported. The church also runs an Alpha course from time to time.
The church is situated in a residential area on a corner of Lordship Lane, which is a busy road going through the heart of East Dulwich, a fairly well-to-do part of south London, between Peckham to the north and Forest Hill to the south. The church is a few yards from a blue plaque marking the birthplace of the 20th century English writer of children's books Enid Blyton (also known as Mary Pollock); the place is now occupied by a builders supply emporium.
No individual really led the service. We went straight into worship, with a couple of the singers occasionally giving a verse or a thought. The notices were given by "Winston", who bore a resemblance to the actor Michael Clark Duncan, towering over everyone else. The sermon was given by "Richard", a member of the leadership team, as the regular pastor was away on holiday. No surnames were used at any time.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service
How full was the building?
It filled up throughout the service. Five minutes before it was due to start, there were just four of us, then there was a sudden influx and people continued to come in up to half an hour late. In the end, the church was a little under half full, with about 60 adults and few children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not initially. There was no one on the door when I arrived ten minutes before the start of the service. Eventually a couple of people came over to shake my hand, say hello, and ask if this was my first time at the church.
Was your pew comfortable?
Unfortunately not. Though much of the décor was modern, the pews were just hard and wooden, with no cushions. After the service, more than one person expressed a wish for the pews to go and to be replaced with chairs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Sparse. There were just a few of us there, with no conversations going on, whilst some modern worship music was piped through the PA system. It was only as the service started that the place bubbled into life with lots of greetings going on between members of the congregation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Morning, Church!" which was delivered by one of the singers with some gusto. This was followed by a short reading from Jeremiah 29:11-13 (God has plans for us).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. All songs were projected onto a screen, as were most of the scriptures. They tended to use either the New International Version of the Bible or something called the Truth Version, which is not one Ive come across before (it seemed to be an abridged version of the Bible containing "key verses" of insight).
What musical instruments were played?
There was an electric keyboard, two electric guitars, a bass guitar, and drums. The building hosts an organ, which apparently hasnt been played for several years.
Did anything distract you?
The screen was occasionally obscured by someone waving a big flag at the front of the church. For some reason, they changed the flag with each song, so we had quite a variety of colours on display. The preachers accent also meant that he kept pronouncing "fasting" to sound like the colloquialism that means to pass wind, which meant I had to stifle a giggle.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was fairly happy-clappy. I dont think any of the songs we sung were more than about 20 years old. We went through quite a few songs in 40 minutes, though given the hardness of the pews, I didnt mind standing for that long. The band were very professional, with an evident mix of skill and passion that was just right. There was a risk that it could have been more of a performance, but they just held back and allowed the congregation to be part of the worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Richard was very lively and charismatic, though he stopped short of being overly flamboyant. He covered quite a lot of ground quite quickly, drawing out sound-bytes, but without constructing a thorough theological exposition. He sauntered from one side of the room to the other throughout the sermon, rarely standing still for more than a few seconds. He was very keen on audience participation, asking for responses and saying things like, "I cant hear you!" if he wasnt satisfied with the volume. This annoyed me quite a bit, though it may appeal to others.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Life in the Spirit. The church was likened to the Olympic cauldron, with a fire that the whole world can see, but it only works if each individual has a fire within them. This was contrasted against the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. There was a little on Galatians 5 (walk in the Spirit and be free) and the characteristics that God hates and those God loves, focusing particularly on discord and patience respectively. The end of the sermon consisted of putting various "promises" on the screen and getting the congregation to read them aloud and to believe them and "claim" them.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The worship was lovely. There was some real passion there. It was clear that is was a church that has a lot of emotional engagement with the music and the words.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The area where the teas and coffees were served had one of the dirtiest carpets Ive ever seen. I was aghast at the children rolling around on it, as well as being wary of them knocking into me and making me spill the coffee, as the carpet indicated this had happened before.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the people who shook my hand just before the service made a beeline for me and we had a little chat about the church. I was then invited for a drink and quizzed on my church background.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Teas and coffees were on offer. After initially being given a cup of tea without asking for one, I was able to get a coffee. It was quite reasonable, if not spectacular. A few biscuits were on offer, though they were quite dry ideal for those who like biscuits dunked in their tea. I might have got there a little late, so perhaps there were better biscuits available earlier.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Its a little hard to tell. The worship was wonderful, but the sermon less so. However, as the regular pastor was away, I dont know what a "normal" sermon might be like.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes and no. It was great to worship there, though I would have been embarrassed if Id have brought along a non-Christian friend to listen to the sermon. It was a little hard-line and had little but condemnation for the non-Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The swagger and stage-show style of the preacher.