Mystery Worshipper: The Revelator
Church: St Edmunds
Location: Temple Hill, Kent, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 3 October 2010, 10:00am
The current building, dedicated in 2004, was built to replace the old 1950s church. It incorporates a number of programs, including Sure Start (a government initiative to reduce child poverty), a health visitor service, and a sexual health clinic. There is also a small cafe and communal IT facilities. The church itself is an octagonal room in the middle of the centre. On the back wall there is a rainbow parachute that reaches the floor, above which is a video screen. On the side walls are two very large depictions of Christ, one the crucified Jesus and the other the risen Lord. There is a small chapel at the back, looking out onto a small memorial garden. In the centre is the communion table, draped in a simple white cloth and a quilted front cloth. Seating is in a semicircle around the communion table. There is also a very well equipped crèche separated from the main room by reinforced glass.
They hold fundraising events both for the local community and overseas. They also sponsor regular prayer and discipleship groups, Messy Church, vocational training for lay and professional members, and a number of other programs all described on their website. The church is also explicitly welcoming to persons of all sexual persuasions and is affiliated with the local Affirming Catholicism group.
Dartford's Temple Hill council estate was developed in response to the post-World War II housing crisis. It was conceived as a town in miniature, with shops, social and sports facilities, and an extensive range of traditional houses and flats. Considered a success at first, it has over the years acquired a rather grim reputation. Many of the tiny houses are run down, and those that are not sulk under massive electricity pylons. It’s the sort of place where you expect to see a fight outside the local take-away. St Edmunds is near to Dartford Station and a short walk from the (soon to close) GlaxoSmithKline site.
The Revd Bob Callaghan, vicar, was the celebrant. Preaching was Andrew Carr, lay reader in training. Keith Gibson and two other people who were unnamed led the singing.
What was the name of the service?Celebration Worship.
How full was the building?
Approximately three-quarters full, with about 35 adults and perhaps 8 children of varying ages.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived as the "pre-service getting ready session" was in full swing. Quite a few people spoke to me: a gentleman sitting at a table, the vicar, and a couple of ladies who took an interest in my sewing, which I had brought along with me.
Was your pew comfortable?
They were purpose built wooden church chairs with padded seats. Comfortable in themselves, but they were a little too closely packed for my taste.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Tea, coffee, biscuits, and assorted cereals with milk were available at the "getting ready session." Everyone gathered around and talked. Children did children's things, singers rehearsed, etc. Everything had a nice joyful feel to it.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello and welcome. Mr Andrew Carr will be preaching today."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used a green service booklet and The Holy Bible, New International Version.
What musical instruments were played?
There were no instruments used. The music was all pre-recorded, although it was of a very good quality.
Did anything distract you?
Lots of children running around, but the service was specifically for children today, so that was to be expected. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Not much clapping, but definitely on the happy end of the spectrum. It was quite informal in places. There was no procession – the vicar, who was wearing a checked overshirt and jeans, just sort of wandered up to the front of the church and began the service. The readings – 2 Timothy 1:1-14 (don't be ashamed of your faith) and Luke 17:5-10 (even faith as small as a mustard seed can work miracles, but don't expect thanks) – were given by the vicar sitting at a low table and talking directly to the children. After one of the prayers, one of the children came out with a very loud "Amen!" The communion table was laid very efficiently by the children, and the vicar donned a hooded alb and rainbow stole for the eucharistic prayer and consecration. Wholemeal pita bread was used, and communion was taken standing up. After a final song and closing prayers, with more loud Amens from the children, the service ended.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Andrew Carr asked us to excuse his not sitting on the floor, as is the custom in this church, but said he had to use a chair. He also stood up and wandered around a bit.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A small amount of faith can lead to bigger things. Faith helped Andrew get through a recent bereavement. Love can work wonders too. Jesus loves us!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The fact that the church explicitly states that it is welcoming of gay people and that this genuine warmth and friendliness is expressed on meeting the people. Special mention must also go to the PA system, which did not even once malfunction or make any unwanted sounds whatsoever.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A cheap, common brand of coffee – and decaf to boot! Seating a bit too close together. To this stuffy old high churcher, shouted Amens grated after the first few, but everyone else liked them and the children enjoyed it.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance! A lady came over and invited me to coffee..
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was decaf so I drank tea instead. There was a large quantity of shortbread and chocolate brownies available, which went down well. Several people came and spoke to me. One lady said that some of the services at the church were a bit more formal but that their worship was geared to getting to know God. A few people asked me where in I lived, and the vicar invited me to a new members' meeting later in the month.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – It's a little out of my way, but I would certainly wish to maintain contact with this church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The warm welcome from the people.