St John the Baptist, Leytonstone, London

St John the Baptist, Leytonstone, London


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Mystery Worshipper: Daedalus
Church: St John the Baptist
Location: Leytonstone, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 April 2009, 6:30pm

The building

The building dates from 1832 and is the work of Edward Blore, also noted for his work on Buckingham Palace and Lambeth Palace as well as on projects throughout the British Empire. St John's is a typical mid 19th century early English style church with a large surrounding Victorian graveyard, which was damaged during the Blitz in the Second World War. The pinnacled tower houses a ring of eight bells. The interior is modestly decorated with a fairly pretty quire.

The church

The community is very mixed and this is reflected in the congregation. The church organises many events, including concerts with its choir, children's groups, and bell ringing.

The neighborhood

Leytonstone, on the edge of Epping Forest, is a suburb of East London. There has been a community here for centuries, although everything looks pretty much 20th century today. The place does, however, retain some rural charm, as a large part of the parish is bordered by ancient woodland and common land.

The cast

The Revd Raymond Draper, vicar.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion (Common Worship)

How full was the building?

Practically empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was met by a very friendly greeter who handed me a hymn book and various pieces of paper.

Was your pew comfortable?

Nothing more special than you expect in most churches. That being said, I'm quite broad and the kneeling cushion was a tad small, so I had to kneel slightly uncomfortably.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and friendly, yet tense somehow.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome to this service of holy communion in St John's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymn book (Mission Praise) and an A4 service sheet with the words for common worship.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. Two ladies rather bravely led the singing of the hymns and parts of the service.

Did anything distract you?

I noticed to one side a copy of the Peters Projection Map, which, for those who don't know, is a geographically accurate map of the world. We were quite near a main road and so there was a lot of traffic noise. I also felt a little out of step when people started to sing the parts of the mass as I didn't know the tune.

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

Very much stiff-upper-lip, but I wouldn't have expected different!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

6 – The vicar's speaking style really began to drive me up a wall, and his pace was very slow.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Basically the benefits of belief in Jesus Christ and our status as children of God. Following the appearances of Christ after his resurrection, it is obvious to us that we believe in him rising from the grave.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

While we were singing the first hymn ("Be still for the presence of the Lord"), I was suddenly reminded of Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." This was a deeply spiritual moment for some reason but it passed fairly quickly. Also, at the sign of peace, everyone made an effort to shake hands with each other. The vicar must have shaken hands with everyone in the church.

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

I found the emptiness of the church rather depressing. I was by far and away the youngest person by a good 20 years. Before anything we were meant to do, the vicar insisted on pointing out where we were in the order of service (which frankly you'd think we would have known). The pace was so ploddingly slow, it was like walking down the street behind someone walking very slowly. Quite frustrating, though that's probably my own prejudice.

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

Not a lot. By the time I had settled on a place to stand, nearly everyone had left. I had a quick chat with one of the greeters, which was very pleasant. This is very obviously a tight-knit but friendly community.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Non-existent, though as it was an evening service I wasn't surprised.

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

5 – It was nice, but I don't think I would have the patience with the vicar, kind and pleasant though he was.

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

Not really. The sheer lack of people made me think about the future of the Church and where we have to go to make ourselves understood.

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

The feeling I got when I remembered the passage described above will certainly stay with me for quite some time.

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