Mystery Worshipper: Wes Charles
Church: St Martin's
Location: Barnehurst, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 January 2011, 10:30am
Built in 1936, it is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with a collection scheme to fund an as-yet unidentified project, possibly to put some glass doors on the church. Inside looks quite new, with whitewashed walls and brick columns. The altar is set quite far back from the congregation.
The church has a Sunday School, the children leaving part-way through the service. They also have a drama group and a reasonably sized choir.
Barnehurst was primarily woodland with a few cottages only 100 years ago. Houses and shops began coming in the early 20th century. Many of these had to be rebuilt after World War II, as there was heavy bomb damage to the area. The modern town is dominated by an early 1980s shopping centre. The Royal Mail does not recognise the name Barnehurst; to them it's Bexleyheath. In fact, an enquiry once elicited the following official reply: "The addition of the locality of Barnehurst into all addresses within the geographic area could lead to a deterioration in the service we provide." Some would regard that as an attempt at irony.
The Revd Gareth Bowen, vicar.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist
How full was the building?
Just under half full (about 120), but many of those were visitors for a christening. Apparently in general they get about 50, plus more at the earlier service and evensong.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed a hymn book and service sheet as I entered.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden chair, which served its purpose. Not uncomfortable but not possible to nod off!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy and chatty, but I put this down to the christening crowd rather than the regulars.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Unfortunately, I can't remember. I'd really rushed to get there on time and the service started five minutes late. I was pondering this point when it started and I forgot to notice!
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New and a printed service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
An electric organ, albeit one that sounded very good. It is new, with speakers that were apparently designed for the church.
Did anything distract you?
Mainly the crèche, which was just behind me and really noisy! It's nice that children came to the service, but it was really hard to hear what was being said at the front. The adults who were minding the crèche didn't really manage to calm the children down, although they tried! And a man sitting next to me kept turning to the same hymn (no. 500) every time we picked up the hymnal to sing something.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Sort of serious in a noisy way. It wasn't exactly stiff-upper-lip, but quite formal, despite all the noise from the crèche I felt the vicar was trying to make himself heard by people at the back, which wasn't easy! And the service had no Gloria, no Creed, and the shortest eucharistic prayer I've ever heard!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The vicar was quite clear to listen to and communicated his message well. The general style was quite conversational, which was nice. This was clearly a "come and find out more" sermon for the visiting baptism guests, and the vicar made a big point that you can't be a Christian unless you go to church a bit of a sweeping statement, but I knew what he was getting at.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Contrasting the message of the gospel against the stresses of modern life, he spoke about the modern lust for power and wealth (although I doubt it was any different at any other time) and contrasted it with Jesus coming from a humble background and eventually being despised and rejected. If it was good enough for him, it should be good enough for everyone.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It's hard to think of anything in particular. It's not that it was an unpleasant experience, and in fact I quite enjoyed the experience it's just that nothing really stood out as particularly heavenly. There was a moment that made me chuckle, as all the baptism visitors sat at the front and clearly didn't know what to do. At one point I caught the organist directing them to stand up and sit down at the right time!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, I thought I had this nailed at the start when the vicar cut two verses from the first hymn ("Crown him with many crowns"). I mean, what's the point? It really annoys me when people start messing around with something that is a complete work. Anyway, that got superseded by a part of the sermon that compared the decision of following Jesus with that of buying something on Amazon. And in the end, that itself was overshadowed by one of the godparents standing at the font chewing gum with her mouth open. OK, rant over!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't have time to hang around for long, but when we did, a few people came to say hello and have a chat. They seemed quite friendly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair trade but served in plastic cups. Why can't churches think of the environment a bit and use china, or at least paper?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I don't think today was a representative service, and I'd have liked to have experienced it without a baptism to see what it was really like. The vicar seemed good and the choir/musicians sounded good too. I think I'd have quite enjoyed it on a normal day as it seemed traditional enough for my tastes. The earlier service is from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I might try that at some point. Now if only they wouldn't cut verses from the hymns!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really. There were too many distractions from the crèche to really concentrate.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The man next to me and his fixation on hymn 500.