Its a mixture of the old and the new. The current building was opened in 1902, though parts of it date back to 1877. It has been updated recently, with a lightening of the spectacular wooden ceiling. The simple stained glass windows were contrasted against a fairly vibrant banner and some flags at the front.
They have outgrown the building, so there are now two services in the morning and another in the evening. They have various groups for the youth, up to and including those aged 17. The church also supports a local food bank. The evening services host a "healing room." There are mid week Life Groups (house groups), Jelly Tots (for mums and tots) and Friendly Club (for the over 60s). They also play host to various conferences and mission events. At the time of visiting, I was given information about a forthcoming weekend of teaching about healing and a prayer week. The church has a shop on Streatham High Road that sells various Christian books, CDs, DVDs, cards, gifts, etc.
Streatham is quite a bustling area in the South London borough of Lambeth. The church is located in the middle in a quiet residential street, just off the main road and a three minute walk from Streatham train station. It is a stone's throw from Streatham Common ideal for a summer picnic or an after-church round of sports.
The service was led by Neil Charlton, the churchs youth minister, who also preached.
What was the name of the service?All Age Service
How full was the building?
It was about three-quarters full; at a rough estimate I would say there were about 120-150 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was given a bulletin as I walked in by a chap who welcomed me. Mid-way through the service, they asked who was new, at which point I raised my hand and was given a welcome pack with a plethora of leaflets in it, plus a cereal bar.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had padded chairs that were very nice. They had a little shelf on the back to put your Bible and notebook, with the tell-tale hole cut out for an individual communion cup, common in a lot of Baptist churches.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite low-key. The worship band finished practising as I came in. There was some checking of the microphones and then some almost jazz caf style music was piped in the building. People said a few hellos and shook hands with one another as the place filled up.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We welcome you, Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books. You could request a Bible from one of the stewards, though all songs and Bible verses were on screens. The main projector screen was at the front, though for those further back there were TV screens on either side wall.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, a semi-acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums. The drums were kept behind a Perspex screen.
Did anything distract you?
I noticed a curious little box in the corner marked "Prayer requests and words of prophecy" I wondered what prophecies may be contained within.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The tone changed throughout: the first few worship songs seemed quite modern though meditative, and they were followed up with some more upbeat dancing. The service revolved around a recent mission trip to Ukraine that many of the youth had attended recently with a charity called Global Action. There was also a very powerful little drama that the youth put on about the power of Gods love and the things that can get in the way.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The sermon followed on from the drama and the testimonies of the youth. It was short and punchy, well-aided with the use of some slides.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The message of hope. It was likened to a cure for a disease. It is imperative on us to share it. Some Christians find it easier to talk for a long time about football, celebrity culture, or current affairs than to talk about hope. This was contrasted with 1 Peter 3:15 ("Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have").
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Some of the youth group who had come back from Ukraine gave their testimonies. They were very articulate and honest about their experiences. It was great to see so many, so young, so passionate.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Though it could be described as heavenly, I shuddered when I heard the words "Now the youth will lead us in some action songs." There were elaborate dance moves demonstrated and most of the church joined in, though its not to everyones taste, least of all mine.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I chatted a little to the couple who were sat next to me, who filled me in about the church. I was then invited to the atrium for coffee and was introduced to a few friendly people.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very good. The coffee was warm, but not so hot that you have to wait for half an hour before it's drinkable. It was served in an unchipped ceramic mug. There was a good selection of biscuits; I helped myself to a ginger nut.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I was told that this was not a typical service, though there was no indication of this when I was researching before the visit. I would like to return to experience a more regular service. But it certainly made a good impression on me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The twin themes of hope and love were really strong, expressing the heart of the gospel in a practical, modern setting.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The drama that the youth group did. It was really well done. Clearly a lot of rehearsals had gone into it and it was very moving.