The church building has had some work done on it in the last few years, with an extension and an internal refurbishment. The old church entrance is now a fire exit, with the entrance at the opposite end. The main church hall is now in a sideways orientation, with a low-rise stage. The layout is sideways, meaning that there are only about half a dozen rows, but each row is very long. The pale walls and beige/rose carpet, along with the high ceiling, give the place a very light and airy feel. Access to the church is step-free.
They recently marked their 275th anniversary. Though there is scant information on the church website, during the intercessory prayers there were hints that the church supports a number of missionaries and missionary societies overseas. The church also has midweek home groups for contrasting ends of the age spectrum: Youth & children and the Not so young.
Sevenoaks is a fairly well-to-do town just outside of London, with good transport links into the capital as well as further out in Kent to places like Canterbury and Dover. In the immediate vicinity of the church, the term "Vine" appears a lot. Some think that the Vine cricket pitch, one of the oldest in England and still there today, was once a vineyard for the Archbishop of Canterbury; hence the name. To the south-east of the town is Knole Park, a 1,000 acre deer park centred around Knole House, built by Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the mid-late 15th century.
The service was led by the Revd Jim Crockett, minister, who also preached. Prayers were led by Monica, whose surname wasn't given.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
It was a little over half full, with about 50-60 people present mostly the over 60 crowd, while there was a noticeable dearth of anyone in the 20-40 age group.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Upon arrival I was met at the door by a well-dressed gentleman, who offered a good handshake and handed me a notice sheet with the bold claim that it contained all the information I'd want to know. After I took my seat, several people spied me as a visitor and came over to give their own welcomes. They were a very friendly bunch.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were replaced a few years ago. In their place are some sumptuously padded chairs. I could quite happily have spent the whole day on them. They were amongst the most comfortable seating I have ever experienced in a church.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a gentle hubbub of chatter as people mostly gathered at the back of the church, while some music was piped through the church. The minister tapped the stand in front of him, waiting for people to take their seats.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone. Good to see you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
On the underside of each seat was a copy of The Holy Bible, New International Version. There were no hymn books, as all songs were displayed on a single screen. Each of the songs had their lyrics shown against a different backdrop of stock pictures, including butterflies, landscapes and silhouetted figures.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a slightly unusual combination of an electric keyboard, a piano, a cello, and a set of drums. There were also three singers on stage.
Did anything distract you?
The keyboard was a definite distraction. It was on a strange setting that gave it a certain jaunty feel, and it ended up rather dominating the other instruments. All through the sung worship, the minister kept waving his hands about, almost as though he were conducting an orchestra, only it seemed more an expression of enthusiasm rather than of direction to the congregation.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a fairly middle of the road worship, perhaps with a soupcon of the happy-clappy. Most songs were taken either from Vineyard albums or from Songs of Fellowship. After the sung worship, we had intercessory prayers. Then there was a reading and the sermon. The whole service was quite simple and short. It was free from liturgy and there was no communion this week.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Revd Jim Crockett was a good speaker who peppered his sermon with the occasional gentle humour. I couldn't quite identify his accent. I suspect he may be Scottish but has spent several decades in the south of England. Occasionally there was a slight stammer in his speech.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Entitled "Transforming how I see money," it was an exposition of Luke 16:1-13 (the parable of the shrewd manager). Money can be used for great things or bad things. There were two reasons Jesus told this parable: First, he knew the Pharisees were hypocrites who loved money. Second, most people are poor money managers. Everything that we have is a gift from God, given to us to test us. Money tests what we love the most, what we trust the most, and whether God can trust us. We should love people and use money, but all too often we get that the wrong way round. Generous people will prosper, so give unselfishly to others. The shrewd steward did three things right that we can learn from: First, he looked ahead. Second, he made a plan. Third, he acted quickly. The best use of money is to invest in getting people into heaven.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a lovely moment at the start when the church noted that one couple were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. The couple were presented with flowers and a card. When asked what the secret was to their long marriage, the husband responded, "Keeping quiet and behaving yourself." The response garnered many knowing chuckles.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It wasn't particularly hellish, just out of place. At the start of the sermon, because it related to money, the church lights were dimmed and then the screen was playing the music video for Abba's song "Money, money, money." The minister said that Abba was one of his favourite groups. Dramatic, but it felt like it was just an excuse to subject the congregation to his particular kind of music.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the people who said hello to me before the service came over and enquired if I'd enjoyed the service. We then went to the extension of the church for some coffee, whereupon a couple of other people introduced themselves.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was quite reasonable. The mug was only partially filled, seemingly on the assumption that people would pour quite a lot of milk in, though there wasn't the option to top up with hot water. There was also a good selection of cakes on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It's a very welcoming community, though being in my 30s, I would be something of a rarity there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The minister's gently waving arms.