The church meets at Ark Oval Primary Academy, a local school. It is seemingly very recently built, with quite low ceilings. It had been a chilly, windy day, but with the number of people in the room, it got a little warm. From the street to the room where we met, there were no steps, so it would be wheelchair accessible.
The church is only three years old, having been started as a joint plant from two Anglican churches: St Helen's Bishopsgate and Christ Church Bromley. Redeemer itself, though, is independent. From chatting to people and looking through the notice sheet, I gathered that the main ministries include Friendship Fridays, where people get to know to one another; MANday nights fellowship for men: "Because the world needs men, not just males. An evening of Bible, beer and food"; a monthly prayer meeting; and an opportunity for a theology Q&A.
Croydon is the most populous borough of London, though perhaps not the most popular. It has a reputation for being a bit run down, which can be seen by wandering through the local shopping precinct, where a lot of the shops spaces are. There is also a derelict pub opposite the school where the church meets. For a south London suburb, it has an unusually high concentration of high-rise office blocks. Its biggest advantage is its transport network, as it is very well served by trains, buses and trams, making journeys into central London very easy.
The service was led by elder and lead pastor Will Dobbie, who also preached. The reading was done by someone named Ellis (no surname given) and the notices were given by Kuku, whom their website identifies as Rachel "Kuku" Kamangira.
What was the name of the service?It didnt have a name, but their website uses the term "meeting" to refer to their Sunday morning programme.
How full was the building?
It was so full, they had to put out extra chairs at the back. At a rough headcount, I would say there were about 100 people present. The church had a broad range of ages and ethnicities, though it had an unusually high concentration of those in the 20-40 age bracket.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was met outside the building by a youngish chap in a high-vis jacket, stood in front of a large banner. He was handing out leaflets to passers-by, inviting them in, and was momentarily shocked that someone accepted his invitation, until I told him I was planning to come anyway. He escorted me inside and introduced me to his wife, who in turn introduced me to several other people. Pastor Will gave me a welcome pack that contained a connection card, which was for your personal details so the church could contact you; a list of possible ways to serve; a leaflet about the children's work; a token for a free coffee with the pastor; a Redeemer Croydon branded pen; and a small bag of sweets.
Was your pew comfortable?
Being that the service was based in a school, we had small blue plastic chairs that weren't too bad, but may be uncomfortable for the worshipper of broader width. They were, however, placed rather too close together, so one inevitably ended up in closer proximity to one's neighbour than one might have wished.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very chatty and amiable. People came in throughout the half hour build-up, filling up the space at the back of the room. We were given a three minute warning when the service was about to start, to encourage people to take their seats, which was very well adhered to.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Morning, everyone. A warm welcome to you. I'm Will."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The words to all the songs were put up on a wall at the front of the church. Given the low ceiling, though, it could be hard to see the projections if you had someone taller than yourself stood in front of you. Every seat had a church Bible (English Standard Version translation) on it, which had Redeemer Croydon branding on the front. Inside the front cover was a notice sheet. I didn't spot any large print editions for those who may need them.
What musical instruments were played?
The sung worship was led by a capable keyboardist, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a cajón, a box shaped drum.
Did anything distract you?
During the sermon, I glanced over a few times at the three man team who were on the sound and vision desk, all of whom seemed to be more interested in their mobile phones than in fixing the slides for the sermon presentation, which weren't working for most of the time.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was middling, with a slight lean to the happy clappy side. We sung some hymns and some more modern worship songs. There was only a light amount of liturgy, which was used at the communion part of the service. It was a very short service, at a little over an hour long, so the sermon took up much more time than any other part.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Will is clearly well accustomed to public speaking and had a quite down-to-earth manner.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This was the start of a new seven-part series looking at the Book of Ruth. The place that Ruth and her family were originally sojourning through was Moab. Moab is a place of separation from God and we've all been there; some us may be there still. It always starts with a sojourn, but sometimes we end up staying there. To avoid going to Moab ourselves, we need to keep returning to the God of grace.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This is a very welcoming church. Though spotted as a visitor, I was made to feel at home. The coffee certainly helped to warm up my hands.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At a few points early in the service, Pastor Will's microphone kept crackling, which made it difficult to hear what he was saying.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Given that most people had caught up with one another before the service, many people filed out fairly promptly. I sat and had a bit of a chat with the person who was sat next to me. On my way out, I spoke briefly with Pastor Will, who was stood by the door, seemingly to ensure no one left without him personally saying good-bye. He encouraged me to fill in a connection card, but he did come across slightly too pushy at this point, which made me feel a little uncomfortable.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was served before the service. There were three urns placed on a table: one labelled fairtrade coffee, one labelled decaff coffee, and the other wasn't labelled, though I surmised that this was hot water for the tea drinkers. I had the fairtrade coffee in a Redeemer Croydon branded mug, which was very nice. One of the much better coffees I've had in a few years of Mystery Worshipping.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I'd want to explore their theology a bit more, as I noticed the beliefs section of their website linked to the website of the American Calvinist Baptist pastor John Piper. But, on the basis of my visit, I'd come back if I lived in the area.
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 overall sense of the very warm welcome, albeit slightly tarnished by Pastor Will's pushiness at the very end.