|344: Elim Pentecostal, Wimbledon, London|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Berean Brother.
The church: Elim Pentecostal Church, Montague Road, Wimbledon, London SW19.
Denomination: Elim Pentecostal.
The building: Built in the early 1900s, but quite brightly painted inside and with wooden panels. Carpeted and well-lit and quite welcoming.
The church: According to their literature, they have people of "at least a dozen nationalities" attending, and a "ninety-one year age span". The church was founded following healing miracles at a series of Gospel meetings held by one of the founders of Elim, the late (and famous) George Jeffries. On a personal note, this was my second visit here my first being my baptism years ago when my church borrowed this one for their baptistry. I've not been back since.
The neighbourhood: Montague Road is a residential road which leads off one of the main arterial roads into London. It is in an area with a very high proportion of Asian and Afro-Caribbean residents and shops, the people having arrived during the last 30 years.
The cast: Pastor Marcus Bennett.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Morning Meeting.
How full was the building?
Mostly empty. Including the two of us, there were just 15 people in the congregation, although apparently there were a lot of people away on holiday the day we visited. I was told that they had recently planted another church in Mitcham which meets separately on Sunday mornings, so this would have had an effect. They have a joint meeting Sunday evenings, and I suspect that this fairly small building would be quite full then.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Oh yes! The pastor came straight over as soon as we walked in and welcomed us warmly all first name terms. Two young ladies were singing choruses on the dais, accompanied by a third on an electric piano, so there were no embarrassing silences. When we sat down, another gentleman sitting with his wife and two children also came across to say hello. Shortly into the service, the pastor asked everyone to go round to greet each other, and then one of the singers also came to speak. Not a particular criticism, but I was expecting, with only 13 other people there (and we obviously the only visitors), that we would have been approached by more than that.
Was your pew comfortable?
Bog standard stacking plastic chairs. OK.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As mentioned, there was quiet chorus singing (practising) before the meeting. Quite a hushed atmosphere from the congregation. At 11.00am (the advertised start time) the pastor and worship team went out of the hall, and re-appeared to start about six minutes later.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hallejujah! Are you awake?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None OHPs used throughout.
What musical instruments were played?
Electric piano, played by the pastor's wife. This accompanied the two lady singers mentioned above.
Did anything distract you?
The pastor used a radio mike, which was not quite loud enough to make his speech completely clear. With so few people there, it might have been better if we'd all moved into the first two rows of chairs rather than remaining spaced out all across the hall, then he wouldn't have needed it at all!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Interesting question this. The worship was almost exactly the style I have encountered in every Elim church I've ever been to a mixture of old and (fairly) new choruses, rendered in a restrained charismatic style. Nobody was too loud, and the clapping was hesitantly reverential. It all seemed familiar and yet I'm sure that not all Elim worship teams go to be trained at HQ! There were no hymns, though, which is out of the ordinary. I was impressed by the female trio of worship leaders. They were definitely leading worship, and not performing, which is a bane of modern churches.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 The pastor's style and mannerisms seemed to me more suited to a housegroup. He used a sort of conversational tone, with all his text passages and notes from other sources read out by the lady on the electric piano. This worked quite well, as she had a lovely clear voice, and read the scripture bits like she really believed it.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The "end times", using as his text 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I enjoyed reading properly the words of some of the choruses which I didn't know. Instead of just singing them without thinking, I was able to use them as a kind of prayer.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I wanted to go to the toilet at one stage and the door marked "toilets" was at the front of the hall, beside the two lady singers. I would have had to walk the gauntlet of all those eyes knowing where I was going! I restrained myself.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At first, we deliberately stayed in our seats to see whether we would be approached. We weren't. However, when we got up and made our way to the back to leave, the pastor and his wife both came and spoke warmly to us, inviting us to complete a form with our personal details so they could let us know about future events.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I was very surprised that there was nothing on offer. A pity really, as it was a fairly long service.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I am sure we caught them not at their absolute best this morning. A few more people would have made a huge difference. Had some other people spoken to us before or after the service I would have felt more at home.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Sure. Especially when the pastor spoke about "friendship Christianity". This has been a theme in the last three places I have been and it is so reassuring to know God is speaking to all his people with one voice.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sign on the inside of the front door as I left, which read: "You are now entering the Mission Field".