|437: Harlesden Baptist, Harlesden, London|
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Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: Harlesden Baptist, Harlesden, London.
The building: Red brick building with white edging to doors and windows, a high spire with a slate roof, and a rose window above the double doors. Inside, a typical central pulpit with room for several people. The lights were in hanging clusters with flower-shaped lampshades. One central modern illuminated cross. There was a balcony, not in use that night.
The church: Almost everyone was black. I imagine that as the white population of the area stopped churchgoing, the church may have been revived and kept going by black Christians.
The neighbourhood: Harlesden is a deprived, lively inner-city area. There has recently been a series about it on UK television. There are semi-detached and terraced houses surrounding the church, and up the road is "The Jubilee Clock", a Victorian one, still going, that is now used as a roundabout and a landmark, beside a shopping centre.
The cast: Chair: Sr. Monica Price. Welcome: Sr. Grace, and Rev. Thomson, who gave the blessing.
What was the name of the service?
Rejoice Group Concert Service.
How full was the building?
About half full. Maybe 130-ish. It's a big building.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was spoken to and welcomed by someone entering the church at the same time as me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Plenty of room to move around. Solid pine pews. No ledge for books.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When I arrived, they were singing well-known songs and choruses (by heart). I think Sister Grace was warming them up.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, brethren, and welcome. Harlesden Baptist Church Rejoice group will sing to us..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. There was a printed sheet with a running order and the words of some of the congregational songs.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, drums, synthesiser, (played as such and on piano setting) and harmonica.
Did anything distract you?
It was interesting that most of the women wore black, and many of the middle-aged women wore hats.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Old-fashioned harmonized Christian songs and hymns. There was a lot of clapping and moving around to the music. A few younger people sang more modern songs. The drummer joined in everything, always with the same beat.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
A very short "exhortation" by one of the sisters: 2 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 She was setting the scene for all the participants who were joining in this praise celebration, so the praising was part of the teaching. I don't mean what she said was no good, just short.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Psalm 100, which was read. We should be praising the Lord. We should be shouting and praising the Lord. The trials and tribulations of life should not get us down. We should be filled with laughter. Our mouths should be filled with singing.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A monologue delivered in an Afro-Caribbean accent: "The Touch of the Master's Hand". It felt very moving to my companion as he'd heard it as a child. For me, Sr. Eileen singing "On Eagles' Wings". It lifted me up.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Quite a few people who were meant to be taking part in the praise didn't turn up.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People chatted to us. Then we all went for food.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A good feast: sandwiches, chicken, spicy finger food, snacks, cakes, juices, tea, coffee.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 I don't know enough about the church, and there were loads of people from other churches, so I can't really tell what they're like.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. it was good to be with Christian people.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The woman I asked directions from, who said, "I'm going there", and set off down the road so fast I could hardly keep up.