|722: St Luke's, Holloway, London|
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Mystery Worshipper: Schadenfreude.
The church: St Luke's, Penn Road, Holloway, London N7.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: This is a typically Church of England building, set on a corner plot, with an attractive spire and light, almost white brickwork. Inside, the main church is deceptively small, set off slightly to the side of the tower with the spire. It is long and narrow with a high wooden vaulted ceiling. At the rear and side are various rooms which are used for a toddler group and for serving post-service coffee.
The church: Although the vicar of the church is Dave Tomlinson of "Post Evangelical" fame, he wasn't there on the Sunday we attended. The congregation was predominantly young – many couples with young children – and was almost entirely white. In a London church this is very noticeable. The church runs a once-a-week night shelter from January through to March.
The neighbourhood: Attractive, tree-lined residential streets not far from Holloway and Pentonville Prisons.
The cast: Meryl Doney and Ian Mobsby.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About 90 people were present and virtually every seat was taken, but the seating arrangements left lots of floor space free.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two friendly people welcomed us and gave us a copy of the service sheet as we came in.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews. Instead, metal framed chairs with leather backs and seats were arranged in a long, stretched horseshoe two rows deep. The chairs were perfectly comfortable, but the arrangement left the congregation facing across the room, with the leaders at the open end of the horseshoe. This left me with a bit of a cricked neck.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite relaxed. People were chatting and the children's choir was practising as people slowly drifted in.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
They were read from the service sheet: "We come from scattered lives to meet with God. Let us recognise his presence with us."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The entire service – songs, readings, responses – were printed on an A4 service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
A variety. The hymns were accompanied by the organ; one song was accompanied by a children's choir playing bongo drums, and one song was entirely unaccompanied.
Did anything distract you?
Nothing really, but a number of the congregation appeared to be very high powered, which was a bit intimidating.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
If anything, it was slightly alternative, but it generally followed the service sheet at a brisk pace with no surprises. Most people joined in with the singing and responses. No raised hands or anything even vaguely happy clappy or charismatic. Unusually, the prayers at the end alternated between a choir singing a verse of a song, and then repeating it quietly while the prayers were read out over the top.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
The service moved along at such a brisk pace that I suddenly realised we were in the middle of the sermon and I had forgotten to start timing it. I would guess it was around 10 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 The preacher is the curate at the church. His style was modest but informed. Very low key, but interesting and informative.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It followed on from the children's talk which reminded us that it was the Sunday before Lent with the theme being the transfiguration. He spoke on how it can be difficult to comprehend supernatural events like the transfiguration, explored the symbolism of the event and what it would have meant to the witnesses at the time.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The notices seemed very democratic, with members of the congregation just getting up and announcing their particular notice. No doubt it's equally democratic in heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The homogeneity of the congregation, and the feeling that most of them would have looked quite at home at a fashion show.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were welcomed by a couple of people and exchanged some friendly words.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Excellent! Cakes and biscuits were provided too.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 My first impression was quite negative but as the service progressed I felt more and more positive about the church. It was calm and low key. No pressure, but it left me with some nice, warm feelings.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Overall, yes. The lack of pressure, and relaxed atmosphere were attractive features.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Sitting in the church and feeling quite peaceful.