|833: Cann Hall Baptist, Leytonstone, London, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo.
The church: Cann Hall Baptist, Leytonstone, England.
The building: Large, late Victorian corner-of-the-street, typical city Baptist "preaching point" church in need of some refurbishment outside, but more especially inside.
The church: It seemed like two communities, defined by skin colour. The church appears to serve the neighbourhood with both church groups and community activities on their premises. I could not say whether this Christian service is undertaken equally by white and black Christians, but suspect that the black members may lead the uniformed organisations and the older white members may organise the more "in-house" activities.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated on a main through route between Leystonstone Town Centre and the edge of Epping Forest. The surrounding housing is a mixture of privately-owned homes with some in multi-occupation and some council housing.
The cast: Rev. Ted Kelly, pastor, with various others unnamed taking minor roles.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship with Holy Communion.
How full was the building?
70 people in a space which could seat over 500. However, the balcony was not used, so it did not feel quite too empty downstairs.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
At the first door I got a "Hello – you can go in." At the second door I was asked, "Have you brought your own hymn book?" All this with no smiles nor a handshake. However, several people who came to sit near me did warmly welcome me and the minister came to introduce himself before the service. Perhaps they have the wrong people on the doors. They all were very busy with their own conversations and hardly noticed the newcomer.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not really. It was the old fashioned sort with a very thin veneer of carpet-type padding.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with a low buzz of conversation. Most people had arrived by the start of worship.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone; shall we start with prayer."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Baptist Hymn Book, All Together (their own compilation) and the New English Bible. Next week, the church will dedicate a new hymn book – the newer Baptist one.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ (large, old, good condition) located with the organist in another world up in the sky – half way to heaven? This is a key factor in why the singing did not work well.
Did anything distract you?
The untidiness of the two corners at the front of the worship area. Old cardboard boxes, disused hymn books, two pianos, and a photocopier making a brave effort to hide behind a rather dowdy curtain.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a non-conformist hymn sandwich, with people seeming to be content to have it "done to them" from the front.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 The sermon was almost entirely read from a script (as was most of the rest of the service). Where the preacher deviated, he sometimes got words mixed up, yet at other times he almost became animated.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The preacher told the story of the resurrection appearance to the disciples. Thomas did not get a hard time – "he had to make a great step of faith and all he wanted was what the others had already got". So today, Jesus' followers have to exercise faith, for Christ is no longer physically visible. We are called to great steps of faith and to proclaim that God is in the world in love (New Testament) rather than up above the world pulling strings (Old Testament).
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The friendly woman who got her daughter to show me where to get a cup of tea. But perhaps even before I entered the building, the beautiful pink blossom on the large trees at the front. I was very happy about the preacher's prayer for "Israel/Palestine", when some evangelical preachers would not acknowledge Palestine, I fear. There was a clear message that all were welcome to take communion.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The organ and the congregation just didn't get together. The majority of the congregation sat underneath the balcony, so presumably the organist up in the ceiling area could not hear them. They probably did not sing as well as they could have done because there was absolutely no interaction between the two. The organist, who seemed rather showy, was very competent and creative, although he struggled with a more modern tune (actually a Patrick Appleford hymn, so not new by any stretch of the imagination).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I got trapped in my pew by three people having an earnest conversation. I asked about tea and was quickly invited to go through to the hall.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Weak tea (I like weak tea) in plastic cups and iced cakes left over from the previous day's meal for senior citizens.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 The potential in this congregation seems immense. I am a retired minister (just) and need a rest! Now, if I were 20 years younger...
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I would be doubtful about being a Christian if this was all I experienced. In the hall afterwards there were small groups of people segregated by colour. The single (white) deacon stood alone, rather severely watching the proceedings. Most of the "key" leaders in the worship were white (minister, organist, secretary, two of the three scripture readers, the steward who prayed over the communion elements, the PA person). Yet there were more black people than white in church. On the other hand, three of the four offertory stewards and three of the four communion stewards were black, as I think were the majority of the Sunday school leaders.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The lack of contemporary connection, such as banners, projection of words or images, comfortable chairs, and up-to-date language.