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863: "Feast" at Clapton United Reformed, London
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Clapton United Reformed
Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo.
The church: "Feast" – a congregation of Clapton United Reformed Church, London.
Denomination: United Reformed Church.
The building: Feast meets on Sunday evenings in the Old School Rooms of the Round Chapel in Clapton, which is now an arts and community project. The Round Chapel is a magnificent mid-19th century stone edifice, built in the round, and dominates this corner of Clapton. The Old School Rooms is a smaller suite adjacent to the Round Chapel that now serves as the principal venue for all activities of the United Reformed congregation.
The church: Feast is a loosely organised community of young, bright, middle-class Christians, disillusioned with institutional church, committed to one another in worship, prayer and fellowship. Most members live within walking distance of each other, and most also attend the growing, multi-ethnic morning congregation of Clapton United Reformed Church. Feast has a core group of administrators who serve rotating terms without regard to seniority.
The neighbourhood: The Round Chapel is on a very busy main road amidst shops and terraced housing. The area around the church is multi-ethnic, predominantly African/Caribbean, and a tad shabby, as so many inner-city communities appear to be.
The cast: There were 16 celebrants; no names were given.
What was the name of the service?
Feast. This was the last meeting in the first two-month cycle arranged by the community, the successor to Host, an early example of alternative worship. It was a celebration to climax the cell group meetings and the bi-monthly service of holy communion. The theme of Feast had been "listening to God speaking in the silence."

How full was the building?
More or less full – 16 of us.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, with a smile and a hello, although some appeared taken aback by the unexpected arrival of someone obviously older than their average age. I suspect that visitors like myself are more accepted than enthusiastically welcomed, not because we are unwanted but rather because we upset the group's familiar comfort level.

Was your pew comfortable?
We had a choice of bare floorboards, cushions, or padded seats. My chosen perch was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quietly frantic, as people made last-minute preparations and set out all the various aids to worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Wait for the Lord, whose day is near; wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart" (which was sung). "Welcome to Feast."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Two readings were from the readers' own Bibles; the references were not given.

What musical instruments were played?
None. We sang two Taizé songs unaccompanied.

Did anything distract you?
Only the singing from the Pentecostal church meeting next door and a lone drummer passing by on the high street.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was alternative worship, different from almost anything else I have experienced. The members of the community had obviously spent a great deal of time and effort preparing for the event. The lights were dimmed, cushions were arranged in a circle on the floor around various articles to aid our worship, and seats at the sides of the hall were placed in such a way as to encourage reflection and meditation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
75 minutes – the whole service was the sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In the centre of the room were some candles and various items that are not usually associated with worship, such as grapes, vinegar, bread, an egg, an apple, honey, and a bottle of Coke. All of them were intended to bring to mind God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A woman read a short statement as she knelt in front of each of the symbols, after which we were invited to share the food, taste the different elements, and reflect on God's word to us. The symbols were also seen as gifts which we gave back to God.

The candles were then carried to eight stations around the hall, which we were invited to visit for prayer and reflection. At the stations were a TV set displaying electronic noise, orthodox icons and candles to encourage prayer, pens and paper to note our thoughts, finger-paints and magazines to make a collage, nightlights to light as a prayer for a friend, modelling dough, headphones to listen to music or sounds from the city, and paper on which to note the things that hinder our relationship with God. (The papers were later burned as a sign that these hindrances had been taken away.)

During the final few minutes, the candles were returned to the centre of the room, where we gathered to listen to a Bible reading and closing prayer.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The whole experience was heavenly.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People talked, drank tea, and lazed about. One young woman explained some of the background and ethos of Feast to me. The atmosphere was very relaxed and people appeared not to want to disperse.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We made it ourselves, so I have no complaints!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Although I found it a very good one-off experience, it would be difficult (and inappropriate, I think) to attend this service regularly if one were not a member of the community and involved in the other groups and meetings in the cycle. I felt a little intimidated on arrival, and it seemed to me that anyone not familiar with different styles of worship (let alone someone who knows nothing about church) might run away upon seeing the layout of the worship area.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, ever-so yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The possibility of using so many common objects as aids to worship and prayer. In addition, I will long ponder whether this small, experimental expression of Christian worship will have an influence on the wider church; even whether it will survive.

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