|1122: Bonny Downs Baptist, East Ham, London|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo.
The church: Bonny Downs Baptist, East Ham, London.
Denomination: Baptist. The church is linked to Newham Christian Fellowships, a loose alliance of evangelical churches.
The building: The church owns a small building where mid-week meetings take place. On Sundays they meet in a nearby community centre for which they are the managing trustees. That building consists of a large hall, several smaller halls and rooms, and a kitchen. The walls of the worship area are plainly painted and there are no banners or other visual aids to worship. I did not see the wooden cross placed behind the preacher until it was pointed out to me after the service.
The church: This is a very special community of Christians. Under the dynamic and tireless leadership of their minister, Dave Mann, the church took over a derelict community centre and developed it into a thriving place. Several members work in various activities such as programmes for children and elders. The church also took responsibility for a large local playing field that had been unused for many years. The congregation is mixed in terms of age and ethnic background; in talking to people after the service I concluded that there also is a healthy mix of theological views.
The neighbourhood: The small church, the community centre and the playing fields are all located within a large council estate, a mainly working class area with large pockets of deprivation and social need. In recent years, two bus routes have been extended to include parts of the estate, although these are sometimes suspended due to harassment of the drivers. The estate includes, at either end, a secondary school and a primary school.
The cast: Sally Mann, the pastor's wife, led the worship, singing, children's talk and prayers, and Alan Griffiths, a previous pastor who remains a member of the church, preached and conducted the communion service.
|What was the name of the service?
Main church service with Holy Communion.
How full was the building?
There were about 120 people, filling most of the available seats. I spotted an old friend with whom my son used to play football.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people knew me as someone who is looking for a church in which to settle; all of these were very warm in their welcome. One other man also spoke to me and was very friendly.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a rounded plastic seat and fairly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, out of reverence for the "holy huddle" of leaders praying in the corner.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Songs were projected onto a screen, using an old-style overhead projector, as the church's digital projector was recently stolen (indicative of the stresses the church experiences in this part of East Ham).
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, two guitars, drums and three singers.
Did anything distract you?
The poor man directly behind my right ear with a piercing cough – sufficiently irregular to make me jump each time he let rip.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a style I had not encountered before. Slightly happy-clappy, but not free-flowing charismatic, nor was it a hymn sandwich. I'd call the overall tempo quite sedate.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 I enjoyed Alan's chatty style. He was easy to listen to and he used accessible language. Nevertheless, he also was quite intense at times, though not in a way that made me feel pressured or uncomfortable. At one point he stated that he was not sufficiently theologically trained to be able to say what Paul meant; this indicated a humility I found refreshing.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Alan preached from 2 Corinthians 12. He began with the story of how Dave Mann, the pastor, had done a bungee jump and the video shows the ups and downs of such a jump. This served to illustrate that Paul, as an example to us, did not let his ups go to his head nor his downs hold him back. God's power is strongest when we are weak.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing of the Stuart Townsend song And I will trust in you alone, based on the 23rd psalm. I am not surprised that this has become a popular song in the church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Another of the songs was insufferably trite – so trite I cannot remember the words. Also, as I arrived, a man picked up a piece of rubbish from the church garden and threw it into the road – not exactly the kind of thing the church would want to sanction, I shouldn't think.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people spoke to me at length so that I nearly missed coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea and coffee were on offer. I think mine was coffee but I could be wrong.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I was not very comfortable with what I perceived to be the notion that the reason we would want to try to alleviate suffering is so that those suffering can come to know Christ as Saviour. Serving one's neighbour for the sake of serving one's neighbour doesn't seem to hold much weight. Based on my overall familiarity with this area and its history, though, I know that the church accomplishes a lot of good.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was enjoyable and uplifting most of the time.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Meeting my son's old football mate. He used to suffer some pretty vicious kicks 20 years ago but no grudges held!