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1779: ChristChurch, Piccadilly, London
ChristChurch, Piccadilly, London
Mystery Worshipper: CSI.
The church: ChristChurch, Piccadilly, London.
Denomination: Newfrontiers.
The building: Services are held in the Piccadilly Theatre, a traditional working London theatre that at the time of this writing was hosting the musical production Grease. The theatre has the typical grandeur and intimacy associated with London theatres.
The church: There is a large student contingent and a strong focus on supporting students and reaching out to them. Serving within the church is very actively encouraged. I met several people who had only been at the church a few months and were already serving on the welcome team.
The neighbourhood: ChristChurch meets right in the centre of the tourist hub of London. It's only a two minute walk from Piccadilly Circus and the tube station. It's like an oasis amongst the manic throngs of tourists and city workers.
The cast: A gentleman who said his name was Ross, who may have been Ross Bull, member of the ministry team, introduced the service. Simon Ash, another member of the ministry team, preached. A lady who didn't introduce herself led the worship.
The date & time: 9 August 2009, 4.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Celebration.

How full was the building?
About two-thirds full. Several people made a point of telling me they are normally busier but that due to the summer holidays a lot of the regular student attendees were absent.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed as soon as I walked through the door. Once it was established that I was a newbie, I was led to the next group of welcomers. After a bit of small talk, I was shown to the seating area. Within two minutes of my sitting down, another welcomer popped over and there were more introductions. I was given a DVD and booklet introducing the church. As the service was about to start, two members of the welcome team came over to join me, saying that they had noticed I was sitting by myself. These guys were good! No chance of sneaking in and out at this church!

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, traditional upholstered theatre seats that spring up when you stand. You would have to pay 20 upwards to sit in these seats for a theatre performance, so I was more than satisfied to get this level of comfort for free!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy, vibrant, lots of talking and socialising. There was a real air of expectation that something exciting was going to happen.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I couldn't hear because the welcome team member was talking to me over the top of the person speaking. Everyone was talking all around me and the speaker carried on regardless. I simply couldn't hear!

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Bible verses and song words were shown on large TV screens at each side of the seating area, also on a large screen at the back of the stage behind the worship band and speaker.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, four guitars, drums and vocalists.

Did anything distract you?
There was an invisible force field in place between the sixth and seventh rows! The first six rows were filled with people 100 per cent immersed in worship, jumping around, dancing, etc. Then it all stopped at the seventh row. There were a few arms raised, but I was constantly wondering why there was such a marked change in worship style between the two sets of rows. My mind was really quite distracted by this!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Full on funky style worship. Loud, energetic, beautiful vocals. The worship band were obviously well practiced and coordinated. The congregation in the first six rows were completely immersed. The rest of us were more restrained, with fewer arm raisers.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
42 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Simon Ash's style was calm and practical, which was a nice contrast to the manic worship time. His focus was very much based on providing practical tips for strengthening your faith and building them into your daily lifestyle – for example, providing web addresses for Bible study resources.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Simon began with Exodus 17:1-6 (Moses strikes a rock and water flows forth), saying that to trust God we need to build a relationship with him. He gave practical pointers on how to improve our prayer life and study of the Bible whilst making comparisons to Moses' journey through the desert. He said we should thirst for things of God, not for worldly things that may quench our thirst but only in a temporary way. Finally, he exhorted us to turn to God for long-lasting thirst relief.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The welcome team were amazing! I think it would be pretty much impossible to slip in and out of this church without being greeted. It wasn't intrusive or forced on me, though, which was good. They were there if I needed them!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As I'm not familiar with this denomination I was a bit perturbed by people screaming during the worship time. I didn't understand it and wanted to ask questions about it, but the people I asked were unsure as well. I would have liked to have known to whom I could have gone to get an understanding. I think if the church members I was asking didn't know what was happening, then it was probably not a normal occurrence. And so an explanation from the front would have been warranted.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance to hang about – the welcome team were onto me! I was invited to join someone for coffee in the bar as soon as the service ended. I was introduced to a few people and had an informal chat with a couple of people in a relaxed atmosphere.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea, coffee, orange juice and apple juice were available. I had a chilled apple juice in a plastic cup. I spotted a plate of mini muffins being circulated, but my reflexes were too slow for those! There was nothing to indicate whether the tea and coffee were fair trade.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived closer I would definitely go back to find out more about the church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did. There was a real vibrancy to this service. That, merged with the real down-to-earth practical tips during the sermon, made me think that maybe I can survive as a Christian in the modern world!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The friendly welcome and the beautiful singing from the worship band.
 
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