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1901: St Barnabas, Woodside Park, London
St Barnabas, Woodside Park, London
Mystery Worshipper: Cornerstone.
The church: St Barnabas, Woodside Park, London.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of London.
The building: A large red brick church, overlarge, a suburban barn. The interior is Gothic but almost completely colourless. Not even flowers or banners adorn the uniformly beige walls. There was, however, a black cloth with a cross made of 140 CDs to delight the eye during the boring bits.
The church: Unlike the building, the congregation are very colourful and ethnically diverse. Their website describes them as "lively, evangelical and charismatic." There is an emphasis on small groups that meet for prayer, Bible study, socialising or just running errands. There are several youth groups, including one that involves its members in all areas of ministry. There is also a social club for senior citizens. A variety of worship services take place each Sunday, including a service in Japanese.
The neighbourhood: Woodside Park is a suburban residential development in the borough of Barnet, in the north of London. Much of the old Victorian housing has been pulled down and replaced with modern flats, but there are many semi-detached and detached houses from the 1950s that still remain. The Woodside Park tube station enjoys the honour of being last in the alphabetical list of London Underground stations.
The cast: Nicole Berbrian led the service. The Revd John Coles, associate minister, preached.
The date & time: Sunday, 31 January 2010, 11.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
Fairly full by 10 minutes into the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone named Pin opened the fairly narrow glass door and said, "Welcome to the..." but for some reason didn't finish the sentence before saying the same to the next person in the queue. Someone else thrust a folded A4 notice sheet into my hand. The person next to me seemed far too enraptured at welcoming Jesus to say hello to me, or even make eye contact.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Fairly nasty chairs, drab blue colour, reasonably comfortable but not sufficiently so to let you fall asleep during the boring bits.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Busy, Starbucks coffee bar atmosphere. Coffee and tea were on tap throughout the service, the smell pervading the nave. People stood about lingering in the corners of the nave.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, hello everybody, and welcome. Please grab yourself a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit and come and sit down. My name is Nicole and I am leading the service this morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version, and a service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, bass and acoustic guitars, the obligatory drum kit mercifully kept behind an acoustic enclosure.

Did anything distract you?
What didn't? Mobile phones going off, the smell of coffee, people going to the coffee bar in the side aisle during the service, the boring decor, the cross made out of CDs (although strangely focussing – I just had to count them), some outlandish hairstyles in the congregation.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Subdued happy clappy. The worship songs were expertly led in a sort of soul style by a group of indeterminate age, and included the singing of "Spirit of the Living God", the first part repeated eight times no less, and the difficult bits about commitment left out altogether.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
36 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – A well preached sermon on rich generosity, delivered with good eye contact and presence, with the aid of an autocue and an occasional nervous shuffling of notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was based on 2 Corinthians 8 (the unselfish charity of the Church of Macedonia). Poor people tend to give a greater percentage of their resources than do the rich. (It would appear that if I have a door on my toilet, I am financially in the top one per cent of the world's population.) Giving is proof of love, a continuous act, beyond credibility. It stems from our relationship with Jesus, but is not in relation to what we expect to receive. It is what we were made for.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Stepping out into the fresh air and the colours of nature after the service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Singing "Spirit of the Living God" for the sixth time, and the 30 minutes of worship songs asking God's Spirit to come down, when I was fairly sure he already had.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service more fizzled out than came to a definite end. No sending out. No blessing. No final prayer or hymn. just a "Thanks for coming, see you again soon." A member of the welcoming team came up to me and asked if I had enjoyed the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fairly traded, liberally offered, in waxed paper cups with plastic lids.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I understand that the church tries hard to welcome newcomers, but welcome seemed more about commitment, and commitment was about covenanted giving and giving your skills and time. But no bad thing is that?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me glad to be part of broad church like the Church of England, which can accommodate this ethnically diverse sort of non-service in suburban London, and 1662 Prayer Book elsewhere, as part of the same church. Possibly a bit like heaven?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The drab beige walls.
 
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