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||1070: Rossmore Hall Evangelical, Marylebone, London
Mystery Worshipper: Nick O'Demus.
The church: Rossmore Hall Evangelical, Marylebone, London.
The building: Sandwiched between two residential houses on this Georgian
street, Rossmore Hall is basically a big square room with a high
ceiling. At one end there is a long wooden plaque on the wall,
with "Jesus Christ is Lord" painted on it in gold Gothic lettering,
and beneath this an upright piano and a Victorian harmonium.
The walls are painted light green, with darker green woodwork,
and a dark red carpet is on the floor. At the centre is a simple
table, and the chairs are squared up on all sides to face it.
Fluorescent strip lights hang from the ceiling.
The church community: The Brethren community have been meeting here for many
years. A Portuguese congregation meets in the hall in the
afternoons, but do not seem to have much to do with the
The neighbourhood: The church is in north Marylebone, with pleasant, wide streets
and 18th-century houses. As I walked along Rossmore Road, I
could see the minaret of the London Central Mosque at Regent's
Park above the rooftops. A few hundred yards south is
The cast: Strictly speaking, the service is not led by anyone, but members
of the congregation stand up and speak as they are moved by
the Holy Spirit but only if they are male. Having said that,
Brother Lawrence seemed to take the lead most of the time,
launching the hymn singing, praying a long prayer and
preaching. Brother Weaver led the communion.
What was the name of the service?
The Breaking of Bread, 11.00am.
How full was the building?
There were just six of us, in a hall with 38 chairs. Later on, I was
told: "Sometimes there are just three of us, sometimes 14!"
Did anyone welcome you personally?
When I walked in off the street, there were just two gentlemen
sitting in the hall. Brother Weaver, a tall man in an imposing
black suit and blue knit waistcoat, and with impressive mutton-chop sideburns, immediately rose and welcomed me warmly.
Almost everything I said he greeted with "Praise the Lord!"
"Where are you from?" he asked. "Ealing," I said. "Ealing? Praise
the Lord!" I felt welcome and at home immediately.
Was your pew comfortable?
We were in upright wooden chairs with a book-holder at the
back of each chair. I didn't notice mine, so it can't have been
How would you describe the pre-service
Quiet. Apart from the rustling of the pages of black Bibles
(everyone had brought their own, except me, tut!), and the
sound of children walking past in the sunny street outside, there
was silence until about 5 past 11.
What were the exact opening words of the
Brother Lawrence, who was sitting in the chair directly in front of
me, suddenly stood up and said, "May we commence our service
with hymn number 135." He then read out the words of the
entire hymn before we sang it.
What books did the congregation use during the
The Little Flock Hymn Book, a 19th century production, with
hymns selected by J.N. Darby himself, one of the leading lights
in the Brethren movement. I was also handed a small King James
What musical instruments were played?
None; we sang the hymns without accompaniment. Brother
Lawrence made sure he started singing before anyone else, so
he could set the pitch, which in one hymn was eye-wateringly
high. Apparently, the congregation sometimes sings using the
piano or harmonium.
Did anything distract you?
I confess that I did rather sinfully note down the frequent clichés
that appeared in the prayers, sermon and notices. "I was heading
for a lost eternity... we pray for travelling mercies... we are a
peculiar people... we kneel before the throne of grace... the Devil
is the father of lies..." The Brethren movement began with the
admirable aim of recovering the faith as it was in the first
century, but judging by this service, it's now locked in the faith
of the 19th century. I listened hard for a fresh thought, or some
connection with life as it's lived today, but it just didn't happen.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was spare and serious, a "thees" and "thous" service. We sat in
silence for quite a lot of the time. We had three hymns and two
long prayers (one of them lasted 12 minutes). We had a sermon
and we remembered the death of Jesus by eating bread and
drinking wine. The most lively part of the service was when two
women arrived late, bringing our numbers up to six, and gave
me friendly, twinkling smiles. Neither of them was wearing a
head-covering, which was a pleasant surprise.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 I give our preacher 3 for energy and commitment, as he
addressed the mostly empty chairs around him, speaking
without notes in a sing-song voice that was almost like a chant.
Since I was directly behind him, I noticed his leg trembling as he
spoke. However, he didn't seem to be making eye contact with
the few people around him, which made his message rather
detached. This was a sermon full of Bible quotations and
phrases, but empty of any attempt to apply the Bible to our lives
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
We started with a reading in the book of Habakkuk, where the
prophet talks about receiving a vision from God: "it will surely
come, it will not tarry". Our preacher told us that the Spirit of
God is always moving, and that "where there is no vision, the
people perish". We may not have seen Christ rise from the dead
with our naked eyes, but God has given us a vision. "If God gives
you a vision of the things concerning himself," he told us, "he
gives you the best".
Which part of the service was like being in
They included me in sharing the bread and wine of communion.
I hadn't expected that, since in many Brethren assemblies a
stranger would be looked on with suspicion, so it was very
heart-warming when I was offered the bread and then the wine.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Walking into this church off the street, not knowing what I would
find inside, or what welcome I would get.
If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The intercessory prayer lasted 12 minutes, and although it was
mostly in-house, we also remembered those who were being
persecuted for their faith in Zimbabwe, and we prayed that evil
regimes would either be saved or overthrown. I did a double-take when the person leading the prayers said that "the angels
are looking down in consternation and amazement" at what we
were doing it seemed a bit melodramatic to suggest that
angels were gobsmacked by six people sitting in a Gospel Hall.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was immediately invited to have some coffee or tea at the hatch
into the kitchen, where everyone had gathered. They're a very
friendly bunch, and we talked about theology, Brazil (two
members of the congregation are from Brazil), childbirth and
why the women weren't allowed to speak in the service.
How would you describe the after-service
We had to have black coffee or tea because the milk was off and
floated in little lumps on the surface.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 Once upon a time, this sort of worship was revolutionary. Now it
has become the sort of dead tradition which the Brethren
movement was meant to overthrow. It feels like a movement that
has betrayed itself.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, because they shared their bread and wine with me.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hearing the preacher announce he was speaking from the book
of Habakkuk, and noticing how no one batted an eye as they
turned quite easily to this obscure Old Testament book in their
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