Mystery Worshipper: Archie Deacon
Church: Romford Baptist
Location: Romford, Essex, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 July 2016, 10:30am
Dating from the 1930s but in a plain unadorned brick style, it is a large church with a balcony. The inside is brightly lit thanks to large plain glass windows. I also noticed the lectern and communion table were partly of glass (would not have looked out of place in a modern church in Scandinavia). This congregation originally worshipped in the nearby Salem Baptist church and it was intended to close this when the new church opened, but it was subsequently decided to keep both churches open.
At one time, Romford Baptist had one of the largest Baptist memberships in Britain and it is still large compared to other local Baptist churches (must admit I'd never thought of Romford being the centre of the Baptists!). This is reflected in the range of activities offered by the church, which are all well described on their website. They have a number of small groups that (quoting from their website) "meet in church members' homes weekly to share food, pray, discuss the Bible and develop great friendships." They sponsor several mission partnerships throughout the world. They oversee a care home for the elderly called Parkside. Their church magazine is called The Grapevine. There is a morning and evening service each Sunday.
Romford, in East London, is a part of the Greater London metroplex. Known throughout history as an agricultural and manufacturing centre, Romford today boasts one of the largest entertainment and leisure districts outside central London and is especially known for its nighttime economy (cinemas, theatres, bars and pubs, cafés and restaurants). The church adjoins the town centre, which has overspilled the ring road; the church's neighbours include a large shopping centre and the civic buildings of Havering.
The Revd Ian Bunce, ministry team leader.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service.
How full was the building?
Just under half full in the downstairs (about 160 or so) with an unknown number in the balcony. Someone said to me that a number had gone today to the Salem Baptist Church for a baptism and also it was the first week of the school holidays, so that the attendance was rather less than usual.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed at the door and found my seat, then realised I'd missed the person handing out the newssheet so had to go back. She also offered me a print of the songs for the day. Another member of the congregation came over to me and welcomed me after I sat down, which was nice.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seats were very comfortable, "Baptist type" with communion cup holder.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet, with people talking to their neighbours. Church notices were projected on the screen. The service started exactly on time and there were very few latecomers.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, friends. Good to see you this morning."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were a few Bibles (New International Version) in some of the book holders on the seats. No hymn books, as the songs were shown on the screen at the front and a number of televisions in the auditorium.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboards, acoustic guitar, drums and African drum. The problem was that the drums completely drowned out the acoustic guitar and at times the keyboard and two women leading the singing struggled against them.
Did anything distract you?
The African drummer was so enthusiastic it was a distraction!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Worship was mixed. The songs ranged from the 1980s through the early 2000s and up to the present time. I didn't know some of them. I felt the congregation were much more enthusiastic with the older songs (or possibly like me they knew them better!). An elderly woman in front of me was dancing in the aisle! Happy clappy would be an exaggeration but certainly not stiff upper lip.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – One remark especially stood out: "If you want to be liked, don't be a pastor. Sell ice cream!"
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The text was 1 Peter 4:12-19 (Christian suffering is a badge of honour, not shame). Christianity has spread throughout the world, but in Britain it has lost its previous privileged position. Getting involved is costly.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Before the sermon, Monica from Street Pastors ("trained volunteers from local churches who ... patrol in teams ... to care for, listen to and help people who are out on the streets") was interviewed (they are also moving into Railway Pastors). It was good to hear the Church in action, actually getting out, getting involved and doing some good work.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Apart from the tea (se below), I think the worse thing was pre-service, where the notices were projected on the screen. I think someone must have gotten carried away in their PowerPoint special effects course, as headlines for each slide spun in from the side. After a few minutes it made me feel a bit nauseous!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My neighbour told me that tea and coffee were served in the foyer to the church. I went out there and a woman started talking to me. However, just as I was about to answer, her friend walked by and said "Hello" and that was the end of her interest in me! But others did talk to me. The foyer was pretty crowded, and if the church was at its full capacity it would be a bit uncomfortable in this area.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea and coffee were offered in paper cups, and I chose tea. The server warned it might be "a bit weak," which was a bit of an understatement as I could almost see through it! No idea if it was fair trade (at that strength, not sure it makes any difference!) and there didn't seem to be any biscuits on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I felt the service was generally very good. My only reservation, and this is a personal one, is that with such a large number of members you could be a bit lost.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, particularly the uplifting talk about Street Pastors.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The African drummer!