Its a modern building, only a few years old, like a chapel in comparison with many parish and non-conformist churches but well designed. Plain wooden pews are in a herringbone arrangement. The floor slopes gently toward the front, which has a multi-panel stained glass window on the left and a small one on the right with a cross in it. There is no altar, nor dais, but only a lectern and a screen at the back. Lantern windows illuminate from above the east end of the church. Laminated wooden beams support the roof, the one at the east end forming a semi-circular arch. The walls are facing brick. There are no particular decorations, but a number of flower arrangements decorate the east end. Some unusual wooden pillar lights are at the ends of each pew. We didn't see the hall at the back.
As might be expected from their roots, there is a distinctly African ethnic heft to their services and activities. In addition to worship services, they sponsor Bible study and a number of communal events. In the past these have included a Teen Catalyst Weekend, Fathers Appreciation Day, and something for women called Deep Calling unto Deep.
Ipswich, in Suffolk, is one of England's oldest towns, if not the oldest. Possibly an administrative outpost in Roman times, it became an important trading centre in the Middle Ages and continued as such into the 17th century. Chaucer, who had family roots in Ipswich, may have modelled his Merchant in the Canterbury Tales after a type not uncommon in the lanes of the Ipswich of his day. Charles Dickens once stayed at the hotel then known as the Great White Horse; Dickens famously described its meandering corridors and stairways in Chapter XXII of his Pickwick Papers. A Starbucks graces the premises today. A gentrification effort is underway to turn the old docks into residential and commercial properties. The church is in the town centre next to a large car park.
Preacher: Pastor Favour Malefo. She is the wife of Deacon Thabo Malefo, better known as the Christian rapper Brother Touch.
What was the name of the service?Family Worship.
How full was the building?
Between 30 and 40 people. It's only a small building inside, and so it was fairly full with that number.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Hands were shook and welcomes were extended. We were assured that we weren't late in fact the Sunday school was still going on. Later in the service we were asked to shake hands with the person next to us, which we did. In some churches this feels like an empty formality, but there it conveyed a genuine warmth and fellowship. At another point the preacher said, We have two new members here, I see can you stand up? After which almost everyone in the church came over to shake our hands. Now theres a welcome! We were also given visitor cards.
Was your pew comfortable?
The modern pews were OK. Plenty of legroom. Ive experienced far worse.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As the Sunday school was still going on, the atmosphere was quite heavy with what sounded like preaching. I dont know what the children thought of it they seemed to be less engaged than the adults. Some people drifted in as the service progressed, but there was no gossip, nor was there any silence, but that was OK.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The music leader started off the service with some hearty singing beginning with "Pra - i - se the Lord!" Everyone joined in with enthusiasm.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were handed out or available, but the songs and Bible verses were displayed on the screen. I can't tell you what Bible translation was used, but it was modern.
What musical instruments were played?
Tambourines were played by many people in the congregation and the music leader. They don't give them out at the door but I'm sure you'd be given one if you asked! The drums were broken, we were informed. There was a guitar lurking, plus a couple of keyboards, but no one played those. In addition to the music leader, there were three singers at the front.
Did anything distract you?
A lady with a wonderful pink headdress in the African style. Despite the congregation being mainly of African descent, the stained glass windows included a rather European-looking Jesus blessing all white children. The free-standing photo banner at the front also showed predominantly white faces.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There wasn't a stiff upper lip in the place, not even mine! African style gospel singing, with evidence of the call and response style in some of the songs. The songs seemed to be known by everyone else there, but fortunately the words came along on the screen to help us. I only knew one of them (that's a bonus for me).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I missed some of the sermon because I found it difficult to tune into Pastor Favour Malefo's accent at times, but I got the gist of it.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Psalm 24 ("The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it") formed the basis of the sermon. I remember particularly verse 7: "Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in." Pastor Favour Malefo interpreted that to mean that we often have our own gates, which are obstacles to letting Jesus come into our lives and be in charge.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing, all unaccompanied (except for tambourines). The dancing, even as we filed/processed/danced to the front and round the basket to give our offerings. The spontaneous responses, the enthusiasm, the welcome. And "Pra - i - se the Lord!"
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I would have liked to be less inhibited and to have inherited more dancing genes, so that I would have felt more part of the experience. Not everyone was dancing or waving hands, though, so I didn't feel entirely out of place.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no chance of slipping away unnoticed!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Drinks were offered, but I'm sorry to say we didn't stay; we had to go.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If we lived in the area, it would be a church I'd want to visit often, if only for a big change in style from our usual.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Indubitably. I liked their "mandate" as stated on their website: "To make heaven, take as many as possible with us, and to have a member in every family of nations."
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Being welcomed and our hands shaken by almost every adult in the congregation. And "Pra - i - se the Lord!"