Mystery Worshipper: Salskov
Church: Wood Green Mennonite
Location: Wood Green, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 14 March 2010, 3:00pm
The congregation meets in the church hall of the Westbury Avenue Baptist Church, a largish, slightly run down building that can be rather attractive with the sun pouring in through the windows, but far less so in bad weather. Some of their activities are held at the Mennonite Centre in Highgate, where I understand they intend to establish a permanent presence within the next year. The entrance to the hall was round the side. The room boasts a stage, kitchen and loo. There was a large banner reading "Mennonite Church." A square table was dressed with a white cloth bordered in blue embroidered braid, a plain crucifix, and a small modern candelabrum with tea lights.
Wood Green is a small but active fellowship, with a strong sense of community. This does mean, however, that everyone is involved in running the church, and time is at a premium. They care for the sick and those with family crises, and contribute to unforeseen expenses. At least three members of the congregation are involved in mission work in South Africa and Iraq. They are a member of the London Mennonite Centre.
A multicultural area, close to the Turnpike Lane tube station, with all the usual shops, banks, pubs and restaurants found on any high street. Christianity could well be a minority religion in this vicinity.
Everyone was introduced only by their given names. The leader was Sue, the preacher Veronica. Will and Julie played guitar and upright piano, and an unnamed European lady accompanied the first and last hymns on an African djembe drum. It was explained that ordination is not necessarily a requirement to lead a service.
What was the name of the service?Worship
How full was the building?
16. Less than usual, I was told.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were two greeters outside the door who hailed me cheerfully and said, "You must be looking for the Mennonite church." I was welcomed warmly, shown the loo, and led into the hall. Sue, the leader, introduced herself and handed me an information leaflet describing the service. She also warned me that visitors are invited to introduce themselves at the end of the service, but if I didn't want to do that, just to cringe obviously and she wouldn't put me on the spot.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were individual chairs with a slightly padded seat. Not at all bad. They were arranged in two rows in a semicircle.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was quiet chatting and socialising, and everyone seemed to be involved in setting things up. The musicians were rehearsing Vaughan Williams' setting of "The Call."
What were the exact opening words of the service?
We seemed to glide seamlessly into the proceedings, but I'm sure that Sue said, "Welcome to the Wood Green Mennonite Church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Ah, this is where my organisation falls down. I had written the titles down on a scrap of paper but managed to post it into the offerings box along with my Mystery Worshipper calling card and offering. So I can only say that we used a dark blue hymnal, a green spiral bound song book, and the Anabaptist Prayer Book.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, guitar and African djembe drum.
Did anything distract you?
The room was chilly to begin with, but warmed up. In a sense, the whole service, being of an unfamiliar style, was a distraction. I was juggling books and trying to remember what had happened, while writing as discretely as possible. And that was before I dropped my pen.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I found the style of worship very appealing. Ex-tempore free prayer is not what I'm used to, but it was integrated into a structured liturgy that was in other respects familiar in style. There was no arm waving or interpolated hallelujas, and the free prayer was quietly and thoughtfully delivered. There were at least six hymns, some of which were familiar. These included "The Call", sung before and after the intercessions, as well as "Amazing Grace", "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow", and a completely unfamiliar setting of "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy." There was also a gorgeous gathering hymn with a folk song like melody, words and music written in 1988 by a Lutheran whose name escapes me. Oh for my info sheet! Prayers were focused on specific issues in people's lives, and Sue suggested that in one case the congregation might like to contribute to the cost of travelling.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Veronica referred to her written notes but also spoke directly to the congregation. The PA system was a touch over-resonant, so the resident church techie made some adjustments.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This was the second time I'd heard the parable of the prodigal son today. This time it was acted out by Sue and four others, and Veronica took the story as her theme. Interestingly, she applied it to herself, saying that in her (their) culture, obeying the rules was the norm, which could actually be constricting, as it offered no opportunity for reconciliation and the generosity of forgiveness. The younger brother needed to give up his pride and independence and be vulnerable, while the moral older brother needed to give up his self-righteousness and ask his father for what he wanted. It was an interesting insight that the older brother was probably a recognisable portrait of the typical pharisee.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The welcome, the orderly relaxation in which the service was conducted, and the music. I really enjoyed the hymns.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I found myself in rather an exposed position. On the one hand, they knew I was unfamiliar with things, so writing was perhaps not an unreasonable thing for me to do. On the other hand, I'm hopeless at intrigue. In fact, Ed, one of the greeters, murmured something to me afterwards about Ship of Fools and Mystery Worshippers. I tried to look innocent, but guilt is a cradle Catholic's default expression.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance. I was duly asked to introduce myself, and several people wanted to know why I had come! I could answer truthfully that a chance look at someone's profile had alerted me to the fact that there were Mennonites in England. In fact, several of those there today were from across the pond, but they told me that there are large Mennonite congregations in the Congo and Paraguay, as well as in parts of Europe. Meanwhile, our preacher had been making the tea, and came round with drinks and very nice biscuits. Fair trade posters were in evidence, so I should imagine that it was all fair trade. I was given a lot of information about Anabaptists, Amish and associated brethren. there is a black Anabaptist congregation in my borough, and a visit is being organised by the Westbury congregation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea and biscuits, fair trade. Teacups.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I were not already committed, this would be a place I could feel at home. Always providing they could put up with my laissez-faire attitude to dogma.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. It was an attractive combination of extempore and liturgy, free without being in-your-face.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The welcoming attitude. And that first hymn. Why didn't I ask for a copy?