Mystery Worshipper: Sparrow
Church: Camden Town Methodist
Location: Camden, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 March 2013, 11:00am
The building was originally erected by Wesleyan Methodists in 1824 and sold to Primitive Methodists in 1860. Following the Methodist Union of 1932, the two congregations were united in this building. Designed as a chapel of ease, the church is a gated, two-storey, tan brick building in the Georgian style, with white trim and bright blue double doors framed by two white columns. On the upper-storey trim is carved the word "Methodist", and on the trim above the entryway are carved the words "New Camden Chapel."
Today's congregation were predominantly black, although the building also hosts Korean and Brazilian congregations. There is a Bible study group on Monday nights, and the church serves the homeless through the Community of Camden Churches Cold Weather Shelter (C4WS).
The church is tucked away on a quiet side street just off the bustle of Camden High Street, between Camden Town and Mornington Crescent stations, a five-minute and two-minute walk respectively.
Mr Rudolph Griffith, a visiting lay preacher affiliated with the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas.
What was the name of the service?Divine Worship Service
How full was the building?
There were about 25 people there, occupying fewer than half the seats on the main level. The balcony level upstairs was closed off.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The greeter handed me a hymnbook, Bible, and service sheet, but without actually greeting me. While I was seated waiting for the service to begin, a woman approached me to ask if it was my first time visiting the church (it was) and then asked me to sign a thank-you card for the departing visiting lay preacher, who was wrapping up a period of several weeks with the congregation. I declined politely Id never even met him!
Was your pew comfortable?
There were nicely cushioned wooden chairs instead.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a bit of quiet chit-chat over pre-service music on the piano, but mostly people kept to themselves.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns and Psalms, the hymnbook of the Methodist Church in Britain; the Good News Bible; and a printed sheet with the order of service on the front and the set prayers on the back.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The single toddler playing in the childrens corner at the back. The church sign outside advertises a Sunday school that runs concurrently with the service; I wonder why it wasnt running?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I had been looking forward to the worship because I had recently spent some time studying Wesleyan hymns, but it was clear that the worship was uncomfortable for everyone involved. It was the pianists first time playing in a service, and she struggled with the music, particularly with bringing out the melodies to help the congregation along. It didnt help either that Hymns and Psalms provides only the lyrics, without any musical notation. The congregation did not seem familiar with most of the chosen hymns, and everyone just sort of bumbled along, only picking up the melody in the last verse or so. Mr Griffith even commented afterwards that the worship was "something [they would] have to work on."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – Mr Griffiths message was all over the place. It was one of those sermons where you find yourself nodding along because each individual point makes sense, but at the end, you realise that most of the points were completely unrelated to and, in fact, sometimes contradicted one another.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was entitled "The Power of Adversity", and the take-home message was that Jesus freely chose to be despised and rejected by those whom he came to liberate. Therefore, even when God allows us to suffer, we need to trust that he is preparing a great future for us. Whether the first 23 minutes of the sermon had anything to do with this conclusion is unclear.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sending hymn was "Great is thy faithfulness", and frankly, the congregation just seemed relieved to be singing a hymn that they knew.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Mr Griffith wanted to read aloud Psalm 30, but the congregation were confused because they couldnt find it in the hymnbook. Even after they figured out that they would have to turn to their Bibles, they didnt understand that he wanted to read the psalm responsorially. Mr Griffith seemed frustrated by their confusion, and the whole situation seemed indicative of the tension between the visiting lay preacher and the congregation. At the end of the service, two members of the congregation presented him with a card thanking him for his ministry, but the exchange seemed forced and stiff, and I think both sides were happy for the relationship to come to an end.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A couple of people came over to welcome me to the church. Their greetings were effusive but felt strangely perfunctory: they told me how delighted they were that I had decided to worship with them that day and how much they hoped to see me again the following week, but they never even bothered to ask my name!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Most people took off right after the service, but for the few who stayed, there were tea and coffee, as well as plain and gingerbread loaf cakes.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – The cakes were tasty, and its an easy commute to Camden Town from just about anywhere in London, but there lacked a sense of real welcome, and there was an uneasy relationship between Mr Griffith and the congregation. It might be worth making another visit when the regular pastor, the Revd Donghwan Kim, is back; but personally, I wouldnt consider making this my regular church because its important to me to receive communion every week (there was none at this service).
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No, it was weirdly inhospitable and tense.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The general feeling that everyone just wanted to get out of there.