Mystery Worshipper: Ken T Poste
Church: CLF Victoria
Location: Victoria, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 July 2015, 6:00pm
The church meets in a room on the top of floor of St Andrews Youth Club, which someone told me was owned by the father of one of the church members. The club claims it is also the world's oldest youth club, having been founded in 1866.
This was the very first meeting of this church, which was planted from a parent congregation in Greenwich. CLF's aim is to have a church in each London borough, though talking to the people present, it seemed most had travelled here from slightly further afield.
Situated in the heart of the Westminster/Victoria area of London, the place is rich with big churches. Within five minutes one could be at Westminster Abbey, Westminster Central Hall, Westminster Cathedral, or several smaller, less well known places of worship. The building itself is in a small area known as the Devil's Acre, one of London's most notorious slums in the 19th century. In the latter part of the century it became a focus area for renewed social housing, funded by philanthropist George Peabody. Some of that social housing still exists today under the ownership of the Peabody Trust.
The service was led by Delia Danso, with the sermon given by Joseph Baudu, the senior pastor of CLF, who we later found out is Delia's older brother.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
Most of the seats were occupied. I counted around 25 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was met on the door by a chap who escorted me indoors, up some stairs and into a smallish room. I was very glad of the assistance, as we had one room in a labyrinthine building, as was evidenced later by getting lost on my way out. Once inside, lots of people said hello to me and to one another. For visitors (which accounted for about a third of the congregation), there was a gift bag given with a notepad, an information flyer, a mint. and a rather off-putting fundamentalist leaflet entitled Life's Ultimate Questions by Voddie Baucham Jr (whose Twitter page identifies him as "husband, father, pastor, author, professor, conference speaker and church planter, and dean of the seminary at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia").
Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on some fairly cheap plastic chairs, but they were perfectly comfortable. The front row had some smarter looking leather office chairs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite chilled out. We were offered drinks and snacks. The musicians played quietly in the corner, allowing everyone to greet one another without being too noisy. Thankfully the place was well ventilated, as it was a warm summer's evening and it could quite easily have been stifling.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello and welcome to the first meeting of CLF Victoria."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books here. The songs were projected onto a screen. I couldn't tell what version of the Bible was read from, though I noticed everyone (bar myself and one other person) read from a tablet or phone.
What musical instruments were played?
It was a very simple setup with an acoustic guitar and a single conga drum.
Did anything distract you?
One of the ushers sitting near me had tattoos all down both arms that were highly intricate and symbolic, rather like an elaborate stained glass window.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Yes, it was happy. There was a little clapping, but it wasn't cheesy. If anything, I'd say it was quite mellow, almost reminding me in style of the music of the American folk rock artist Jack Johnson. The whole service was very laid back and informal.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – It was a rather rambling message, loosely based around Acts 17:24-28 (God, who made all things, needs nothing; but rather gives life and breath to all). There was evidence of some Calvinistic leanings here, as well as an advocacy of mind-spirit dualism.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We were asked the question: "What is God's plan for your life?" Had he been living in Biblical times (the senior pastor said), he would probably have been among those who shouted "Crucify him!" We are all here at just this time because that is what God wanted.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing was amazing. Not only were the band very good singers, but a lot of the voices around me were really high quality.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The content of the sermon. Hell featured rather strongly, which didn't go down well with this Mystery Worshipper, who leans rather more toward an annihilationist point of view (those who choose to reject salvation are eternally destroyed, not eternally punished).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No time to look that lost. Everyone was just too friendly for that. Everyone spoke to everyone, pretty much, many asking how I'd come to hear of the church. One of the ushers got a little bit pushy (literally). As I was headed to the back table, he was making sure people cleared a path, which made me a little uncomfortable.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any coffee (though oddly, there were some packets of sugar laid out). I had an apple juice in a plastic cup and a small chocolate muffin, which were very refreshing and much more suitable for a warm evening than coffee would have been. There were also some sandwiches on offer, as well some cocktail sticks impaling a combination of sausages, cheese and cherry tomatoes.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I loved the informal community, the friendliness and the sung worship, but couldn't abide with the teaching.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Mostly. I couldn't agree with the message in the sermon, which was a bit fundamentalist for my liking, but the friendliness of the people more than made up for it.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The dichotomy between the chilled out friendliness of the people and the more hard-line message.