Peckham Methodist, Peckham, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Peckham Methodist, Peckham
Location: London
Date of visit: Sunday, 9 April 2023, 11:00am

The building

This is a forbidding, 1970s brick mini-fortress from the outside. Inside, it's a pleasant, well-kept nonconformist chapel.

The church

On the day I visited, there was a good mix of ages, and a smallish but obviously committed and supportive congregation. The church is very multinational.

The neighborhood

Housing in the area has been repeatedly knocked down and rebuilt since the Second World War. Not so long ago, the immediate area was really quite rough. The most recent estate to have been torn down, just across the road from the church, has replaced a warren of concrete local authority flats with expensive, privately owned housing. This brings a new set of challenges.

The cast

A lay-minister led and preached at the service. The readings were done by teenagers, and a member of the congregation led some of the prayers.

What was the name of the service?

Divine Worship (I think).

How full was the building?

Moderately full, with about 35 people. However, there had been an 8am Easter communion service, and I think some of the congregation had gone to that instead, although a lot had obviously turned out for both. Usually there would only be one service on a Sunday.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. The people in the pew in front turned round for a brief chat after the service, and a lady popped up from somewhere to welcome me as a visitor.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a fairly comfy, fairly new padded chair. Unfortunately I sat too close to a radiator and was rather hot.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I was very on time, so didn't catch the atmosphere before the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Something along the lines of: ‘Let us rest for a moment in the Lord’s presence.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The words for the hymns and reading were on screens, but hymn numbers were also read out for those who preferred to use a book. Most people had Bibles with them.

What musical instruments were played?

House organ.

Did anything distract you?

This one is absolutely on me, and not on the church, but I was a little distracted at first when I realised I was the only white person in the congregation, making me a not very incognito Mystery Worshipper. However, it was quite a varied congregation – Caribbean, British, many African nationalities – and my arrival did not cause a sensation.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

I'd picked the Methodist Church for Easter Day because I thought I could be sure of good, solid Easter hymns sung heartily. I was not disappointed. It was neither stiff-upper-lip nor happy clappy. I suppose it was traditional, slightly old-fashioned nonconformist.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 —

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Let Easter be a turning point in your life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The good Easter hymns and the comfortable atmosphere. Also, the very detailed announcements, which included information about who was off on holiday, were balm to a nosey soul.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

One of the hymns was ‘Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord.’ As always happens in any church when this is sung, the congregation started confidently with the opening chorus, then faded into confusion when it was time to shove an improbable number of syllables into the first verse. As I knew how the words fitted, I unthinkingly sang more loudly to support the congregation, before realising that was an odd thing for a visitor to do, and wanted to die of embarrassment. After the service, someone told me I have a nice voice, which is Christian for ‘You were singing too loudly’.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

As some people had been there since before 8am, I didn't linger too long, as I presumed the people with keys would want to lock up and go home. But even so, a couple of people spoke to me and welcomed me, and lots of people smiled in a friendly way.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There wasn't any. But there had apparently been a pretty impressive Easter breakfast before the service. They seemed like a congregation that would do a good spread. I couldn't think of a way to ask if there was usually after-service tea without sounding like it was a criticism. So I don't know if the no-coffee was usual.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 — An odd thing about the church is that they don't have their own website, which made it a bit tricky to find out when the service was. There seemed to be people who would have adequate skills (there was a sound desk, powerpoint presentations, plus young and middle aged adults who must use computers regularly), and not having a website seems like a bit of an own-goal.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

That Easter hymns are really, really high.

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