St Augustine, Highbury

St Augustine's, Highbury, London


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Mystery Worshipper: Schadenfreude
Church: St Augustine's
Location: Highbury, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 March 2012, 10:30am

The building

The church is a very large, dark-looking Victorian brick building, fairly austere from the outside. It has, however, been recently refurbished inside, and is bright and airy – beautiful in fact. The new pale wooden floors feature underfloor heating, and the pews have been replaced by chairs, giving the nave space great flexibility. The front of the church (through which you enter) doubles as a small hall. Its very simple and clean, with white walls, and a mixture of clear and stained glass windows.

The church

They raised the 1.4 million required for the refurbishment in only two years. They host a playgroup for pre-school children and run a weekly baby club and a toddler club. There are five home groups meeting throughout the week to study the theme of the previous Sundays sermon.

The neighborhood

This is a leafy prosperous part of Highbury, in North London. The former church hall at the rear of the church was used as a recording studio for many years, and has now been converted into flats.

The cast

The Revd Clive Main, vicar, presided, assisted by a man referred to as Duncan.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion

How full was the building?

About half full (60 people?) at the beginning, filling up to just over 100 as the service started, but dropping back to about 50 or 60 people once the children and Sunday school helpers left. The congregation were fairly mixed, with lots of young families and older people as well.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A very friendly young girl gave us a service sheet before wed even closed the door behind us. Then the vicar gave us a very warm welcome, followed by a welcome from at least two other people before we made it to our chairs.

Was your pew comfortable?

The chairs were perfectly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quite relaxed. People were chatting, the musicians were playing, and people slowly drifted in.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

I was too busy looking round admiring the church and realised I had missed them, but they were something like "Hello and welcome to St Augustines" along with some instructions on how to follow the service and lots of encouragement for any visitors (I think we were the only ones).

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Holy Bible, New International Version. The text for the entire service – songs, readings, responses, pictures accompanying the sermon – was shown on an overhead screen.

What musical instruments were played?

There was a band comprised of an accomplished pianist playing a Bechstein grand piano, accompanied (for the songs) by an electric bass and lead guitar and a singer.

Did anything distract you?

My hacking cough probably disturbed everyone else. And I spent much too much time admiring the interior of the building.

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

Not happy clappy, but very informal. I didn't know most of the songs, and there were two hymns.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

20 or 25 minutes. I forgot to start timing promptly.

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

6 – The sermon was delivered by the vicar, who has a very friendly and welcoming demeanour. He was not at all threatening or aggressive.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The title was "A beleaguered church?" Using recent examples such as the court ruling in Devon against starting council meetings with prayer, and giving references to the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, the vicar concluded that, actually, any siege of the church in England was fairly passive compared to the persecution faced by the Church in some other parts of the world such as Nigeria and the Middle East. Scripture warns us not to be a lukewarm church (Revelation 3:14-22) lest Jesus spit us out of his mouth! The warning is clear. We do not want to be lukewarm, because whilst God will never forsake the church, he may eventually forsake the church in England, or more specifically the church in Highbury and even St Augustines.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The refurbished interior of the building and the very warm welcome. The congregation seemed very happy to let children run around and be children.

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

Nothing really – although if I wanted to be curmudgeonly (which I do usually), the very warm welcome, which one could take to be a little overwhelming. If you want to go to an anonymous church, this is not it!

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

More warm welcomes.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Perfectly adequate instant coffee. There was a big fair trade push so I hope that it was fair trade. Also, some biscuits but I think the children had snaffled most of them by the time we got to them.

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

5 – I think its a very nice friendly and earnest church with a big family and child focus. If that is what youre looking for, this church would be just for you.

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

Yes. It was friendly, and a kind place to be. You can do a lot worse.

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

The interior, and feeling humbled by the many warm welcomes.

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