St Luke's is a modern church built of reddish-brown brick, with a short octagonal tower at one end with extra rooms beneath it and a spire on top. Inside it is spacious and airy. On the Sunday morning when I visited, sunshine was streaming in through the high windows on the south side of the nave.
From their website it is evident that the church supports at least ten mission partners. These range from individuals working with different people and groups and in countries as diverse as Greece and Kurdistan, to church plants in other areas of the UK, to a local pregnancy crisis centre. This is impressive.
Wimbledon Park is in southwest London. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, better known as the venue for the Wimbledon Championships, is just a stone's throw away from the church.
The Revd James Paice, vicar.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion
How full was the building?
Not very full people were scattered around and there were many empty seats.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one welcomed me personally when I entered the church or at any time before the service began.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was not a pew, but rather a padded modern seat of the type designed for modern churches the type that can be linked together and that have pockets on the back to hold Bibles, service books and so on. It was very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Muted chatter was going on, plus a handful of children were running about.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. A very warm welcome. Please take your seats."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a service sheet rather than a service book. The words of hymns were projected onto a large screen at the front. The Holy Bible, New International Version, was in the back of every seat and we were encouraged to follow the reading in a Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, electronic piano.
Did anything distract you?
There was a lady some rows in front of me who turned round several times to glare at the pianist/organist, who was playing invisibly somewhere at the back of the church. I imagine either the lady in question did not like or know the songs or felt they were being played at the wrong tempo.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I felt it was rather lifeless, as if we were going through the motions. The songs were a strange mixture of traditional hymns and modern songs that nevertheless had an old-fashioned feel to them. There was no choir or worship band, and the musical accompaniment came from behind us, amplified through speakers. All those things combined to make it an odd worship experience for me. I was also taken aback somewhat by one of the eucharistic ministers, who wore jeans and a t-shirt as she administered the chalice.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – I thought the vicar was clear and had a good teaching style of preaching. However, nothing that was said made me sit up and take notice. The message was very familiar and predictable. It was an exegesis type of address that took each verse or group of verses in turn and explained and expanded on them. I did also feel there was a lack of sensitivity in the matter-of-fact way that he spoke of our mortality, especially as an announcement had been made at the beginning of the service about the very recent sad death of a member of the congregation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the reading for this Sunday, which was Psalm 90 (the Lord returns all to dust). This psalm is usually associated with funerals and acknowledges the fragility of our lives. But Psalm 90 is also a prayer. God existed before all creation came into being; yet our brief lives are consumed by sin, justly invoking God's wrath. But God is merciful to those who pray to him for forgiveness. We build God's kingdom by leading others to salvation. That is worth our time.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I think it was the shafts of sunlight streaming down from the windows above.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
In the after-service queue for coffee, I inadvertently got in the way of a gentleman in a wheelchair, and I didn't know which way to turn. It was an awkward moment.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A lady just in front of me turned round and said hello and started up a friendly conversation. She took me over to where coffee was being served and introduced me to another member of the congregation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Excellent filter coffee, hot and strong, in a ceramic mug, served by friendly people. And there were chocolates an unexpected treat.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I think this would be a friendly church that would make me very welcome. However, I sensed that it is probably what I would describe generally as conservative evangelical, and that is not a good fit for me at this particular stage of my life and faith.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
One of the ladies administering the chalice wearing jeans and a t-shirt.