Westbourne Grove Church, Notting Hill, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Westbourne Grove Church
Location: Notting Hill, London
Date of visit: Saturday, 28 April 2012, 4:30pm

The building

Originally a Gothic style Baptist chapel of stone over brick, put up in 1853, with an extension added in 1866. It was partially damaged during the Second World War. Repairs were made, but it had pretty much reached the end of its useful life by the turn of the century, and so was completely rebuilt in 2001-2004. Their website gives a very detailed account of the demolition and reconstruction process, including a description of the new interior spaces. They have some smallish trees and flowers growing just outside. It has a biggish room just inside the front door, where drinks and food can be served, with comfortable black seats. Through the door is the service area, much bigger, with brown wooden floor. One wall is brown, the others white, and there are windows on the right side.

The church

According to their website, Westbourne Grove Church is the oldest congregation in Notting Hill, formed in 1823, and preceded the arrival of the Anglican churches by 20 years. They sponsor several activities, including prayer meetings, newcomers and foundations courses, Bible studies, and a film discussion group. They are linked with many local churches who are all friendly to each other. Many organisations use this church as their meeting space.

The neighborhood

Notting Hill currently enjoys a reputation as an affluent district of townhouses, fashionable shops and restaurants, but only a century ago it was home to pottery kilns and pig slurries. Portobello Road, famous for its popular street market, is nearby. There are also many shops and homes here, and both old and modern buildings all round.

The cast

Rosemary Baker led the service. The Revd Phil Hicks, co-minister, preached. An elderly woman read the gospel – we were not told her name.

What was the name of the service?

India Churches Fellowship

How full was the building?

The room we entered was full – we ate there before the service. There were 40 or so people at the service, in a room that can hold 250.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We arrived early so we could sample the Indian food plus have some tea or coffee. We were welcomed by the men in charge and also by many of the women and men from India. When we went into the service area, we were given special hymnbooks with English and Indian hymns in them.

Was your pew comfortable?

There were no pews; instead, there were very comfortable black chairs. But there was nowhere to put the Bibles or hymnbooks, so we kept them in our hands.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Before the service we all shared food and chatted with each other, and sang "Happy birthday" and "May the dear Lord bless you" to an 85-year-old man who was celebrating his birthday that day. Then, when we went into the service area, people still chatted. The little children went upstairs to where they could play. Men and women sat together with their shoes on, unlike in India, where the men and women sit at opposite sides and leave their shoes outside.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome all of you! Thank you for praying for me, my illness. Let us
worship God and sing to God. We will hear news about how people are
doing in India, as well as a sermon."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Pages printed with many hymns.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano and guitar were both played for all the many, many English and Indian hymns. The original organ, a Bridley & Foster opus dating from 1882, had been dismantled during the reconstruction and moved to a church in Latvia.

Did anything distract you?

I wondered where the baptistery was – I could not see that.

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

Everyone sang well, with one man leading, and all seemed to enjoy the hymns. One or two people raised their hands at times to send the happy worship message to God. We remained seated throughout – only the leader and the musicians were standing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

8 – The Revd Phil Hicks spoke well and kept our interest. It is clear he knows and understands the Bible and its role in understanding Jesus.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Jesus came not just for the healthy, but for the sick; not just the righteous, but the sinners. Jesus has compassion, forgiveness and recovering for us. Jesus tells us to forgive others who sin against us, and Jesus has mercy toward the sinners around us. Mercy and grace are very important and real. Jesus also healed people. Some people disapprove of us, but God is teaching us mercy and compassion, more important than troubles. If we work to perfect ourselves, we will become better behaved, and thoughts of Jesus give us strength to give to those around. Jesus calls us to help, serve and love people. Communities need a lot of that in order to grow.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Wonderful singing in English and Indian, listening to God's love, listening to people talking about helping people in India who are in need. It was all so good.

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

I saw through the window the rain still coming down. I was a bit

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

Everyone said good-bye to everyone else and said it was nice to meet so many people.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

We had tea, coffee and fruit juice before the service started, and lots of food then too (mainly Indian).

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

6 – Everything seemed so nice. It's not near where I live, but maybe I can visit again.

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

Yes, I heard in the sermon and in the hymns about how much God loves
us. It's good to be a Christian throughout the world.

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

So many happy, kind Christians who love and experience God's love.

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