Mystery Worshipper: Ken T. Poste
Church: Westminster Community Church
Location: Westminster, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 November 2017, 11:00am
They meet in Grosvenor Hall, a small community centre. It is divided into two open plan rooms. The front room acted as both a reception area before the service and as the children's nursery for the duration of the service. The smaller back room was where the main meeting took place. It had a slightly low and unusually angled ceiling, which went up in a series of small peaks. On a late November morning, it was also quite cold.
They were initially set up as part of Ichthus Christian Fellowship, but became independent in 2004. They have recently come out of an interregnum, with Chris Rees taking over the pastorship. They are currently looking at coming under the oversight of the Vineyard network. The church supports a local women's refuge and organises to give Christmas presents to the children currently living there. They hold weekly neighbourhood groups and have a church community meal together once a month.
Though Westminster is best known as the seat of the UK government and is replete with grand architecture, the church is located on a residential backstreet of the Grosvenor Estate, most noticeable for its striking low rise tower blocks that are chequered in white and brown/grey.
The service was led by the pastor, Chris Rees. The musical worship was led by Simon Winnicott.
What was the name of the service?Alpha Sunday.
How full was the building?
The small space was pretty full, with about 25 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I came in, I was greeted by one of the church trustees, Brian Sherriff, who seemed somewhat surprised to see a visitor come in. We had a friendly chat over coffee.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had blue plastic chairs that got a bit uncomfortable after about 20 minutes. Thankfully, most of the sung worship was spent standing up.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was so relaxed as to be almost horizontal. People drifted in and the official start time came and went with hardly anyone batting an eyelid. People continued chatting for as long as they wanted and the service started only when everyone was ready.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. My, this is a late start, even for us."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books or notice sheets. All the words to the songs were projected onto a plain wall at the front of the church.
What musical instruments were played?
An acoustic guitar and an electric drum kit.
Did anything distract you?
On the other side of the window, next to which I was sat, was a small public playground, which was at various time occupied by small children playing, accompanied by the parents, or by gangs of pigeons that strutted around when the people were absent. There was also a small red bin at the front of the church, which was never mentioned, so its purpose remained a mystery that intrigued me for the duration of the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was reasonably happy clappy. I think most of the songs were from the last couple of decades and were of an upbeat tone with repetitive choruses. The service included a fair amount of time given over to people giving testimonies. In place of a sermon, there was a video shown that was part of an Alpha course they had been running. This was entitled "How can I make the most of the rest of my life." It had noticeably high production values, featuring vignette interviews with people whose lives had been turned around by becoming Christians through doing Alpha, interspersed with clips of teaching from Nicky Gumbel, developer of the Alpha course, whose shockingly white teeth were exposed in what I could only think of was an impression of American televangelist Joel Osteen, known for his wide toothy smile. The video lacked an overall coherence, though; some parts of it were either too glamorous and the turnaround stories were just so spectacular. Very little of it seemed relatable to ordinary life.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During the service, the floor was open for anyone to come and give a testimony or to outline various projects that they were working on for the church. Even though its a small congregation, it was lovely to hear so many stories of God;s faithfulness, as well as to witness a high level of engagement from the church members in church life outside of the Sunday meetings.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Very little. If I had to say anything, there was a comment on the video affirming that Christians should be ambitious. This rather jarred with my understanding of the Christian life being based in humility.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Brian, with whom I spoke before the start, came over to enquire how I found it. I didn't get the chance to hang around for long, though, as I had somewhere else to be.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The instant coffee I had before the service was served in a polystyrene cup. Though bland, it wasn't unpleasant.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – The people were wonderful. If I had reason to be in Westminster every Sunday, I'd almost certainly make it my home.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The very friendly, relaxed atmosphere.