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493: St James, West Streatham, London
Other reports | Comment on this report
St James, West Streatham, London
Mystery Worshipper: Andras.
The church: St James, West Streatham, London.
Denomination: Anglican.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: St James' was built in yellowish London brick in the early years of the 20th century or the very end of the Victorian era. It has a vaguely Norman interior – the arches are pointed, anyway – but, oddly enough, looks rather less impressive than the Baptist church across the road.
The church: This is one very active church, judging by the list of activities mentioned in the printed notices.
The neighbourhood: The area is amusingly known to the yuppies busily moving in as St Reatham. Houses in the vicinity are going for around 300,000, so people are presumably either fairly well-heeled or stretched to breaking point (or both). Furzedown, the area immediately around the church, was developed by Quakers in the late 1800s, and a covenant which still has some time to run means that there are no pubs or off-licences in the area, so the church probably serves the only alcoholic liquor available for a mile in each direction.
The cast: Vicar: Rev. George Howard; Curate: Rev. Sandy White.
What was the name of the service?
Family Service.

How full was the building?
Pretty full in the body of the church, though the choir-stalls were unoccupied; perhaps a couple of hundred took communion or went up for a blessing.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were two people in the narthex handing out duplicated A5 service-sheets. No greeting from the chap sitting by me in the pew, but as the chorus singing had started earlier than the scheduled service-time, perhaps he was preoccupied with that. Greeted by people from all over the church during the Peace, however. This seems to be an occasion for everyone to roam around freely.

Was your pew comfortable?
A good standard pew with hassocks, which apparently nobody used, with just a low-church position used during the prayers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service singing of choruses from the service sheet apparently started at about 10.50 for an 11.00am service. Starting early is a particular bugbear of mine, but at least it made for a reverent atmosphere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A very warm welcome to everybody, especially if you're a visitor to St James."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just the service sheet, though there were Good News Bibles scattered along the pews, and the page-number was given out before the single New Testament reading (not very helpfully as it happens, as "page 9" would take most non-churched people to the beginning of the book, not the beginning of the New Testament!)

What musical instruments were played?
The vicar played a guitar, and a lady played a very fine electronic piano. The children were invited to the front to accompany the first song on a variety of percussion instruments – a lovely idea.

Did anything distract you?
The electronics. The words of the songs, together with some other information, were displayed on video screens around the church, including an enormous back-projection screen hanging over the pulpit area. It was very well-done, but felt rather Over The Top.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was Anglican worship at its absolute lowest common-denominator. No Common Worship, no psalm, no canticles, no Old Testament reading, no litany, just lots of choruses, a sermon and a single reading. Indeed, I've seen Elim Pentecostal services which were "higher" than this. There was a fair bit of arm-waving in the congregation, but it didn't seem to be compulsory.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
23 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Not so much a sermon, more an introduction to the Lent Studies on prayer. But the electronics must limit the preacher terribly. The various "bullet points" were illustrated on those big screens with clip-art and "key phrases", so no chance of the Spirit making the preacher say something that hadn't been pre-planned here!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Simple prayer" – to go along with Richard Foster's book, Prayer, which was being sold to those intending to go to the Lent Series meetings. A simple look at the fact that God wants us to "be in touch", with a very proper insistence that there's no need for special words or high-flown phrases. Uncontroversial and sound teaching, but it hardly lifted the roof.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The communion itself was, as always, wonderful, and I find that it's particularly good to be able to take communion among strangers, thus becoming more aware of the invisible bond that joins us all in Christ.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The fact that apart from during the Peace, I was ignored.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung around looking as lonely as possible, and was very politely ignored by everyone, except for a lady who came up to me, asked if I was new to the area, assured me that it was a very friendly church, and then turned away to talk to someone else. If I had been an intending long-term worshipper, I would have been devastated. Here is a church with obviously good resources, financial and human, which clearly thinks of itself as outgoing and welcoming and informal, but in which a visitor was simply left to hang out to dry by lay people and clergy alike. A very poor show indeed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A nice cup of instant coffee in a proper cup. Tea and squash were also available. But no fellowship to go with it.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – Next time I'll try the Baptists over the road!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
There was nothing wrong with the worship, except that it was lower than I really like, and the communion was great; but I felt ignored, which should NEVER happen.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That enormous screen with the chorus words on it.
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