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2104: Christ Church, Barking, Essex, England
Christ Church, Barking, Essex
Mystery Worshipper: Party Girl.
The church: Christ Church, Barking, Essex, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chelmsford.
The building: Nothing particularly outstanding to look at. Brick built. Entrance in the middle with the church on one side and rooms on the other. There is a large tower above the entrance. There was an interesting notice in the entrance, pointing out that it was an Anglican church and that if people wanted a Catholic church, they needed to go to St Thomas More or St Mary & St Ethelburga in the town centre, with directions to same.
The church: I think the church does community work on the (very needy) estate on which it is located. It is part of a team of three Anglican churches in the town, the others being St Margaret's and St Patrick's.
The neighbourhood: The church is on a large housing estate, called Thames View Estate, which consists of around 2000 homes and was built by the government in 1951 on marshland. It borders the River Thames (hence its name). I'm guessing the church was built at the same time as the houses. Lots more homes are to be built near this area in the next couple of decades.
The cast: The vicar was on holiday, so the service was led by the two church wardens: Gift (female) and Gerry (male). Gift, in particular, was incredibly gifted (how appropriate!) at leading the service. If she isn't training to be a minister, she should be.
The date & time: 22 August 2010, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Family Service.

How full was the building?
It was about a quarter full (approximately 20 people).

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, quite a few people spoke to me. I'm guessing everyone spotted I was a visitor, as there weren't many people there. I wasn't handed a book, but there was a weekly newsletter on the table by the front door and plenty of songbooks on the chairs. Everyone seemed extremely friendly. As the 9.30am service had just finished when I arrived, they were still serving tea and coffee and I was invited to get a drink.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were chairs – comfy, padded chairs at the front and slightly less comfortable looking plastic chairs at the back. I sat nearer the front!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite lively, considering there weren't many people there. People were drinking tea/coffee/soft drinks and chatting to one another. All very relaxed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone, and welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were Good News Bibles available and Songs of Fellowship songbooks.

What musical instruments were played?
An electronic piano.

Did anything distract you?
Not much. There was a baby crying intermittently and I could smell fresh paint (which wasn't great for my asthma) but that was about it!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty lively. A lot of the songs were what would be termed children's songs, but everyone joined in, not just with the singing but with the actions as well! I was impressed with their enthusiasm – I've been in churches with congregations 10 times the size who have paled in comparison to this one when it comes to enthusiastic singing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Warden Gerry's style was very relaxed, like someone talking to friends (which I imagine he was).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The main theme was freedom and he touched on different aspects of this. He referred to the reading (Luke 13:10-17 – on the sabbath, Jesus heals a woman who was bent double). He talked about how much he believed in healing and had experienced it, both for himself and when praying for others. He said how Jesus was often in conflict with authority; how we are bound by all sorts of things, not just physical ailments; that Jesus wants us to be free; and that we shouldn't compare ourselves with others but fix our eyes on Jesus.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The fact that everyone seemed to be part of one big family and I was made to feel so welcome. I can't recall the last time I was at a church that was so friendly or relaxed. It felt more like being in someone's home than a church building!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I really struggled to find something to put here, to be honest. I guess the baby crying was a bit distracting but that seems a bit mean as the baby could hardly help doing what babies do! Also a few people arrived late.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Gift, who was absolutely delightful, came up and asked how I'd enjoyed the service. She also invited me to get another drink and said I was very welcome to come back any time. Several other people spoke to me as well.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had my coffee before (and during!) the service. It was instant but fair trade (as was the tea). Biscuits were available too. When I declined one, the lady said to me "We've got chocolate ones if you'd prefer those." Took all my willpower to say no!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I think this says more about me than the church, but I guess I prefer somewhere that looks a bit more posh and is less homespun, i.e. more middle class. I'm now wondering what Jesus would think of my comments. I suspect he'd feel more at home at this church than the ones I might prefer.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. I've rarely seen such a sense of family in a church. Also, there were great comments (all from Gift) such as "Every minute, every second, is a time to share good news" and "Sometimes we misplace our youth and the children can show us how to get it back" (said on one of the occasions when the children came up to lead us in singing).

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The incredible sense of it being a group of friends who all love God, rather than being "at church."
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