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2115: The Potters House, Barking, Essex, England
Potters House, Barking
Mystery Worshipper: Party Girl.
The church: The Potters House, Barking, Essex, England.
Denomination: Independent Pentecostal. They seem to be loosely affiliated with one of the Potters House organisations (not sure which one, as there are several) that are based in the United States.
The building: The Barking branch of the Potters House Church meets in Barking Abbey Lower School. The school was built in the early 1920s and was the local grammar school before it became a comprehensive. Funnily enough, it's the school my brother went to. The service was held in the school gym.
The church: This church is a plant from the Walthamstow Potters House church and has only been in existence for about a month. There are approximately 65-70 Potters House churches in the UK.
The neighbourhood: Barking is a retail and commercial centre in the northeast part of London. The town is steeped in historic lore, beginning with Barking Abbey, a nunnery founded in 666, demolished, reconstructed, and finally demolished for good during the dissolution of the monasteries. The expression "barking mad" is thought by some to refer to an insane asylum associated with the abbey, but linguists generally discount that etymology. Barking Abbey Lower School is next to Barking Park and is about 15 minutes walk from the town centre. On the other side of the road is the local bus garage and a parade of shops.
The cast: The service was led by the pastor. I didn't catch his surname (he is from Nigeria) but his first name was Success!
The date & time: Sunday, 15 August 2010, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
There wasn't a name for the service.

How full was the building?
There were eight people when the service started (15 minutes late but I didn't mind as it all seemed very relaxed) and twelve by the time the service finished. Penny, the pastor's wife, explained to me that the services were held at 2.30pm until recently and that people may still be confused about the change in time.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, everyone was very friendly. Penny was very friendly. We chatted for quite a while before the service started about various things such as the local area, the history of Potters House Church, and our own faith journeys. Other people said hello and smiled at me.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a plastic chair and was perfectly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was worship music playing in the background (a little on the loud side). There weren't many people there so not much chatter.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We're gonna start. We'll sing some songs and give glory to God."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books handed out (some people had brought their own Bibles with them – not me!). The songs were projected onto a screen.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard and electronic drums.

Did anything distract you?
A couple of things. The doors to the school gym where the service took place were left open and it was quite cold; I had to put my jacket back on. Also, the pastor used a microphone, which meant that the volume was far too loud. It's a small room and his voice didn't need a microphone. Plus he did that pentecostal thing of asking the congregation to say "amen" all the time, which really irritates me!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very happy clappy, which I enjoy. We sang about half a dozen songs, one after the other. I only knew one of them but the others were easy to pick up. I was very impressed by the singing. The eight or so people there at the start sang better and with more enthusiasm than congregations 10 times their size! A woman who had been prayed for the week before gave testimony about how she had been healed of back pain, and there was an altar call (for a congregation of eight people!).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – As mentioned earlier, the constant exhortation to "Say amen" was a bit annoying. However, the sermon was clear and easy to follow. He used lots of examples from his life, a style I quite like.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about "Thy Will Be Done" (he is doing a series on the Lord's Prayer). Basically there were three main points: doing God's will can be hard, we need discernment to know God's will, and we need to reject the world's will in favour of God's will. He finished with a very good quote regarding God's will: nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful worship, the inspiring sermon, the very friendly people, and the testimony given by the woman who had been healed.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being so cold (didn't understand why the doors were left open) and feeling deafened by the volume of the preaching. Also I wasn't keen on the altar call, as it seemed to go on forever and I would have thought that everyone there was already a Christian.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I wasn't left hanging around for a moment. Penny, who had been playing the keyboard, came over and asked me if I'd enjoyed the service. Her husband, Success, then came over and we chatted for a while.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no after-service refreshments. There didn't seem to be any suitable facilities at the school for serving coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Although I enjoyed the worship and the people were very friendly, at heart I'm an Anglican so can't really see myself in a Pentecostal church. Plus, I suspect I'm a bit more liberal, theologically speaking, than they are! Also, I would prefer to be in a church with more people.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but I generally feel glad to be a Christian most of the time!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The very friendly welcome from the pastor's wife – well done, Penny!
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