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2233: Vine Church, Riches Road, Ilford, Essex, England
Vine Church, Ilford
Photo: PL Kessler/The History Files
Mystery Worshipper: Party Girl.
The church: Vine Church, Riches Road, Ilford, Essex, England.
Denomination: United Reformed Church.
The building: A brick building with lots of glass windows. There are two entrances: one for the church and one for the hall. The building features some attractive stained glass windows. It was very light and airy and, thankfully, had ceiling fans!
The church: Formerly known as Ilford High Road Church, the congregation was founded in 1892 and quickly became one of the strongest churches in Essex. They were active early on in social work of many kinds, including a labour exchange, a sick benefit society, a holiday savings club, a hospital savings group, a horticultural society, a benevolent fund, and clubs for swimming and tennis.
The neighbourhood: They are located just off the high road in Ilford, very near the shopping centre. Very near main roads and lots of blocks of modern flats. I would imagine the area looked very different when the church was first built!
The cast: The Revd Francis Ackroyd.
The date & time: Sunday, 21 August 2011, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holiday Club Service (they had just finished their children's holiday club week).

How full was the building?
When I arrived there were about 20 people there, but by the time I left there were about 50! Lots of latecomers. Most of the seats in the middle of the church were full but there were quite a few empty chairs at the back.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was welcomed by three lovely ladies (separately) and given a newsletter by one of them.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a comfortable padded chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Unfortunately I missed the start of the service as I went into the hall instead of the church. There was another church congregation meeting in the hall (an African church, I think) and it took me a moment to realise I had come into the wrong place! One of the congregation kindly directed me to the right church! I couldn't help feeling that it was rather bizarre (and slightly sad) to have two churches meeting in the same building at the same time. I wonder what Jesus would make of it?

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I missed the opening words (see previous section).

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. The songs were displayed using PowerPoint.

What musical instruments were played?
An electronic piano, a guitar, and some of the congregation were playing percussion instruments.

Did anything distract you?
The usual kind of things: latecomers, some noisy babies and toddlers. The former were more annoying than the latter!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was meant to be happy-clappy but the leader seemed more enthusiastic than most of the congregation. We were encouraged to dance, clap, etc. but I didn't see much of that. The songs were quite dated but I think they may have been ones used that week during the holiday club.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There wasn't a sermon as such. There were five Bible readings, all on the theme of giving gifts. I think the topics were the theme of the holiday club.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The minister made a brief comment about each story from the Bible.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
One comment he made stuck in my mind: the fact that we can give gifts to Jesus as well as him giving them to us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Everyone was very friendly. Quite a few people smiled at me and there was a real sense of community in the congregation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When we were singing "Give me oil in my lamp," the lady in front of me came and stood next to me and tried to get me to sing the chorus very loudly, as she was doing. She encouraged me to follow the music in her book. When I told her that I couldn't read music, she said, "Yes, you can!" I reiterated the fact that I couldn't, and she said, "It's easy! You can teach yourself to read music." People kept looking at us and I just wanted to run out the door! In the end she realised I wasn't going to join in and she went back to her seat. I sang all the other songs very quietly.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the three ladies who had welcomed me came over and asked me if I'd enjoyed the service. She then invited me to stay for tea/coffee in the hall. She asked a couple of the teenage girls to take me through. I did wonder if we'd be with the other church in the building but it was a separate hall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was tea, coffee and fruit squash available. I couldn't see if it was fair trade or not, but I did see a display cabinet full of fair trade products in the church earlier on so I'm guessing they use fair trade. Also there were sandwiches and cakes! When I asked someone if it was a special occasion, they said that the church does this every week. Really nice that some of them have lunch together on a Sunday.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I would have preferred to be left to sing as I was able, rather than be forced to do so by a well-meaning but mistaken parishioner.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, mainly because of how friendly everyone was.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I thought it would be the scary singing lady (as I nicknamed her!) but actually it was the fact they were so friendly and welcoming.
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