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2452: Free Church, Sansad Marg, New Delhi, India
Free Church, New Delhi
Mystery Worshipper: Haywood.
The church: Free Church, Sansad Marg, New Delhi, India.
Denomination: Church of North India.
The building: An impressive neoclassical colonial style building in the centre of New Delhi. Inside there is wide seating on one floor with an open worship area in the front. Many ceiling fans were in operation – very welcome in Delhi's hot weather.
The church: They say that they encourage the spirit of togetherness, both in worship and in social activities. They hold a garden fete and a choral festival every year. They take great pride in their Sunday school for children; their ministry to the hearing and speech impaired; and their mission work, which includes translating the Bible into the indigenous languages of India and aid for exploited and abandoned children.
The neighbourhood: New Delhi, India's capital and largest city, is one of the world's most important centres of commerce and is also known for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, numerous national institutions, museums and landmarks. The Sansad Marg is close to the centre of New Delhi and is where Parliament House is located. Within a short walk is the Rajpath, or King's Way, one of the two central promenades around which the city is constructed. Also close by is the Jantar Mantar observatory with its unique architectural astronomical instruments.
The cast: The Revd Suresh Kumar, pastor, and the Revd Vasant K. Reuben. Another unnamed minister assisted with communion. Several members of the congregation read and sang.
The date & time: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 30 September 2012, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
English Speaking Service.

How full was the building?
I arrived about ten minutes before the service started and followed three people in Ė we were the first there. People kept arriving as the service went through its first half hour, so it was probably half full by the end.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one welcomed me. If I hadnít followed a few others in, I wouldnít have known to pick up a hymn book or a notice sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was adequate. Nice to have the fans moving the air around on a hot morning.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A few people at the front were chattering and setting up the music group. The group started singing to lead us into worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Greetings on this Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost when the theme is the family."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Methodist Hymnal, The Book of Worship or the Church of North India, Readings for Sunday Worship (Year B) Ė Church of North India.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard and guitars.

Did anything distract you?
The fans were welcome but rather noisy and sometimes made it difficult to hear what was being said. Also during the Lordís Prayer (sung to Auld Lang Syne!) someone poked me and told me where the words were. Although kindly meant, I knew the words and was in the middle of my prayers.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal worship throughout apart from the informal music before the worship started. But there didnít seem to be much joy in the worship.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
29 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The pastor spoke informally and I quite warmed to his style, if not to the content. He seemed to be emphasising God's judgment rather than God's grace and mercy (in fact, grace was not mentioned).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He followed the theme of the "the family Ė husband and wife" and the reading from Malachi 2 ("The man who hates and divorces his wife ... does violence to the one he should protect"). Many people donít value their husband or wife and God sees this as a sin. If our covenant with God is broken by divorce, Godís blessing will not be upon us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing by the young people at the beginning of the service. It was delightful. Pity there were so few there to hear it.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The peace, which we were asked to share with each other. Nobody would let me into their personal space! Nobody offered me their hand. All rather embarrassing. Also, at another point, the pastor asked husbands to hold their wivesí hands and say to them, "Darling, I love you." I didnít see anyone do this. But at any rate I thought it was culturally insensitive to unmarried members of the congregation who might like to be married, or to some who may be divorced and were made to feel even more guilty, or to gay members who didnít want this style of relationship at all. I believe God loves them all equally, but this wasnít being expressed in this church.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing! No one spoke or approached me. I tried smiling and looking inviting but no one responded. I shook hands with the three ministers as I left the main door (I could have left by one of the two other doors and not had a handshake.) All I got out of anyone was a good morning but nothing more.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I could not find anything on offer.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I know that people in Delhi are warm and friendly, and not at all like the congregation of this church. If this is how they show a welcome to a visitor, I wouldnít want to return.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The music at the start did, but quite a lot of the rest made me sad that they saw only a restricted view of what God is like.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The music at the start of the service, together with the heat and fans whizzing round.
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