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  1020: Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London

Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London

Mystery Worshipper: Aquila.
The church: Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London.
Denomination: Independent Baptist.
The building: It looked very much like a typical city church from the outside and had been newly refurbished inside.
The church community: The attendees were local residents who seemed to know each other well, plus a homeless person who wandered in for coffee at the end.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in the trendy Notting Hill area of London. There are lots of coffee shops and restaurants in the surrounding area, and there are also quite a few churches in this part of London.
The cast: Chris Thackery, minister, led the service.

What was the name of the service?
Main meeting.

How full was the building?
About 25 people sat in two rows of chairs arranged in a semicircle. There were several small children present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady with very long hair greeted me enthusiastically as I entered the building and supplied me with a cup of coffee which was very welcome, as I had just fallen out of bed. We chatted about this and that, which church I usually go to, etc. But after about ten minutes she started to look me up and down suspiciously, and I wondered if I had somehow given the game away.

Was your pew comfortable?
Perfectly adequate padded chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly peaceful, but it was a small congregation. Most of the visiting was done out in the foyer. Chris, the minister, personally welcomed several newcomers who were sitting near each other. I thought this was a nice gesture, as it can be awkward attending a smallish meeting for the first time where everybody seems to know each other.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to Westbourne Grove Church. If you're a visitor, welcome. We love visitors."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
New International version and King James version of the Bible were available. We were invited to stand up and read bits if we felt the urge, and somebody did take up this offer.

What musical instruments were played?
Guitar and clarinet.

Did anything distract you?
The clarinetist swayed throughout the worship, and I noticed one old lady whose false teeth fell out during one of the hymns.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Rather subdued happy clappy. The number of people present was small and they didn't seem to know the hymns terribly well, so it did lack gusto. The guitarist ended up singing solo most of the time, although the words were projected onto a screen and people were invited to go up front to sing if they felt the urge. I quite like this audience participation thing – it means that taking an active role in the service is not just for a select few but for anyone present.

Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London

Exactly how long was the sermon?
34 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Chris had a new microphone which he proudly showed off for us, and he had put an outline of the sermon on the projector. Even so, I actually found it quite difficult to concentrate.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Bible – how difficult it is, but how powerful Scripture can be.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy, which most people seemed to know. There was a prayerful and calm atmosphere, and I did feel that God was listening.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Some of the hymn singing was rather lifeless and the swaying clarinetist really caught my eye quite a lot. The lady with long hair continued to eye me during the service, which meant that I couldn't write any notes for fear of blowing my cover and had to go into the toilet (which incidently was very well maintained) to scribble frantically.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
No intercessions.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Chris talked to me at some length about various things and pointed out the prayer board. In fact, I met most of the congregation, including Alex, the swaying clarinetist, and by the time I left I felt that I knew them all intimately. They were all going to lunch together but I declined.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Instant coffee. No biscuits, though. I couldn't find a collection box anywhere so I had to pin the calling card onto the prayer board before legging it down the street.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I prefer worship that has a bit more oomph and I like to be part of a larger congregation. However, the small number present facilitated getting to know everyone quickly, and I did appreciate the genuine warmth and friendliness of the people I spoke to.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Hmm, not sure. Not particularly dynamic. But anyone would be able to visit this church and receive friendship and feel supported, which I suppose is what Christianity is all about.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How friendly they all were.
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