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  1033: Church of the Nazarene, Clapham Junction, London

Church of the Nazarene, Clapham Junction, London

Mystery Worshipper: J. Bez.
The church: Church of the Nazarene, Clapham Junction, Battersea, London.
Denomination: Church of the Nazarene.
The building: A mid-20th century circular hatbox of a building in plain brown brick and concrete panels separated by narrow vertical windows, and topped with a central glass spire. The most striking feature is a spiral ramp wrapped around the building, with flaking blue paint and metre-high white lettering proclaiming, "Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life". The windows are covered with heavy-duty security grilles, giving the place a rather forlorn look. Inside, there is a small multi-purpose hall on the ground floor, and stairs leading to the first-floor sanctuary – a simple, well-lit space with exposed timber rafters.
The church community: This is evidently a warm-hearted family church, with a mixed-age congregation of people who clearly know and look out for one another. It is a largely Afro-Caribbean congregation, with people from around a dozen nationalities. While three-quarters were women and girls, it was noticeable that there were a number of young adult men too. This is a community of quite limited resources – the minister works during the week as a translator with a Bible Society.
The neighbourhood: The church stands opposite the north entrance to Clapham Junction station, on the edge of a large estate of low- and high-rise housing. It is evidently a multi-ethnic and relatively low-income community. The immediate surroundings are unprepossessing and most shops have heavy-duty shutters. Having said that, the place felt safe enough to walk around.
The cast: The Minister, Rev. Dr Ebute Obiabo, conducted the service and gave the sermon. Several members of the congregation were invited to lead prayers and a lady called Monica led the children in a Bible quiz.

What was the name of the service?
10.45am family service.

How full was the building?
The sanctuary filled up to about half its capacity – about 120. There was also a small crèche in the downstairs hall.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we approached the building, we were warmly greeted by two ladies who immediately introduced themselves by name before asking our names and about where we were from. As we made our way to our seats, we were greeted several more times, with warm handshakes and friendly eye contact, and a youngster came across and gave us hymnbooks. With pale complexions in a minority, we clearly stood out as visitors, but we were put very much at ease.

Was your pew comfortable?
The padded movable seats were surprisingly comfortable, not the wobbly stacking chairs often found in modern churches!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Arriving 10 minutes before the 10.45 advertised time, we were among only a handful of early-birds. People trickled in, exchanging friendly greetings as a worship CD set a gently reflective tone. A lone guitarist tuned up to the soundtrack of "I will offer up my life" as another young man eased himself into the midst of a drum kit. The service actually started at about 5 to 11, when the minister took up position behind a table with a small lectern and large flower arrangement.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"I'd like to welcome you all to this special Lord's Day, on this beautiful morning." The minister then introduced the first song, which was a simple chorus of "All over the world God's Spirit is moving".

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Two books were provided for all to use: the Redemption Hymnal (a classic Pentecostal hymn book) and Songs of Fellowship. All songs used in the service actually came from the latter. Congregants brought their own Bibles with them, a mixture of versions.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ, piano, keyboard, two guitars and the drum set were arranged on either side of the pulpit, but only the drummer and one guitarist were playing. It seemed that the usual/expected worship leader was unable to attend, so the drummer loudly led the way with the relatively inexperienced guitarist manfully following on.

Did anything distract you?
The most noticeable distraction came in the form of platform announcements at Clapham Junction. These seemed to be timed to coincide with prayers, lending a distinctive sense of place to the proceedings!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was simple and heartfelt, though perhaps more sedate than might be expected. A young girl sang "Abba, Father" unaccompanied, with beautiful simplicity. After that, the drummer set the pace, providing a steady rhythmic tempo – actually much the same tempo for everything. Just before the sermon, the minister informed us of a couple of people celebrating birthdays, and they were treated to a congregational rendition of "Happy birthday" there and then.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
35 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The minister spoke in a genial, accessible teaching style, often pausing to ask for participation from the congregation. He used many down-to-earth illustrations, drawing on real-life examples within the congregation or his own Nigerian background. At one point he produced a couple of rather crumpled overhead transparencies, which he used to explain the Hebrew word for "holy".

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The reading was 1 Peter 2:1-10. Off to a topical start, we were reminded of the "one billion who were focused upon a chimney in Rome," awaiting the election of the new Pope. Then the UK general election. Our attention was drawn to the theme of elections, choices and making up of minds. The Bible reading refers to the election of the people of God, and we were exhorted to consider whether, if having chosen to believe, are we actually walking in it? Serious intent involves getting rid of malice and even the appearance of evil. There were plenty of practical illustrations, a notable one being an incident in which the preacher had a pen leak in his shirt pocket, and how all attempts to cleanse the stain proved futile. So it is with any venom in our hearts; we cannot get rid of it in our own strength. "Holiness unto the Lord" is the Church of the Nazarene theme, and the sermon ended with a call to let our life declare the glory of God, a life based upon Christ. We closed with the Dave Bilborough song, "An army of ordinary people".

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The genuine warmth and acceptance of this church community was a blessing; the sense of love and gentle spirituality perhaps reflecting the church's roots in the Wesleyan Holiness movement.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The alternative "proclamations" from Clapham Junction station bore in on the proceedings as ill-timed reminders of the rather prosaic surroundings and the bleaker realities of life in inner London. So who needs the "other place"?

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
There were several moments of prayer during the service, including a time of intercession, which two of the ladies were invited to lead. Prayers were offered for various church members who were ill or facing challenges, or for those about to make long journeys.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Staying in our seats after the service ended, we were approached by several people in succession, asking us who we were and engaging us cheerfully in conversation. By the time we made our way slowly out of the building, we must have shaken hands with half of the adult congregation. In short, we were made to feel like long-lost cousins!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No refreshments on offer, though this hardly detracted from the friendly atmosphere.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – If we lived in this locality, this is a place where it feels possible to get involved and help make a difference.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and a reminder of the call to holy living.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The straightforward and unaffected welcome we received will stay with us for some time.
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