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3199: St John's, Hampton Wick, England
St John's, Hampton Wick
Mystery Worshipper: Pippa Passes.
The church: St John's, Hampton Wick, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of London.
The building: A Gothic Revival building on land donated by local architect Edward Lapidge, who also designed nearby Kingston Bridge. Dating from 1829, it was originally intended to be a chapel of ease to nearby St Mary at Hampton, but it was instead designated a parish church upon completion and then enlarged. The chancel dates from 1887. Further alterations took place in 1880 and again in 1911. Closed in 2005, it was reopened five years later.
The church: They have (quoting from their website) "a vibrant children’s church that encourages children to develop their faith, build friendships and have fun." There is a men's ministry, a women's ministry, and a student group. They also have a number of social ministries, most notably "Room for Work," which helps older workers made redundant to prepare for new positions. "Who Let the Dads Out?" is a monthly group for dads and their preschool children. They have two evening prayer services once each month: "Worship Jam" on the fourth Monday and "Furnace" on the second Tuesday. There are two morning services and one evening service each Sunday.
The neighbourhood: Hampton Wick is a Thames-side area of the London borough of Richmond upon Thames. A bridge has spanned the Thames here since the 13th century, although today's Kingston Bridge is 19th century. Cross the bridge and you leave this very green part of Richmond, which includes Hampton Court, and enter the heart of the retail cornucopia of Kingston.
The cast: Celebrant: the Revd Jerry Field, vicar. Preacher: ordinand Donna Williams.
The date & time: Sunday, 16 July 2017, 9.00am. Their website states: "All our services are informal and begin with 15 minutes for coffee and refreshments." And so the service actually got underway at 9.15am.

What was the name of the service?
No name.

How full was the building?
Very busy, possibly 80 people moving around a lot.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
"Hi" from a greeter and the vicar as I arrived, then comprehensively ignored until the peace.

Was your pew comfortable?
Reasonably comfortable modern wooden chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I attended this service specifically because I had heard of churches offering refreshment before the service. My informant said this was to encourage people to get their chatting out of the way before settling into an attitude of reverence. This failed miserably for me as an experience. I felt genuinely too shy to demand breakfast, and sat on a nearby bench while others milled around greeting each other. A breakfast server sat next to me reading the paper. The best I got was a half wink from someone who had been litter-picking outside before the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Er, if you want to grab a seat and come and join us ... everyone's very chatty this morning." The vicar struggled to get the attention of his flock and have them sit down.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Zilch. Didn't see any printed material anywhere. Relied on audio visual equipment to display words of hymns and slides during sermon.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard and guitars.

Did anything distract you?
Everything! Food and drink still being consumed 15 minutes into the service. People wandering around. But mostly the sinking of my spirit as I had the authentic experience of being the ignored outsider.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy flappy. To be fair, I would not normally choose this sort of service, but I found the lack of structure bewildering. I have never learned to warble praise songs in an American style – the melody of the traditional English hymn tune O waly waly came as a slight relief, though still sung very loosely.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
26 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The ordinand had just returned from mission work in South Sudan and was still getting over a case of the shingles. She rattled off some secular quotations at the beginning, in warm-up style.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Love, and her experience of the Christian witness to it amongst residents of refugee camps in South Sudan. Her main point to us was that we should each think about how we can meet the challenge of the poor and broken here in the UK.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A couple of people finally had a little chat with me during the peace. I spotted a delightful newborn sleeping his way through the service. The church building had an attractive and airy interior.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The whole experience of feeling lost and lonely. In an extemporised prayer, the vicar said that he sensed that someone in the congregation was holding some poison that needed to be released. Probably me. The low point was when a young father (I gathered he is a member of the church council) asked in a not very friendly way if I could lean forward so he could retrieve his child's jacket.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
That all happened at the beginning of the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Looked nice. I didn't like to ask for anything.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – Quite frankly, I was put off by the sight of banana peels and used coffee cups lying around during the service. Shame. It also strikes me as odd that their website home page depicts a hotel style buffet breakfast as the opening picture.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Slightly less than when I got up in the morning. Grateful for the complete stranger in the street who wished me a lovely Sunday.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
My optimism as I approached the church. Will definitely think about how I make newcomers to my church feel.
 
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