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2468: Christ Church, Erith, Kent, England
Christ Church, Erith, Kent
Photo: Steve Thoroughgood
Mystery Worshipper: Wes Charles.
The church: Christ Church, Erith, Kent, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Rochester.
The building: A beautiful building. From outside it looks like a country parish church (in Greater London). Inside, there is a high beamed ceiling and beautiful murals around the walls, one of which (thought to be one of only four in the whole country) depicts the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Mary. It is a very impressive interior indeed.
The church: Unfortunately I didn't get the opportunity to investigate. They appear not to have their own website. Their listing on the website A Church Near You is not particularly informative, except to say that they profess to be family-friendly and that they offer holy communion and a family service each Sunday, as well as Sunday school. There is also holy communion on Thursday mornings.
The neighbourhood: Erith is a suburb of London. The church stands on the main road along the Thames from London heading east. It was on the route of the Tour De France when it started in London a couple of years ago. The area is a mixture of large-ish suburban houses and tower blocks.
The cast: The Rt Revd James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester, and the Revd Julie Conalty, vicar.
The date & time: Sunday, 16 December 2012, 6.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Christmas Carol Service by Tree Light.

How full was the building?
Standing room only it was absolutely packed and really encouraging to be in such a crowded place of worship. I arrived about five minutes before the start and it was already bursting at the seams. The church was so full that I had to stand at the back, and was kind-of swept out with the crowds at the end.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Kind-of. A gentleman saw me gazing at a closed door and directed me to the entrance round the other side of the building. There was no real welcome as I arrived as it was so full, but I was smiled at from a distance by a "welcomer."

Was your pew comfortable?
Unfortunately I was one of those blessed with standing room at the back. Those seated had wooden pews and didn't appear to be uncomfortable. I was OK standing for an hour, but by the end I could feel the cold from the floor rising through my shoes.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Busy and bustling, but not irreverent. It felt friendly yet not too noisy.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of Christ, I welcome you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service sheet, a brochure about the Christmas trees (more later), and the Bethlehem Carol Sheet (more later).

What musical instruments were played?
An organ. which was completely overpowered by the huge congregation! In the "main" verses it was OK, but in the "quiet" verses it felt like we were singing a cappella.

Did anything distract you?
Well, the Christmas trees were lovely, but I'm using that for my "heaven" bit. I guess the most distracting thing was that I couldn't hear the organ or the readers very well. The microphones could have been louder. The bishop was fine in the sermon, but the readings were hard to hear.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Nicely traditional. As it was a nine-lessons-and-carols type of service, presided over by the bishop rather than the usual vicar, it was hard to get an impression of a "normal" service, but it seemed quite traditional fully-robed choir, etc.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The bishop was very easy to listen to quite conversational in style yet a clear speaker. I guess he was trying to appeal to people present who might not usually go to church, but regardless of that, he was very approachable.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Shepherds. God apparently didn't really think things through in an expected way, as the first people to visit the child were shepherds, who "probably didn't bathe very often!" He compared shepherds, who were quite lowly in their day, to us – "real" people who can now approach Christ without needing to be special.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The service formed part of the Erith Christmas tree festival, and the church was packed with Christmas trees, some dedicated by families, others sponsored by local businesses it was absolutely beautiful. According to the brochure, there were 81 Christmas trees in the church, all beautifully decorated. The church was lit mainly by the light from these trees, and looked stunning. This was my "heavenly" moment, which lasted the whole service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The Bethlehem Carol Sheet. The authors seemed to find it necessary to change the words of carols to make them more politically correct. Tonight's victims were "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" and "Hark The Herald Angels Sing." Note to vicar: please don't mess with Wesley. Browsing through the hymn sheet, I was only thankful they didn't choose to sing "Good Christians All, Rejoice", as I might have walked out and missed the end of the service!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't. The weather was threatening rain and I was cycling in the dark.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were apparently mince pies and coffee in the church hall.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Based on tonight's service, I'd be delighted to make this my regular, as long as they promise not to mess with the hymns. Unfortunately, I already have a regular and it's just round the corner.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. It was incredibly uplifting and fabulous to have such a packed church.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Christmas trees.
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