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3093: St Michael & All Angels, Camberwell, London
St Michael & All Saints, Camberwell
Mystery Worshipper: Ken T. Poste.
The church: St Michael & All Angels, Camberwell, London.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Southwark.
The building: It's a very new building; only a few years old. The architect took inspiration from the Church of the Light in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, Japan, by building a translucent cross into the front of the church, so that the light from the outside streams into the main body of the church, whilst also providing a very public image to the street front. The building has a very light and airy feel to it, mainly due to the contrast between the white walls against the pale wood of the seating, which is arranged in a U-shape, thus making quite an open space in front of the dark wooden altar. Around the church are dotted small carvings, depicting the 14 stations of the cross, only due to a clerical error, the first and second are the wrong way round.
The church: The current church is an amalgamation of three older churches within the parish. So the full name of the church is St Michael & All Angels and All Souls with Emmanuel. The church is also inextricably linked with a school that was built at the same as the church and that seems to be the church's main ministry. The church also runs a mums and tots group as well as linking with an organisation called Youth Futures for teenagers in the parish. They also enjoy good ecumenical relations with a Baptist church that is less than 50 yards away.
The neighbourhood: There's an interesting motif that one may notice if one spends enough time around Camberwell – bees. There's some bee/honey themed graffiti around the nearby housing estates; there's a pub called the Beehive a few yards up the road; and if one wanders around for long enough then one may well stumble across the odd urban apiary. Dotted with high-rise tower blocks, the area doesnít enjoy the best of reputations and according to a notice board was the 12th most deprived parish in the diocese.
The cast: The service was led by the priest-in-charge, the Revd Jonathan Roberts.
The date & time: Remembrance Sunday, 13 November 2016, 1000am.

What was the name of the service?
Parish Mass.

How full was the building?
It wouldn't take many to fill the building, so the 40 or so people made it feel a little over half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I came through the door and saw a pile of hymn books and orders of service on a table, each with a notice sheet tucked into them, but no one was stood by them to hand them out or say which ones we needed. I picked up what I thought was the right combination. But when I sat down, someone came over and took back one of the notice sheets. During the giving of the peace, I did notice that very few people made eye contact, with most looking at the handshake we were giving one another.

Was your pew comfortable?
We had individual wooden chairs that one wouldn't want to be seated on for very long.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quietly friendly. People spoke to one another, catching up with the week's news, but it was far from being a cacophony. That came shortly after the service began (see below).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Said with some gusto: "Good morning. Our opening hymn is 77."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We sang from Hymns Old & New. We largely followed Holy Communion, Order One, from Common Worship. The readings, which were printed on the notice sheet, were taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. For the remembrance part of the service, words were projected onto a wall.

What musical instruments were played?
No instruments were physically present. The music was organ-based, but played from a laptop computer and piped through the PA system.

Did anything distract you?
There were two major diversions, one welcome, one not. There was a little girl in the row in front of me who kept turning round and looking at me quite suspiciously, prompting me to give her some friendly smiles throughout the service. The less welcome distraction came in the form of the air conditioning, which turned itself on just after the first hymn and created a terrible racket. So much so that the Revd Jonathan was first trying to shout over it, but eventually stopped the service so he could go to the back of the church and fiddle with some controls in order to turn it off before he could resume. Whilst he was doing this, the congregation all smiled and a gently laughed in what seemed to be a mixture of embarrassment and schadenfreude.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a happy medium. There were elements of high churchmanship here, but it wasn't exactly the apogee of Anglo-Catholicism. Some might even say it was a little lax in places, most notably for the fact that the processional cross was just propped up against a wall. The acolytes were all in cream albs with red rope belts. The Revd Jonathan started the service in a dark red chasuble but did a quick change into a surplice with black stole part way through the service, as he felt it was more appropriate to mark remembrance as he marks funerals, as a "clerk in holy orders" rather than his preferred casual jeans and clerical shirt that he was wearing after the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Revd Jonathan spoke very well and entirely without notes. It was just a shame the sermon had nothing to do with any of the scriptures that had been read. Noticeable by its absence was any reference whatsoever to the recent US presidential election.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Continuing a series on death, but linking to Remembrance Sunday, he spoke about soldiery. The early Church taught that one could not be both a Christian and a soldier, so refused to baptise active soldiers. This only changed with the advent of Constantinian Catholicism. We then had a short history of the development of British housing estates and how they were shaped as a way of preventing terrorists from driving straight through. We all have blood on our hands because we worry about what our armed forces do. Yet we also have pride because armies ultimately work for peace.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I couldn't really call it "heavenly" but the observation of the remembrance was done with great simplicity and dignity that felt befitting of the respect that is due to all victims of war.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The singing. It was out of time, out of tune, and as far from a "joyful noise unto the Lord" as one could dare to get. It was the antithesis of organised religion. It only got tolerable after they gave up on the laptop-based music and we sang a cappella.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stayed in my seat for a few minutes, but nobody came over to say hello. I then wandered off and read some notices that were on the walls. The Revd Jonathan came over and we had a very amiable chat for some time.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fairly abysmal. I was asked if I liked my coffee strong, to which I responded in the affirmative. What happened next nearly shook my faith to its core. The person behind the serving hatch proceeded to put two sachets of instant decaffeinated coffee granules into a mug and poured boiling water on them. Decaf? How can that possibly be regarded as strong? On the other hand, there was an array of snacks such as I have rarely seen in any church. We had sandwiches with some sort of beige coloured filling – I didn't have the courage to try them. We had packets of crisps. There was a bowl of jellied sweets. But taking the prize for most unusual snack for post-service nibbles was a tray of cold chicken drumsticks.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I prefer my sermons a bit more biblically-based but I recognise this may have been exception. I found the Revd Jonathan to be a very credible, down-to-earth man and I think his parishioners are lucky to have him as their priest.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I'd say so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The out-of-control air conditioning that prompted a communal tittering.
 
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