The Church Service that Wasn’t

Well Sunday saw us manage something we’ve been aiming to do since we moved into our North London flat, get up early and go to church. Call it masochistic, but I heaved my aching body from my bed at 8am yesterday morning. We had decided to attend the 9.30am morning worship at a church fairly nearby – just a short tube journey away. The church is called St Barnabas.

Perhaps we should have taken the first part of the journey as an omen, the Tube line was flooded and there were no trains. Instead we had to walk for a while, catch a bus, then wander around Woodside Park looking for the church in question. We finally found it – quite an elegant old building. Alas it’s had the modern church treatment – so the fine architecture has been ruined by stripping out the pews and making the place more like some kind of trendy youth centre. Fine if you like that sort of thing – but it contrasted horribly with the fine architecture and exquisite ceiling.

The service got under way with some music – some modern tunes I didn’t actually know. But the style was familiar. It’s that old plinky-plonk style favoured by worship groups everywhere – all the instruments at once – creating a wall of sound that is about exciting as a lettuce. And it went on too long. I’ve played in worship groups – I know how it works, you have so much fun playing your guitar/keyboard you could go on for ages, not realising the congregation doesn’t quite feel the same. Add to that a singer that is so fond of their voice they have to have the last word or line of every song to themselves and you have the typical modern church music group.

So once that was over we got on with the service proper? Perhaps some reading from the bible or an instructive sermon? Well no. What we got was a prayer session that was overlong and more than a little creepy. I found it odd that photos of church members were being projected onto the screen while they were being prayed for – and also uneasy about the level of detail about their lives being shared, especially as they weren’t present. Even the usual style of divine punctuation (Father, lord we ask lord, that lord, you will lord) didn’t prevent it from seeming a bit odd and, as I said earlier, creepy.

But after that the service proper started didn’t it? Well no it didn’t. Then it turned into Good Morning With Anne & Nick. Now a former church member was being interviewed by staff that seemed to have aspirations of daytime telly rather than leading a church service. This went on for quite a while and really didn’t seem to be serving any purpose.

So far the service had been dull and a little odd, but nothing too bad. It just felt like a lot of time was being wasted without any real substance to speak of. But then we had the classic moment, during the interview with the former church member L’s hometown was insulted several times. Of course, you may scoff, but if it had been an African town and the talk was of what people wore there and what the population is like you’d be up in arms. L was clearly not amused and neither was I. Considering the vicar wanted to welcome visitors it was surprising that those visiting from not too far away were made to feel like figures of fun rather than welcome.

And so after that the interview dragged on. I looked at my watch and realised that nearly an hour had gone by with nothing approaching a church service actually beginning. I told L that if went on like this much longer I would go wait outside until the service was over. The cosy TV style interview ended at that point and talk turned to asking for volunteers for children’s work. No problem with that. But then they decided to show a video of what the work is about – I would venture someone wanting to do children’s work knows what it’s about already. It was at that point I gave up and left the church building to wait until the service was over. I didn’t want to take L away from the service and was quite happy to wait outside reading from my PDA.

However L wasn’t exactly enamoured of the place after her home county being the subject of bigotry in the service and she followed soon after. Considering how popular this church is with media types and trendies I’m amazed that it continues in this ramshackle way. It was the most bumbling excuse for a church service I’ve seen – and I’ve been to some pretty ropey youth service/CU events.

It took us a while to get home, thanks to some bus confusions, but near our flat we saw a charming Methodist church. The service was almost over but we enquired and found out that it was a welcoming and friendly place. We were told the service only last an hour, but I image there’s vastly more substance than the hour we witnessed up in Woodside Park.