Carshalton Baptist Church

History
What is now Carshalton Baptist Church was originally founded in 1895 as a mission just over a mile away. In 1954, the congregation moved to Strawberry Lodge, an 18th-century Grade II listed building. A new church building built next to Strawberry Lodge was opened in 1969, but the congregation outgrew this and it was rebuilt in 1996, taking the form of the present building. Strawberry Lodge is currently hired out by the church as a conference centre.

Appearance
Despite being purpose-built as a church, the inside of the building looks a lot like a sports hall – I assume this is because it is probably sometimes used as one, going by the lines marked out on the floor. Honestly speaking, it did not look very much like a church to me, but more like a hall that was being hired by the church.

There is a stage at one end of the hall/church, on which the pastor spoke and the band played. The stage is draped in dark blue curtains, with a pulpit of sorts at the front, which is below an overhead projector screen on which the words of songs were shown. Down on the main floor, in front of the pulpit, is a cross with a crown of thorns placed over it, and on either side of that are flowers. In a corner at the front of the church (not on the stage) is a table with a white cloth draped over it, from where communion was served.

Other than a cross embroidered on the pulpit and the wooden cross on the floor at the front, there is no religious imagery in the church whatsoever – like I said, it looks more like a hall being hired out than a purpose-built church. However, that is not to say that the interior is “plain”; for example, there is a huge banner almost covering one wall which displays an advertisement for the church. There are also twenty large national flags hanging down from the ceilings in rows of four. These flags are of countries from around the world, but I have no idea why they occupy such a prominent place in the church interior – I can only assume that they are meant to signify either the universal message of the Gospel or the countries in which members of the congregation have their roots, but I can’t be sure.

Clergy
The service was led by a male pastor who led most of the prayers. There was also a band up on the stage who accompanied the songs with music, playing a guitar, electric keyboard, drum-kit and violin – the pastor himself played a saxophone with quite some talent.

Congregation
There were just over fifty people in the congregation, most of whom seemed to be young adults or middle-aged, with children and elderly people together not making up more than about a quarter of the congregation. The congregation was predominantly black, with about a third of other ethnicities, and a similar ratio applied to females and males respectively. I was rather struck by just how friendly the members of the congregation were, greeting myself and each other with real warmth and happiness. Several of them came up to me before the service to personally welcome me.

Service
Before the service started, the band on the stage were practising some of the songs which would be sung later. The service started at 10:30 with the pastor on the stage singing what I think may have been a greatly condensed version of Psalm 103, with which some members of the congregation attempted to join in with varying degrees of success, there being no words on the projector screen to follow for this first song. After this came some prayers, with members of the congregation offering their own after the pastor. This was followed by several upbeat hymns, all sung with a lot of feeling to them, some people clapping their hands or waving their arms in the air. After what was quite a long time of singing – probably between half an hour and forty minutes – notices were read out by the pastor.

After the notices, a girl from the congregation came up to the stage and sang a song while collection plates for the offering were handed around. The children then went up to the front and were prayed for by the pastor before leaving to attend a Sunday school in another room elsewhere in the church building. After more prayers, communion was taken. Stewards went around the congregation with plates of bread and small glasses of wine, giving them to people who wished to take communion.

More prayers were said, and then a reading was given, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. The pastor then gave a sermon on the reading, reflecting on the struggles of St. Paul and speaking about struggles and setbacks that take place in a Christian life. The service was meant to finish at 12 o’clock, but the sermon was still ongoing at 12:15, meaning that I unfortunately had to leave due to time constraints of my own. However, fortunately I do not think that I missed much, as the pastor – aware that he was overrunning – had said that he was getting towards the end of the sermon, and I do not imagine that there would have been much afterwards, perhaps just a final song and a blessing.

Although the songs were very upbeat, as at the service I attended last month at Wallington Baptist, unlike my experience there I found them here to be a bit too much so. The singing was so lively that it seemed almost as if, should you not be waving your hands in the air and swaying to the beat, you weren’t doing it right! It was also loud enough for me to barely be able to hear myself sing, and I was sitting at the back – it must have been even louder for those at the front by the drums. However, although the building was a bit too bland and the singing a bit too lively for my liking, the friendliness of the congregation was a real positive point to my visit.

Afterwards
Due to the service overrunning and my having to leave before its end, I did not see what happened after the service finished. However, there were other rooms leading off from the main entrance of the church building, and the pastor mentioned during his sermon that cake is sometimes served at the church, leading me to assume that there would have been some sort of refreshments in another room afterwards.

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