Mystery Worshipper: Apothecary
Church: All Saints
Location: Rome, Italy
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 November 2006, 10:30am
The guide book says it's Victorian neo-gothic designed by George Edmund Street, who also designed London's Royal Courts of Justice. It is a brick church with a white marble spire that was a later addition. Inside it is beautiful, quite simple (in comparison to most of the other churches we had peeked in as tourists!) and somehow very English.
The congregation dates from 1816, when a small group of English worshippers met for morning prayer in a private room "within sight of the very Vatican." Today the church serves the Anglican community in Rome with the morning office (and usually the eucharist) every weekday as well as two eucharistic celebrations each Sunday morning, plus choral evensong on the first Sunday of the month. They also put on a full programme of musical events. Worship is usually conducted in English, although this is not the mother tongue of all members of the regular congregation, who come from all around the world. All Saints maintains close ties with St Paul's Within the Walls, the American Episcopal congregation in Rome, as well as with other English-speaking churches and the Roman Catholic Church. They have formed a special bond with their Roman Catholic namesake, Ogni Santi, on the Via Appia.
The church is a few minutes walk away from the Spanish Steps, in central Rome, a long-standing gathering place for foreign visitors and an area awash in a mixture of internationally known designers' stores and small family businesses.
The Rev. Jonathan T. Boardman, chaplain of All Saints, preached. The Rev. Sara MacVane, assistant curate, presided.
What was the name of the service?Eucharist (Common Worship)
How full was the building?
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived too early to be greeted. A short while later, while I was studying a photo meditation display (which I enjoyed), I noticed that the chaplain had stationed himself at the door to greet people. A few early arrivers had helped themselves to books and orders of service. As I approached the table to do the same, a young man said, "I think it's about time we started to dish these out," and passed me the necessary books. I took that to be a friendly, informal greeting.
Was your pew comfortable?
Closely-spaced wooden chairs with woven rush seats, familiar to all who frequent Italian restaurants. My chair was made all the more comfortable by using the embroidered kneeler as a cushion. The lack of a shelf to rest books on was inconvenient and nearly resulted in my being outed when I dropped the Mystery Worshipper card!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was for the most part quiet, with a few people chattering in hushed tones. A few minutes before the service began, the celebrant entered and said, "The Lord be with you." She then welcomed everyone and asked for a few minutes silence during the organ prelude. The congregation were silent after that, but she left her microphone switched on and so we could hear everthing that was being said in the vestry!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We meet together in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The notice sheet contained the Bible readings and one of the hymns. The New English Hymnal was used for the remaining hymns, and an in-house service booklet listed the Common Worship liturgy.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
This is my first ever Mystery Worship report, and I really don't think that anything that anyone else did could possibly compete with my own brain in the distraction stakes. I did notice a mobile phone ring very briefly, and a distressed child got returned to mum from crche during the sermon.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a fairly traditional Common Worship service. Earlier in the week I had attended a wonderful Palestrina mass in St Peter's, and even though the music was heavenly, I barely understood a word of it. And so I was delighted to find something that I could join in with, and yet different from my normal experience at home.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – It was very intense, with no rambling! An excellent sermon, very difficult to sum up, but I'll try.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The end of the world! The word "end" can mean either the finish or the meaning of something (as it does in Italian, albeit with different genders). The end of our lives on earth, and indeed the end of the world itself, will be God's judgment. The throne of judgement is Christ's throne of mercy – the cross. It is there that we will learn of the meaning of the world and our lives – that is to say, the love of God. We are never beyond the love of God, even if we consider ourselves unlovable or self-sufficient and not needing God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There is always something very special about worshipping with fellow Christians from across the globe. Visitors introduced themselves from all over the United Kingdom, several of the United States, Switzerland and Norway. I got the sense of a church that encourages people to participate. The epistle was read by a young person, and creative people had put together a photo meditation display.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The communion hymn was played at an erratic speed and was therefore difficult to sing. The hymn was "One more step along the world I go," and I can forgive the organist if this was his way of getting that hymn banned forever! I found the chanted psalm difficult to hear – I thought this was my unfamiliarity with chanted psalms, but a friend, more learned in matters liturgical, told me that it was actually unclear and not my fault.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the service just before the dismissal, visitors were invited to stand up and say where they were from. Normally this would cause me to run away screaming, but the large number of people that this community welcomes from around the world makes this a practical way for visitors to introduce themselves. After that was done, we were instructed to join the throng for coffee. I did so and was greeted by various people. Being stereotypically English people abroad, conversations revolved around where were we from, where had we visited...and the weather.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
This is Italy, where coffee means espresso. In the absence of an espresso machine, several teaspoons of instant coffee were put into a cup with some hot water, making a very palatable alternative. This being an English church, tea was, of course, also available, as were mineral water, wine and soft drinks. Generous portions of pizza and cake were also served.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – A welcoming church community in a country where most of the shops are not full of Christmas in late November – when does the next plane leave? Seriously, if it had been close to home, and I was looking for a new church, I'd join.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very glad to be part of the worldwide church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
From the sermon: We are never beyond the love of God, even if we consider ourselves unlovable or self-sufficient and not needing God.