Canary Wharf Prayer Room, Docklands, London

Canary Wharf Prayer Room, Docklands, London


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Mystery Worshipper: Bishop of Stortford
Church: Canary Wharf Prayer Room
Location: Docklands, London
Date of visit: Thursday, 17 May 2007, 12:30pm

The building

The Prayer Room is a small room tucked away in a corner of the Canary Wharf estate. It has glass doors leading to a lobby where chairs are stored and there are facilities for Muslim ablutions. The room itself has two doors and a curtain allowing it to be divided into two spaces with separate entrances – apparently for the convenience of faiths where men and women worship separately. For the service I attended the room was kitted out to look like a Christian church.

The church

The Christian worship at the prayer room is led by the bishop's chaplain in Docklands in an attempt to bring God into this area, which is otherwise a temple to Mammon.

The neighborhood

The Canary Wharf Prayer Room is part of the Canary Wharf estate in London Docklands. This is a huge office village with mighty high-rise glass tower blocks that are visible across the London skyline. The estate is home to the headquarters and main trading rooms of many large global banks and financial institutions.

The cast

The Revd Dr Fiona Stewart-Darling, Bishop's Chaplain in Docklands.

What was the name of the service?

Ecumenical Eucharist for Ascension Day.

How full was the building?

There were seven people in the congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

When I arrived there were four or five people already seated. Service sheets were on the chairs, and the priest invited me to take a seat.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. It was an upholstered stacking chair of the type you get at public meeting venues. Quite new and perfectly adequate for the purpose.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People sat in contemplative silence.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

At the time the service was to start, the priest said: "I like to give people at least three minutes grace, so we'll start at 25-to rather than half past." When the service proper started, the first words were: "We meet in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was just a folded A4 service sheet: "Holy Communion Service for Ascension Day."

What musical instruments were played?

None. Apparently there was to have been recorded music, but it was unavailable due to technical hitches.

Did anything distract you?

The Prayer Room is currently directly beneath a building site, and this makes for some audible intrusion from construction equipment.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

A strange mixture of formal and informal. The chairs were arranged in a circle round a coffee table. The liturgy was a standard C of E eucharist, and the congregation were in their formal business attire (most of them presumably being local office workers on their lunch breaks). At the communion we received from each other, the bread and wine being passed round the congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

2 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

It wasn't really a sermon, but rather a time for reflection.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

We were told that the time for silent reflections would take the form of a silent meditation on the readings followed by a collective statement of our faith.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The opportunity to get away from the world of business for a brief time and be with Christians, focusing on Jesus Christ.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The brevity of the reflection. Two minutes gives you enough time to settle your mind - and then we were off again with the rest of the service. Coming from a Quaker family, I value silence and dislike the way that the Church of England refers to any brief pause as a silence. If you're going to use silent reflection to replace a sermon, you should invest the same amount of time in silence that you would in preaching. Otherwise, why not have a homily? Wise words are often in short supply in the business world.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Everyone took their chairs back to the lobby and hurried off back to their places of work, leaving only me and priest to chat briefly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Apparently the Starbucks next door is sometimes used for post communion coffee when people have time to take a break.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

5 – I think I might make this an occasional lunchtime activity when I'm working in Canary Wharf on a Thursday. It beats most other lunchtime activities in that area.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Trying to swallow my communion wafer so that I could say "The body of Christ" to the next person, but finding my mouth too dry to allow this. It seemed like a very long pause.

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