Mystery Worshipper: Teutonic Knight
Church: Roman Catholic Chapel
Location: Chingford, Essex, England
Date of visit: Saturday, 3 September 2016, 5:00pm
A small wooden tent-shaped building in the grounds of Gilwell Park, replacing an earlier temporary structure that literally sprang up overnight! Above the door is a rustic Chi Rho symbol made of twigs. The chapel provides space for about 50 people seated for mass. There is also an outside altar for larger congregations. A carved lectern in the shape of two scouts carrying a book on their backs has recently been added to the inventory. There seems to be only one key, which is closely guarded, and the chapel is not usually accessible except for worship. The current building is used and cared for by Roman Catholics, groups and individuals, who are either sponsored by or connected with a church in their home location. During major events the National Catholic Scout Fellowship (NCSF) arranges for it to be used.
The mission statement on the Facebook page of the NCSF states that the chapel exists "to enable all Catholic members of Scouting at Gilwell Park ... to worship God collectively and privately using whichever forms of worship they wish ... [and] to spread the Light of the Gospel amongst all at the home of Scouting." From its inception the Scout movement was a faith movement, though not a religious one, so by the time Gilwell Park was given to the Scouts in 1919 faith had an established place in the programme. Today, in addition to the Catholic chapel, there are a Buddhist sala, a synagogue, and a mosque, plus the Swan Centre, a multi-denominational Christian worship space.
Gilwell Park is a camp site and activity centre for Scouting groups and all youth organisations, as well as a training and conference centre for Scout leaders, with many business and local groups using the facilities. It comprises about 44 hectares (109 acres) on the edge of Epping Forest, close to Chingford. There are fields with space for up to 3,000 campers, indoor accommodations, and activities suitable for all sections of the Scouting movement. From the beginning, Scout leaders from many countries have come to Gilwell Park for part of their wood badge training. There are some notable points of historical interest, among them the stone balustrades from the original London Bridge, which is thought to date back to 1209. Among the Scouting monuments are statues donated to the park by various Scouting nations and a bronze cast of a footprint said to be that of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts.
The Rt Revd Richard Moth, Bishop of Arundel & Brighton; the Revd Jonathan How, National Scout Chaplain. An unnamed deacon from Hungary was also on hand. A young man wearing a hoody with the slogan "I am a Catholic, I am a Scout" on the back was sitting to the right of the altar, but I could not see whether he was actually serving. A mature gentleman was serving, though, and wearing a scarf over his server's alb.
What was the name of the service?Catholic Mass.
How full was the building?
I was ten minutes early, and the bishop was waiting outside the chapel. Inside, chairs had been set out that provided room for about 50 people, and some more had been arranged outside. I peeked inside, and only a few of the chairs were taken those at the front by people identifiable as members of the NCSF by their scarves. By the start of the service the chapel was full, and there were more people on the chairs outside. But the heavens opened, and this crowd dwindled to about 20 water-proof Christians. (The bishop asked us to regard the rain as a reminder of our baptism.)
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, the bishop himself invited me in when I was hesitant, seeing that there was not a soul present apart from the organising team and clergy.
Was your pew comfortable?
They were plastic shell chairs, comfortable enough. I gather that the chapel is usually devoid of such comforts.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was noisy once the chapel was full. The congregation were multi-national, and they were exchanging scouting talk. I spotted Italians, Hungarians, Irish and Welsh, all identifiable by their scarves or shirts. The Irish seemed to have the most audible voices.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening. Welcome to this mass for the 90th Gilwell reunion. It is good to be here, especially with our friends from Hungary and Ireland, who are growing taller in the rain outside."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. However, there were copies of A Scout's Prayer Book on every chair, originally issued for the centenary of Scouting in 2007 but rendered obsolete since the introduction of the new English translation of the mass in 2010. There was also a donations envelope and info for Catholics in Scouting. There was also a small stack of pocket sized copies of a New Testament for Scouts produced by the National Catholic Scout Fellowship in 2010. The bishop urged us to take all of these home with us, especially the Prayer Book, as a new edition will soon be forthcoming.
What musical instruments were played?
None. It was all unaccompanied singing. We practised a few sung responses and liturgical chants under the direction of Father Jonathan before the start of the service. We ended up singing some of the bits that should have been sung by the clergy alone, but no one seemed to mind.
Did anything distract you?
On the wall behind the altar was a rustic crucifix with a rope Jesus affixed to it. The corpus consisted of half a sheep-shank forming the head and arms, and an overhand knot as the hips and legs. I was totally transfixed by this in its elegant simplicity.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Im not an expert in Catholic worship, but it was a mixture of formal and informal as befitted the occasion. The bishop was wearing a mitre with purple zucchetto underneath, and had donned a Scouting chasuble. He was also wearing the yellow embroidered scarf/ necker of the NCSF over the chasuble. Father Jonathan was in alb and stole, and wearing the pinkish scarf of the First Gilwell Park Scout Troop and a wood badge, the insignia of a fully trained Scout leader, over his alb. The deacon from Hungary was correctly vested in alb and deacon's stole and no Scouting insignia. The liturgy was a bit wayward, with the congregation joining in the sung liturgy in places. We knew the words of the mass too well. The communion elements were brought from the back, and there was no collection during the service though donations were invited.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The bishop spoke freely without notes, and managed to make the sermon wholly relevant in the Scouting context. He apologised to those at the front of the chapel to whom he turned his back as he moved closer toward the door so that those outside could hear him better.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The New Testament readings were Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17 (Philemon should welcome Onesimus as a brother) and Luke 14:25-33 (what it means to be a disciple), and he could not have wished for better ones for the occasion. He said he had recently returned from Peru, where a critical shortage of priests means that people must travel for days to attend mass and then travel again for days to reach home. But they do this for the love of the Lord and the gospel message, and were truly committed. We must be prepared to give up everything for Christ. We celebrate mass so that we can celebrate the love of the Lord and receive Jesus directly in his Body. Everything we do should be motivated by our love of the person of Christ present in the sacrifice of the mass. In Scouting we are doing exactly what Paul is asking Philemon to do: to regard even a runaway slave as his brother. We may not be able to change circumstances, but we can change our attitude. Take this beyond the world of Scouting, and regard everyone as brothers (and sisters) in Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the end of the service the contingent from Hungary offered their worship in form of a chant. It was very moving and beautiful and reminded me of the soulful tunes of the Don Cossacks. With the rain drumming on the wooden structure, this was rather heartwarming.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was not very thoughtful that those standing in the rain were the last to receive communion. It would have been nice to call them in first as a reward for their commitment which was, after all, what the readings and sermon were about. And the cruet with the water looked like a plastic laboratory sample bottle.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There were lots of people jostling for a selfie with the bishop. He did not seem to mind that this was probably not purely motivated by the love of the Lord.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – This is not an option, but I would attend mass here again if the opportunity arose.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I am glad that Scouting's founder was a clergyman's son who recognised what Scouting could do for the world. It made me glad to be both a Christian and a Scout.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
A mitred bishop wearing a Scout scarf over a chasuble.