Mystery Worshipper: Pevsner
Church: St Clement's
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 January 2006, 11:00am
This is one of the oldest structures in Prague. Its earliest written mention goes back to 1225, although it may have been built as early as 1065. Located close to the River Vltava, its dedication reflects St Clement's patronage of navigators. It is a simple Romanesque church, refurbished around the turn of the 20th century to look more Gothic. Inside, one's attention is drawn to an amazing pulpit, about ten feet off the ground. The apse is adorned with frescoes dating from the 14th century, carefully restored, representing Christ's Way of the Cross, but the remainder of the interior is quite plain, reminiscent of a Lutheran church. Indeed, after a period of disuse as an ecclesiastical structure during the 19th century, the building was acquired by the Czech Protestant Reformed Church, which later merged with the Czech Lutheran Church to form the Czech Brethren Protestant Church, which owns the building to this day.
St Clement's Anglican chaplaincy ministers to foreigners who are in the Czech Republic to work or study or on holiday, as well as to native Czechs with a command of English. There is an active Sunday school, a Bible study group, a weekly prayer breakfast, and a choir.
Located in central Bohemia, Prague is the Czech Republic's capital and its largest city. Mention of a trading centre called Prague dates back to the 10th century. Modern-day Prague is one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations. The city suffered considerably less damage during World War II than some other major cities in the region, allowing most of its historic architecture to remain intact. The church is in a quietish residential area off one of the main roads, not far from Wenceslas Square and the Old Town.
The Rev. Canon John Philpott, chaplain, was the celebrant, and Mr Michal Novenko played the organ.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist
How full was the building?
There were about 30 people present. The chaplain explained that many were on holiday or had gone back to the UK for the New Year. This meant that people were dotted about the church in typical Anglican fashion.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was a "Hello" as we were handed our hymnbook, service book and other literature.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was fine underneath the seat was a radiant heater, which meant that your legs got warm but the rest of you froze. This was made worse because there was very little kneeling during the service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet there were only a couple of children, fortunately.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Grace, mercy, and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you," followed by a welcome to everyone in the church and the explanation as to why there were so few.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A hymnbook, a service book (Order One), a pamphlet with the music for the communion setting (very useful!) and a news sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ at the back of the church the choir was on holiday. The fine three manual instrument was once played by Dr Albert Schweitzer (but, alas, not by Mozart). The current organist, Mr Novenko, is professor of improvisation at Charles University and played most excellently.
Did anything distract you?
The temperature was quite cold radiant heaters warmed only the immediate area. The interior is very plain, which was quite a shock after some of the baroque interiors elsewhere in Prague.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a standard Anglican service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The chaplain stood in the middle at a lectern. That fantastic pulpit presumably does not get used except for special occasions. He started out well but wandered somewhat toward the end.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The chaplain spoke on the naming of Jesus. He made the point that Jesus' name was quite common in his day it was not a special one like Gabriel or Raphael. When Pilate offered the crowd a choice of whom to save from crucifixion, it was between Jesus Christ and Jesus Barabbas. The name of Jesus is one to be trusted in: "At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow." "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear" (the latter being one of the hymns we sang during the service). Names identify us so people with split personalities respond to different names. He then talked about the New Year and read out a great chunk of the Methodist covenant service, which took away from the really good first half.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the start, the chaplain's wife took the two children off to Sunday school at the back, first explaining to us that they were going to look at names and what they meant. It was done really well, and I imagine that the Sunday school is very good.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The first hymn was all over the place because someone singing in the gallery decided to go at a much faster pace than the organ and because he had a voice louder than everyone else's, including even the organ at times, he got away with it! After that, the organist and singer apparently agreed on a mutually acceptable speed.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As we were leaving, the chaplain asked us where we came from. When we replied, "Southwark Cathedral," he retorted, "Oh, that bastion of liberalism!"
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Others were invited to coffee, but we were not! Whether it was because we were new, from Southwark, too liberal, or simply because the chaplain forgot, I don't know.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I would imagine it is a tight-knit community. But it felt welcoming, and the service was enjoyable and not too formal.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it was good to meet other Anglicans worshipping abroad and to feel part of the Anglican communion at a time when some are trying to threaten its unity.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The wonderful pulpit and the super talk to the children going off to Sunday school.