St James's, Piccadilly

St James's, Piccadilly, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St James's
Location: Piccadilly, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 May 2012, 6:00pm

The building

A Christopher Wren church dating from 1684, thought to embody Wren's views on what a typical parish church should look like more than any other of his designs. It is Wren's only surviving West End church. Badly damaged by bombs during World War II, it stood roofless and ruined for seven years before repairs were undertaken. It has a large worship area, with space for up to 2,000 people in the ground level and galleries. The roof is light coloured and there are beautiful glass windows above the communion area. Sadly, the church is once again in desperate need of repair, and funds are being actively solicited.

The church

William Blake was baptised here in 1757. Leopold Stokowski was choirmaster from 1902 until 1905 before emigrating to New York. They welcome many sorts of people and are an inclusive church. There are two eucharists each Sunday, and they often put on a Taiz service on Sunday evenings. Morning prayer is read each weekday, except that holy communion is celebrated on Tuesdays.

The neighborhood

They are between Green Park, Buckingham Palace, St James' Park and Trafalgar Square. All down Piccadilly Street there are many sorts of shops.

The cast

The Revd Lucy Winkett, the Revd Lindsay Meader and the Revd Hugh Valentine, all identified on their website as "priests serving St James" with no mention of their exact titles. The Revd Mr Valentine is, however, identified as "not based full time at the rectory."

What was the name of the service?

Pentecost Service for Churches Together in Westminster

How full was the building?

There were at least 80 people in the congregation plus clergy and choir.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Greeters welcomed us with a smile and gave us a service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

We sat in a comfortable pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Many visitors from different churches were chatting before the worship started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good evening! Speak to each other to say where you come from."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The service sheet had all the readings, hymns and responses.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. In 1690 the vestry petitioned Queen Mary II to give St James's Church the Renatus Harris organ, with a case carved by Grinling Gibbons, from the Roman Catholic chapel in Whitehall Palace. Baroque composer John Blow and his pupil, a young lad named Henry Purcell, were charged with overseeing the move. The Harris organ was entirely rebuilt in 1852 by master organ builder James Chapman Bishop, and the resulting instrument was considered his masterpiece. Badly damaged during the World War II bombing, it was restored in 1954 with Gibbons' original case, which had been taken off premises for safekeeping.

Did anything distract you?

No offering was received. I felt amazed!

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

Jazzy, with good music and lots of clapping. We were given candles, symbolising the Pentecost fire, and asked to walk around the church with our candles.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

8 – I found it especially interesting that the Holy Spirit was referred to as "she".

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Many religions have different ways of worshipping, but people of all religions are active in one way or another. Some say we are spiritual, but we are also religious. The Church is not less than the body of Christ. We receive the Holy Spirit in us – Pentecost! We've sung "he" hymns for so long; let us now sing "she" hymns. Pentecost is exhilarating – it fills us with energy and courage, but we must resist the urge to dominate or be over-controlling. We find God, and we learn from God how to live and behave in our own way.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Walking around with our candles, symbolising that the Spirit is present, was a reminder that there is a bit of heaven on earth.

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

I thought of the many people in the world who do not believe in God and do not have the Holy Spirit in them.

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

After the final blessing, refreshments were announced. Everyone from the various churches mingled and spoke to one another.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Refreshments were served out of doors on this warm day. There was a wide variety of things to eat and drink.

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

8 – If I lived near this church I would like to go to the services. I'm sure I would feel blessed by God.

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

I felt very glad that I'm a Christian and felt filled by God's Holy Spirit.

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

"We receive the Holy Spirit in us."

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