Mystery Worshipper: Clinking Thurible
Church: The Grosvenor Chapel
Location: Mayfair, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 January 2022, 11:00am
This is a very important church architecturally, being the church on which many typical New England-style churches in the USA were based. It is light and airy, with tasteful elements of gilding around the altar and rood screen.
Their website states that they offer ‘reverential worship with high quality music and exploratory and thoughtful preaching, in an intimate and luminous interior.’ Quoting further from their website, they ‘are developing a programme for people with dementia and for homeless people … We participate in the Mayfair Neighbourhood Forum, the local cultural festival "Summer in the Square" and have helped to found and support the Mayfair Community Choir.’ There is contradictory information in various places on their website regarding services, but there appears to be a sung eucharist each Sunday with either the eucharist, morning prayer, or another of the offices on various weekdays.
This is an extremely wealthy part of London, close to both Belgrave Square and Grosvenor Square, and to Bond Street and Knightsbridge.
The vicar celebrated, while an associate priest preached and served as deacon.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Eucharist with Holy Baptism: The Feast of Candlemas.
How full was the building?
About a third full, with around 30 attendees. It is worth noting that this included a baptismal party, who were not all regulars.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes: two very pleasant members of the congregation welcomed me with an order of service and an assurance that all the hymns and readings were readily to be found therein.
Was your pew comfortable?
Extremely! Unusually for a traditional church pew, it offered excellent back support, was surmounted by a pleasantly plump cushion, and was accompanied by similarly accommodating hassocks. There was even plenty of legroom: a rarity for me at my comparatively elevated height.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
During the lockdown, when crowds were not allowed at sporting fixtures, Lord's cricket ground played what it described as ‘The Lord's Hum.’ I would call the pre-service atmosphere at the Grosvenor Chapel to be the ‘Church of England hum’: quiet gossiping among the regulars, sidesmen sorting out readings, the choir settling in. Lovely.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
We meet in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None at all.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ – about which I know nothing – and a very good mixed choir.
Did anything distract you?
There were sat opposite me a lady and gentleman – she in the most beautiful mink coat I have ever seen, and he in an immaculate pinstripe suit and a camel-hair coat. They were not the only ones dressed up to the nines; the phrase ‘Sunday best’ clearly still means something in this corner of Mayfair. Or perhaps, given that this is purportedly the parish with the highest average net worth in the Church of England, that's how they always dress.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
On the broader end of high church. Some smells (incense lit in a thurible immediately before the service began and left undisturbed on the floor in front of the altar throughout – odd), but no bells; beautiful vestments, but modern language; versus populum and no Angelus. Eminently accessible, yet traditional.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — The associate priest is clearly a good preacher: very clear enunciation, tasteful wit and anecdote, robust theological underpinning. Nothing more, and nothing less, than very good.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Growing old gracefully, and the importance of experience, order, and trust, to the Church and the human experience. He addressed these topics very well, relying on a firm underpinning from the gospel reading (Luke 2, specifically the Song of Simeon), and was able to relate this strongly to the baptismal party – something I (and I hope they) very much appreciated.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I'm always very touched by baptisms, and this was no exception. The blessing of the candles, held aloft by the congregation, was also a lovely Candlemas addition to the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I didn't understand the aforementioned use of the thurible at all. Perhaps they were short of a thurifer this morning? Also, the preacher didn't use the pulpit, which always annoys me rather.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A wonderful, wonderful parishioner sought me out as a newcomer, and with the temptation of chocolate biscuits, attempted to lure me to post-service coffee. Her attempts were successful.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good, accompanied by a bourbon biscuit with a reassuringly firm snap.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 — This is a church with a seemingly close knit community, which I have no doubt would welcome me and many others warmly.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The same kind parishioner who offered me refreshment also left me with the following saying: ‘The Christian faith is ultimately about celebrating life, and we at the Grosvenor chapel know how to celebrate.’ Indeed they do.