|6: All Souls', Langham Place, London|
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Mystery Worshipper: Maurice Ambulance.
The church: All Souls', Langham Place, London.
The building: Designed in 1824 by John Nash, who evidently put so much effort and imagination into the superb round foyer, that he said: 'I've had enough of this now. Stick a big box on the back for the rest of the church. I'm off down the pub.'
The neighbourhood: A stone's throw from Oxford Street in the West End, so polytheistic visitors can incorporate some mammon worship into their day out.
The cast: Richard Bewes, the Rector, led the service. Rev. John Cook preached.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Service (the 11.30am repeat showing).
How full was the building?
Mostly full, including balconies.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several of us where I sat talked, but as none of us had been before we weren't exactly in a position to welcome each other.
Was your pew comfortable?
Excellent a padded chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Relaxed. The music group played a bizarre free-jazz version of 'God is Good'.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Yes, we're going to be singing that tune a little later in our service, ladies and gentlemen.'
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New International Version of the Bible, plus a printed service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, drums, clarinet, flute, sax.
Did anything distract you?
No, everything was very normal.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Trad evangelical. The sheer numbers gave it a feeling of near-heartiness, but despite some fine music, it never hit the spot for me. An old lady in the far corner of the balcony raising her arm to an angle of 45 degrees in the last verse of 'Our God Reigns' was as demonstrative as it got. The Rector explained how stuff in the songs about dancing was only figurative of our deep inner joy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
A generous 4. Never really engaged my attention, got to grips with the question or inspired me. But on the other hand it could have been longer.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
How can God be good when bad things happen? (I didn't find out.)
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
See next answer.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
None of it was much like either it was all just like being in church...
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A stomach doctor from New Zealand called Steve introduced himself, and explained that as he was still quite new he kept an eye out for people who looked lost.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The best coffee I've ever had in church (the Rector made a point of inviting people to stay 'for proper coffee') but also the first time I've ever had to pay for it. Fair enough. A proper cup too would have been good.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5. I wouldn't feel too bad, actually. I think all the ingredients were there for a good service, they just didn't seem to come off.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It didn't make me feel anything much at all.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Steve's ulcer stories.