|35: St Agatha's Church, Portsmouth, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Ferret.
The church: St Agatha's Church, Portsmouth.
Denomination: Traditional Anglican Communion one of the 'Continuing Anglican' communions that have broken away from the Anglican Church due to disagreements over perceived laxity in areas of core belief.
The building: St. Agatha's was built just over 100 years ago in the now-vanished slum of Landport. It was of the highest importance as one of the successful 'slum parishes' of the 19th century Anglo-Catholic revival. Its fame largely revolved around the successes of its incumbent, Father Dolling. This one-man dynamo blended high Catholic ritual and old-fashioned tub-thumping evangelism into a high-octane brew that had them queuing round the block to get in. His pastoral efforts included building almshouses, a school, a gymnasium and soup kitchens. Sadly, he worked himself into an early grave. In 1940, a massive bombing raid flattened Landport, but miraculously the church survived, though damaged. Devoid of its congregation, the church soldiered on till 1954, when the Church of England closed it down and it was acquired by the military as a store. It has since been scheduled for demolition twice (once to make way for a nine-lane highway), but survived the planners and has recently been restored. The Traditional Anglican Communion acquired the rights to use the church two years ago. Architecturally, the interior is startling and gorgeously decorated, most notably in the arts-and-crafts style sgraffito-decorated apse. It has now been listed as a building of historical national importance. Further details and pictures are on the church's website.
The neighbourhood: What neighbourhood? It was entirely destroyed by bombing in World War II. The church's only neighbours are now Portsmouth dockyard, the Cascades shopping mall, and the abandoned Tricorn shopping centre, due for demolition.
The cast: Officiating priest: Fr John Maunder. Preacher: Rev. Messham, a retired former Congregationalist minister, we were told.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Mass (Sunday before Epiphany).
How full was the building?
There were 27 in the congregation, 10 in the altar party, plus organist. This is a large building and could hold far more.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several times, by both congregation and clergy. They came up and talked, having recognised us as visitors, as we entered the church and looked around before the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Individual chairs they were more than adequately comfortable.