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184: St Mary Abbots, Kensington, London
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St Mary Abbots, Kensington, London
Mystery Worshipper: Sarum Sleuth.
The church: St Mary Abbots, Kensington, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Cavernous and gloomy Victorian Gothic by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
The neighbourhood: The tourists on Kensington High Street and the atmosphere of gentility in the surrounding residential areas sit somewhat uneasily together.
The cast: The celebrant was the Vicar, Rev Tim Thornton. The preacher was Rev Geoffrey Seabrook of Hornsey.
What was the name of the service?
Patronal Festival Eucharist.

How full was the building?
There were probably about 120 present, but this feeels thin in this vast building.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A brief word of welcome from the sidesman, who explained that everything necessary was contained in the service leaflet.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was fine for sitting, but absolute purgatory when kneeling. However, as pew rents survived here until comparatively recently, I wouldn't imagine that the gentry paying for their seat would have been interested in kneeling.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a subdued hum of very upper crust voices exchanging gossip.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Angel of the Lord brought tidings unto Mary..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Special leaflet. The hymn book in use is the New English Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
I could't help observing that some clean paint would brighten up the place considerably.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very much Prayer Book Catholic, with three ministers, servers in albs, and incense. The use was a slightly bizarre mix of Western and Sarum, with the latter just about winning. The celebrant wore one of the ugliest fiddleback chasubles I have ever seen! Unfortunately, the choir seemed to be somewhat out of control singing a setting by Vierne that was just beyond their capabilies.

St Mary Abbots, Kensington, London

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – he would have been more effective if he had pruned the length of the sermon by at least a third. He started well, but became boring.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Blessed Virgin Mary as an example when coping with change in modern life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Good singing in the hymns, and some very good ten-bell ringing at the end of the service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The feeling that one's social status was being assessed before being given the peace by other members of the congregation (this did not apply to the Vicar, who seemed genuinely friendly).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everybody made a beeline for the vicarage garden party, so there was little point in hanging about. However, I got the impression that visitors could hang around till kingdom come and still be ignored by the regulars.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none in the church, and I didn't go to the vicarage.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – the style of worship was fine, but the atmosphere of gentility left me cold.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
One of Gilbert Scott's largest and dullest buildings.

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