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192: St Mary's, Bourne Street, London
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St Mary, Bourne Street, London
Mystery Worshipper: Sarum Sleuth.
The church: St Mary's, Bourne Street, London, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Red brick Victorian Gothic by R.J. Withers in 1874, filled with spectacular baroque furnishings and knickknacks, principally designed by Martin Travers.
The neighbourhood: The heart of Sloane Ranger land. I imagine very few domestic servants (for whom the church was originally built) attend St Mary's now.
The cast: The preacher was Rev. Graeme Rowlands. The officiant at Benediction was the Vicar, Rev Preb Bill Scott.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Evensong, Procession of Our Lady and Solemn Benediction in May.

How full was the building?
Approximately 50 per cent full to begin with, but numbers increased as the rite became progressively more exotic.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, friendly and helpful sidesperson.

Was your pew comfortable?
There are chairs rather than pews, which were moderately comfortable. Not so much fun when you kneel, as the row in front tends to slide about...

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reasonably quiet, although an intriguing conversation about the merits of hanging pyxes versus tabernacles was going on behind us.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"O Lord, open thou our lips."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal, service sheet, service book, hymn sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
A member of the congregation had brought her dog on the outdoor procession. It was also rather disconcerting to meet a white van coming up the street towards the procession, travelling a little too fast.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
They don't come much higher than this. Latin tended to replace English as the service progressed, and there was one complete change of costume for the Sacred Ministers. Nothing about the service suggested that the first (let alone the second) Vatican Council had ever happened. The only vaguely Anglican feature was the fact that the crucifer wore a tunicle. Birettas were much in evidence, and put on and off with some style. The facial expressions of the ministers were classic Anglo-Catholic deadpan – something you rarely see these days.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9. He wore a wonderful spade ended stole with sequins over a cotta that was mostly lace. Excellent delivery, although the content was a bit over the top for a liberal Catholic like me.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"This is your Mother", or the more extreme manifestations of Mariolatary.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir was certainly pretty good, although the Gibbons' setting didn't quite match all the baroque carry-on. There was certainly an impressive and intense atmosphere of worship.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Only that van coming down the road straight at the procession.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There were drinks in the Presbytery, so we adjourned there. I was certainly made most welcome, although my friend (female) felt rather out of it all, having observed that the congregation was nearly all male.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Wine was on offer, white or rosé. Rather sweet, but I soon got my tastebuds back after a visit to the pub over the road.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3. If there was nothing else available apart from mad evangelical establishments, then I would come here. However, it's all a bit much for me, although I enjoy a very occasional visit.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, if only because it provided a good deal of entertainment. And there is no doubt that the church has a very strong atmosphere.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
All those candles at Benediction.
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