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262: St James, Paddington, London
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St James, Paddington, London
Mystery Worshipper: Northern Light.
The church: St James, Sussex Gardens, Paddington, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Late-Victorian Gothic Revival barn by G.E. Street. Huge interior which could easily seat 400 people. Rows of pews and a cheap-looking nave altar, but a re-ordering which sounded expensive is planned.
The neighbourhood: Classic railway station environment (Paddington Station is depicted in their stained glass) with loads of hotels, convenience shops, shabby houses, etc., but all being tarted up. Clearly some redevelopment is going on in the area.
The cast: Fr. Bill Wilson (the Vicar) was the celebrant and Fr. David Peters (the Curate) preached.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Eucharist of Christ the King.

How full was the building?
About 80-90 people were swallowed up in the huge interior, plus servers and choir.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A hearty "Hello!" from a sidesman as I entered. There were also handshakes all round at the peace, including the clergy, which I didn't expect given the nature of the service. People were also very friendly after the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not bad, but I was lucky and had a cushioned pew which not everybody got. Bog-standard kneeler but OK for the length of service. Any longer might have proved uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with soft organ music a couple of minutes before the service began. It was noticeable that lots of people arrived as or after the service began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymnbook ("New English Hymnal") and pew leaflet, which included the words of the service plus a weekly bulletin. The service leaflet is obviously produced on a weekly basis and included music for the congregational parts, which I found a help. Why don't more churches do this?

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and an excellent choir.

Did anything distract you?
People who walked into church for a few minutes, perhaps lighting a candle, and then left. Also the congregation's singing was poor, perhaps because of the excellence of the choir or because they were swallowed up in the pews and felt nervous. I enjoy singing but felt a bit self-conscious.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Modern Anglo-Catholic in style and done very well. The service was very dignified and seemingly a lot of care had gone into the liturgy. Lots of incense flying around and unobtrusive servers. Excellent professional choir. One of the best choirs I have heard in church. They sang a setting by Howells of the eucharist plus a anthem. How lucky the regulars here are to have such a wonderful choir in residence.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – the preacher was clear and audible, and made good eye-contact with the people. There were a couple of quite decent jokes, which he told without trying to play it for laughs. It was clear what he believed and what he wanted to put across, and the congregation enjoyed listening to him.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
As it was the feast of Christ the King, Fr. Peters told us about the history of the feast. He said that, sadly, this it is a feast which has never really taken off, because of the un-PC nature of kings and monarchy in the world. He thought that people wanted either Christ the King or Christ the Social Worker. Christ as King, he said, reigns from the cross and also from the altar at the eucharist.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing of the sanctus and benedictus while the incense floated around the altar, lingering in the air. Very, very beautiful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
After the service, I was attacked by a woman selling Christmas cards at the back of the church. I wouldn't have minded but the cards themselves were awful and mainly secular in nature! Given the highly polished liturgy and the beautiful singing, this brought me down to earth with a bit of a bump.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was welcomed warmly by a woman who gave me my coffee and we chatted away. After a while the Vicar came over and introduced himself and began to tell me about the church's redevelopment plans. The clergy and people did a good job in welcoming visitors. Since the church is in a hotel area, they must get a lot of them.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was real filter coffee in a china mug (which was free and hot) plus orange juice – all served from a well-designed kitchen at the back of the church. There were no biscuits or cakes, however, but the Vicar told me they have food and wine on special occasions. Obviously Christ the King wasn't special enough!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8. If I lived in the area I would certainly try it out, especially because of the choir and the liturgy, and also because the congregation was surprisingly young, with most of the people about 40 or under.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It showed me that an Anglo-Catholic eucharist could be both beautiful and accessible. Sometimes these don't go together.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sound of the choir and the rising of the incense.
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