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429: St James Garlickhythe, London
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St James Garlickhythe, London
Mystery Worshipper: Thames Swimmer.
The church: St James Garlickhythe, Garlick Hill, London EC4.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Wren! It's in a very good state of repair. The sanctuary boasts the traditional Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord's Prayer plaques. It has the second-highest ceiling of any church in London (after St Paul's), and is full of light, thus known as Wren's Lantern. A bit of paint is flaking from the ceiling over the sanctuary, though.
The church: It is the home of ten guilds, and, more importantly, it's the home of the Prayer Book Society, with its adherence to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
The neighbourhood: The church is on the periphery of the City, just across from Southwark Bridge. Most of its parish is office buildings, although recently some residential buildings have gone up. I suspect, however, that most of the parishioners come from outside the parish.
The cast: The rector, Rev. Dr Alan Griffin, celebrant and preacher.
What was the name of the service?
Sung eucharist, 18th Sunday after Trinity, and Burma Star Commemoration.

How full was the building?
It was about half full with about ten Burma Star veterans and their wives, as well as the usual congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I entered and a lady of a certain age was fussing around the hymnals and prayer books and I had to get her attention by saying "Good morning!" She then sprang to her work and proffered the books, saying that she arranged them in red, white, and blue order (hymnal is red, service sheet is white, prayer book is blue).

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was very comfortable, as it is of fairly recent vintage, since a construction crane counterweight fell through the ceiling a decade or so ago and smashed the old ones to matchsticks. The hassock looked quite comfortable, but when used, the piping around the edge cut right into my knee and was an irritant.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The soloist was rehearsing (very well, too), and the ladies and gentlemen were chatting away very animatedly. Oddly enough, though, as the service was about to start, a hush descended upon the entire crowd with no prompting, and we all were reverently fixed upon what was about to happen.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"This morning we give thanks to God for all members of the Burma Star Association..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
1662 Book of Common Prayer, Hymns Ancient & Modern Revised, service sheet. The books were quite manageable in size, and were easy to use and juggle.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ.

Did anything distract you?
The architecture and the restoration were very eye-catching. The walls are panelled with forest-green colour wood, very tastefully done. There are a large number of memorial tablets, tastefully positioned, and some wooden tablets spaced along the walls which replaced some lost "in the fire". I thought it was a recent fire, but they refer to the Great Fire of 1666 instead! The travelling microphone attached to the rector rustled a bit, which was somewhat annoying. The rector wore an ancient vestment set which included the first maniple I've seen on a clergyperson in years.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
17th century formal, with vestments. Well-executed, but not too high (no incense, the preface was said, not sung).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The rector read from notes, rather than actually preaching, and very visibly fussed with the paper he was reading from. Indeed, it was a sermon to be read, not to be listened to.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We are those who are waiting for the coming of our Lord and heaven. Our souls are not a separable bit of us that is immortal – that is a Platonic teaching. We then got four points on Platonism. He ended up with "What is our end but that life that has no end".

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing of the soloist (no choir here) was wonderful, and the sonorities of the Prayer Book resonate with everyone, even those who, like me, were not raised Anglicans. The glorious light from the upper storey of the nave. The verger, white-gloved and white-tied, with a jet black robe emblazoned with golden scallop shells. The alms dish, a large bronze scallop shell, receiving our offerings.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Forgetting my place and loudly starting to say "And also with you" when I should have said, "And with thy spirit". Most embarrassing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This was not allowed. While no one talked to me, the ushers were standing at the west end of the aisle, with trays filled with glasses of red and white wine.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't have any coffee (it looked instant), but the white wine was quite nice, without being overpowering – I suspect it's chosen to be good on an empty stomach, as I'm certain many people attend having undergone a eucharistic fast.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I came to scoff, but I stayed to pray. I have lately felt that the prayer book was an anachronism best forgotten except by St Jurassic Park Church, but the reverence and care that marked the liturgy at St James' made it a very holy moment for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and even more glad to be an Anglican, where the liturgy of the Prayer Book can coexist with common worship, each giving strength and legitimacy to the other.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The light streaming from the windows into the nave.
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