|561: St Mary's, Bourne Street, London|
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Mystery Worshipper: Newman's Own.
The church: St Mary's, Bourne Street, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A happy blend of dignified and sedate exterior and baroque interior but previous reports have described it well.
The church: In the context of this particular service, St Mary's manages to be an Anglo Catholic haven in posh Sloane Square, where a procession through the streets with Marian statues and hymns leads those in the area (at least some of whom must not be high church) to not only gaze but to join in the songs of the congregation.
The neighbourhood: St Mary's is in the midst of one of London's most exclusive residential areas.
The cast: Fr. Bill Scott, the vicar of St Mary's, was officiant and homilist. Several other priests assisted.
What was the name of the service?
May Procession with Evensong and Benediction.
How full was the building?
The main section of the church was almost entirely filled, with a substantial percentage of the congregation being young, obviously quite prosperous business men.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A pleasant enough hello from the lady who handed me the service sheets. This is not my first visit to St Mary's (though I am not a regular), and Father Bill clearly remembered my face if not my name. He responded to my request to have someone escort me for the after-service drinks since I am too shy to approach strangers.
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden, individual chairs are quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People exchanged pleasant and quiet greetings, and a few (who I assume were visitors) looked about.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
A musical adaptation of "Queen of Heaven, Rejoice".
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A hymn book, leaflet and special sheet with the many verses of the Lourdes hymn which were sung during the procession.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The choir and soloists were excellent, and the congregation did a fair job of joining in the psalm chants.
Did anything distract you?
I blush to admit this, but some very early instincts came to the fore. I found myself at this, a very troubled time of my life, pondering that I would place everything in the Blessed Mother's hands.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dignified, impeccable Anglo Catholic, in a style the second generation Oxford Movement would have loved. Much incense, birettas, gold vestments and an alternation of Latin and English.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 There was a warmth and elegance in the sermon which made the sincerity and wisdom very appealing.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Bill spoke very movingly of how love makes the beloved see the beauty within himself, and how this, in relation to God, can enrich our prayer and recollection. He included several brief but very apt quotes, including some from Romano Guardini and from Beatrice of Jerusalem.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The procession. The richly garbed clergy and congregation processed from the church through the immediate neighbourhood, with a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and statue, singing many verses set to the Lourdes Hymn. I'll admit to feeling a tear in my eye at the verse which prayed that England may be Mary's Dowry, as in days of yore.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The procession as well. I was feeling quite sad (for other reasons), and walking in procession reminded me of more pleasant days not to mention that I always am highly embarrassed when I cry publicly in the midst of hymns.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people said good evening as they passed and, when I shyly requested this, Father Bill had two friendly sorts accompany me to the after service drinks. Once I was there, I found that I was not in a generally shy or quiet crowd. I was delighted to find myself in several enjoyable conversations of the sort that one can have only in places where a congregation appreciates references to medieval mystics and Romano Guardini.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
White and red wine were available in a small garden setting which lent itself to a pleasant, festive atmosphere.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 St Mary's offers both the quiet and the lush in its services, and is so marvellously, unashamedly in the High Church stratosphere that an Anglo Catholic sort could not help but feel very much at home.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes and glad to see that people are comfortable with openly, enthusiastically showing their faith in public and expressing devotion to the Blessed Mother... even in Sloane Square.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
God's showing us the beauty in ourselves.