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593: Our Lady & St George, Walthamstow, London
Other reports | Comment on this report
Our Lady & St George, Walthamstow, London
Mystery Worshipper: Schadenfreude.
The church: Our Lady & St George, Shernhall Street, Walthamstow, London E17.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
Comment: We have received comments on this report.
The building: It's a large, modern building; round and airy, with pews in a semi-circular arrangement facing the altar. There is a hall attached and a large Victorian vicarage on site.
The church: The congregation seems fairly representative of the immediate population (although Asians are under represented). A pretty good male/female, old/young, black/white mix. There are three RC schools and a convent very near by, and the church acts as a focal point for these.
The neighbourhood: This is the third church building on the site. The second, which stood for 70 years, burnt down in 1993. The current building was opened in 1995.
The cast: No idea. I assume that it was one of the three priests who serve at the church, but he didn't bother to introduce himself (one of my particular bugbears), so on that basis, he could have been anyone.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday mass.

How full was the building?
The church was a little over half full, with about 100 people attending.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had a service sheet thrust into my hands, together with a welcoming nod. I seated myself unobtrusively in the back row at the end of a pew. My only other contact with anyone was a woman saying "Excuse me" when trying to get past.

Was your pew comfortable?
Pretty good overall. The back rest dug into my spine, making sure that I didn't slouch, but the kneeler rail was padded and comfortable, and the hand rail at a good height for prayers. The pews are all made out of light wood, and look nice too.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was friendly and informal. People were milling around chatting, and there were children running around.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Lord be with you. (Response: "And also with you") Good morning everyone."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Everyone was given a purple A4 service sheet on entry, with all the Bible readings and hymns on it. The creed was recited twice I think (the acoustics made it difficult to be sure), together with an Our Father and a few standard responses. These weren't on the sheet, and I think it was assumed that you would know the words. It didn't seem to matter if you didn't join in.

What musical instruments were played?
I could see two guitars, and it sounded like there was a keyboard/ piano and a very badly played drum, but I didn't manage to spot these. Given my unobtrusive position at the back, it was difficult to see.

Did anything distract you?
People were in constant motion: walking in and out, looking after children etc. It kept the atmosphere quite informal and relaxed, but also made it difficult to concentrate.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed but formal if that makes sense. People wandered around quite happily; babies cried; everyone stood up, sat down and so all at the right times; and you didn't feel under pressure. On the other hand the priest (or whoever this mystery person was) led the service very impersonally. He basically just went through the standard elements of the service, and you got the impression that it didn't really matter if you were there or not. There were lots of hymns (the choir was quite good), but not many of the congregation seemed to join in, which was a shame. The service was well managed. It started on the dot of 10.30am and finished almost exactly one hour later. There wasn't much time for personal reflection except during the communion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The speaker was a volunteer talking about a Catholic mission organisation which supplies vehicles to priests and nuns in the field. It turned out he was a taxi driver from Southend, perhaps revealing a professional interest in the subject therefore. Being realistic however, it's difficult to make the subject matter that interesting, but he didn't really try. He was fairly matter of fact, seeming to base his fund raising hopes on the fact that the congregation were clearly used to giving money to good causes, and this week it was his turn.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It's a very nice building: cool, airy, high ceiling, with light streaming in on a beautiful sunny day.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The acoustics! They were awful. It was more or less impossible to make out what anyone was saying (it's possible I got the sermon all wrong), with the echo drowning everything out.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. I was ignored. I have to be honest though and admit that I didn't try particularly hard to get noticed, spending a couple of minutes at the end skulking in my pew, and then a few more minutes engrossed in the notice boards by the door, but all the same, I was there, unknown, and completely ignored.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Non-existent. There wasn't anything. The only liquid refreshment was for communion, which didn't help the hanging around afterwards waiting to be noticed.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy describes Earth as mostly harmless, and that seems quite an appropriate description here. I didn't get anything out of it, but then again, it didn't do me any harm. It was quite peaceful and nice, and if you wanted a church to go to on a Sunday morning, just so as to have been, then this would be as good a place as any.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really, although it didn't put me off either (which is pretty good in my book). I don't recall God being mentioned during the service (except in a few of the hymns), which you would have thought was fairly fundamental to feeling glad about being Christian. Having said that there wasn't really time to mention Him, what with prayers, communion and the rest to get through.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Nothing much I'm afraid. The building, if anything.
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