Ship of Fools
  Bulletin Boards
  Mystery Worshipper
  Caption Competition
  Gadgets for God
  The Fruitcake Zone
  Signs & Blunders
  Born Twice
  About Ship of Fools
  Support us!
  Contact us!
668: All Saints, Margaret Street, London
Other reports | Comment on this report
All Saints, Margaret Street, W1 London
Mystery Worshipper: kingsfold.
The church: All Saints, Margaret Street, London, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The church is Victorian gothic, designed by William Butterfield. On a dark, drear Friday evening, it looked very forbidding from the outside, but this image was dispelled as soon as I walked inside. The interior of the church appears to be decorated almost exclusively with tiles, floor to ceiling, including a tiled mural (painted on the tiles, not mosaic) all the way down the north wall, and others on the rear wall and on the part of the tower wall. The lighting was fairly subdued, giving you the feeling that you were stepping into somewhere warm and comforting, and this was accentuated by the lingering smell of incense.
The church: This being a patronal festival with what one might perhaps call a "high profile speaker", the church was extremely full. It was therefore difficult to make much of an assessment of the church community!
The neighbourhood: Margaret Street runs parallel to Oxford Street, and at right angles to Regent Street, so is in a very busy and bustling shopping area. Despite that, the area immediately around the church seem so to be quite quiet, and it's easy to forget that you're so close to one of the main London shopping streets.
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales and Archbishop-Designate of Canterbury. There were also at least five other clergy in procession, not to mention servers galore.
What was the name of the service?
High Mass for All Saints day (see previous report of this same service).

How full was the building?
The church was bulging at the seams – think commuter trains into London. Every seat appeared to be taken, more seats had been put out and filled, people were standing at the back and round the door, and there was an overflow into the parish room with a video link.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
This being a ticket-only affair, I lurked outside the main gate, where I was welcomed by gentleman who asked me if I had a ticket. As my reply was no, he then asked me if I'd like one. Once in the church, I was directed to one of the few empty chairs left some 35-40mins before the start.

Was your pew comfortable?
The seating was those wooden chairs with woven seats which are linked together across the backs by a wooden rail. It wasn't enormously comfortable, and I have to say the chairs are far too close together for comfort. It turns out that part of the All Saints festival appeal is going towards buying some new chairs for the church.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Given that the church was full so long before the service started, it was remarkably quiet in there. There were inevitably noises of folks moving around, but I would never have imagined that so many people could have sat in such peace for so long. There was a palpable, anticipatory stillness.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"For all the saints, who from their labours rest..." This was the first hymn and was unannounced.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A booklet produced specially for the occasion which had the service order and the hymns in it.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ, which had been newly restored (and very good it sounded too!).

Did anything distract you?
I spent a few minutes as Archbishop Rowan was introduced at the beginning of the sermon pondering the likeness between him and one of the figures on the tiled mural behind him (see below), and wondering if I would be able to get a photo of it! I was also somewhat diverted by the servers in during the last hymn, who were sitting in a sort of south transept area. They appeared to be trying to decide who should actually be in the outgoing procession (not all of them were), and what the order of precedence should be, which meant they kept rearranging themselves, and each other. I wasn't quite sure if it was a case of "after you", "me first," or "it's my turn"!

rowan mosaic

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Oh, definitely smells and bells, with several clergy, more servers than you could shake a stick at (I never did work out what they all did) and intoned Gospel and eucharistic prayers.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes, and I would happily have listened longer.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – He's got a very good speaking voice, and seemed able to hold the attention of whole congregation throughout.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Holiness. God is holy, and this is the "fullness" that we associate with him. By comparison, we are empty and insubstantial, unreal if you like. Saints on the other hand are people who have been able to open themselves up to God, and to receive some of his fullness, which means they become more real, but can also make them scary, as we see God in them. We should approach the altar empty, but hungry to be filled with his presence through the bread and the wine. As we open ourselves more to God and allow him to fill us with his grace and truth, we too will begin to become real.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music in general was extremely good (Vierne Messe Solennelle, Stanford Beati Quorum), but the plainsong post-communion chant, sung by the gentlemen of the choir, was out of this world – absolutely gorgeous.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Both the creed and the Lord's Prayer were sung, but the music wasn't in the service sheet. Since I didn't know the setting, it meant I couldn't join in. This wouldn't have been a problem (I'd just have said it quietly) if it hadn't been for the fact that most of the rest of the congregation did seem to know the setting, but didn't seem able to sing it at the same speed as the choir and organ. A pet hate of mine, I'm afraid.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat around for a while, then joined the back of a fairly lengthy queue to get out of the church. I hung around the courtyard outside the church for what felt like quite some time before giving up hope of being noticed and making a move to leave. At this point I was rescued by someone who asked, who was I? Having explained I was a visitor, he then chatted to me for a bit before pointing me in the direction of the bar. Here, I was rescued by someone who bought me a drink and by two other ladies who came over and chatted. Once I'd finally been noticed, everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee, but a very palatable glass of red wine, bought for me by (I assume) one of the "regulars".

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in or around the area, I'd definitely consider it. The service was significantly "further up the candle" than I'm used to, but I have to say I loved it.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Most definitely. It was a style of worship which was a bit outside my usual experience, but it felt very comfortable, and left me feeling uplifted.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
As the procession wound its way out of the chancel and down the central aisle, large numbers of the congregants genuflected as Archbishop Rowan went past. The procession then came back up the side aisle to the vestry, and these same congregants all turned through 180 degrees and genuflected to him again as he passed on the other side.

The Mystery Worshipper is sponsored by, the internet service provider from Christian Aid. By offering email services, special offers with companies such as and, surefish raises more than £300,000 a year for Christian Aid's work around the world.

Click here to find out how to become a Mystery Worshipper. And click here if you would like to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Top | Other Reports | Become a Mystery Worshipper!

© Ship of Fools 2003
Surefish logo