|797: St Anne and St Agnes, Cheapside, London, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Bishop's Finger.
The church: St Anne and St Agnes, Gresham Street, Cheapside, London EC2, England.
The building: A delightful little Wren church in the City of London, restored after bomb damage during the Second World War and used by the Lutherans since 1966. The interior is square in plan, and has a beautiful carved ceiling. Walls are painted beige, a perfect foil to the dark oak furnishings.
The church: This church has an eclectic and cosmopolitan congregation, catering as it does for Lutherans from all over the world who happen to live and/or work in London. Most services are in English, but they are also held weekly in Swahili.
The neighbourhood: The church and its tiny churchyard are dwarfed by typical City office blocks, and on a wild and wet March evening the area seemed about as hospitable as the dark side of the moon (there wasn't even a pub open). It's very busy during the week, of course, and the church has a programme of weekday services and meetings.
The cast: Rev. Jana Jeruma-Grinberga (pastor), Rev. Andrew Foran (visiting preacher), Peter Lea-Cox (cantor and organist) plus two lay people to read the lessons, a choir of 10 and a small orchestra of 6.
What was the name of the service?
Vespers in the Bach tradition for the third Sunday in Lent.
How full was the building?
Comfortably full – around 70 all told, including clergy, choir and orchestra – but it is a very small church!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted at the door by an usher, who gave me a rather diffident smile and "Good evening," before handing me the service sheet. I was left to find my own way to a pew.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not too bad. There were no kneelers (but we stood for all the prayers) and nowhere to rest the A4 size service sheet.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A quiet buzz of conversation while the orchestra was tuning up. The choir suddenly burst into the introit while quite a few people were still entering the church and finding seats, which rather spoilt the effect.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Beloved of the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service sheet with everything neatly set out, including the congregational music for hymns, kyrie and responses. The two scripture readings were almost inaudible, so I'm not sure which version was used.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and a small string orchestra (two violins, two violas and two violincellos).
Did anything distract you?
Hmm... people seemed to be wandering about the back of the church all through the service, not to mention latecomers still arriving halfway through. I have to be honest and say that the most distracting thing at first was the continual shaking of the elderly gentleman in the same pew as me. He probably has Parkinson's disease, which is hardly his fault, but it was nevertheless good to see him there and enjoying the worship.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly formal and liturgical, with excellent music and hearty singing by choir and congregation. The service had, however, a homely and intimate feel to it, doubtless fostered by the small space – no distant vistas of high altars here!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes (I think: my watch had stopped).
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The preacher (a C of E prison chaplain) had a relaxed and conversational style, which was easy to listen to.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
After commenting on how baroque composers often develop and explore many themes in one piece of music, he pointed out that the two scripture readings (Ephesians 5:1-9 and Luke 11:24-28) also have several linked and interwoven themes. He concentrated on one theme only: "You are children of light". Light is vital to life, and we can enjoy the light of God as a result of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. He cited the dramatic conversion of an inmate of his prison, how she came into God's light and her life was completely transformed. We may not experience such a sudden conversion, but may have a slower and more gentle journey of faith. We may sometimes be blinded to the light of God, and need to disassociate ourselves from anything contrary to our faith.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music and singing, which was absolutely superb. Oh, and the beautiful ceiling – surely restored recently?
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing really hellish, but the apparent lack of a public address system meant that both readings were almost inaudible. A recent re-ordering of the pews and altar has resulted in a shambolic and untidy layout, which does nothing to improve the liturgy and is surely unnecessary in a small church.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not a lot. No one spoke to me, so I went to the coffee table. I then fell into conversation with the visiting preacher, and we had an interesting chat about the ups and downs of his work.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Palatable, even though in plastic cup thingies (and I forgot to ask if it was fairtrade coffee). No tea, but biscuits were available.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 If I lived in London within easy reach of this church, I would probably attend quite frequently, mainly on account of the music.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The shaking gentleman – God bless him.