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810: St John's, Clondalkin, Dublin
Other reports | Comment on this report
St John's, Clondalkin, Dublin
Mystery Worshipper: High Tower.
The church: St John's, Clondalkin, Dublin, Ireland.
Denomination: Church of Ireland (Anglican).
The church: The mostly middle aged and elderly congregation are the remains of the small Anglican community in the old village of Clondalkin, which is now a sprawling suburb of Dublin. A handful of younger churchgoers make up the numbers.
The neighbourhood: An ancient round tower opposite the church indicates that the church rests near the site of an old monastery dating from early Christian times. There are no obvious remains of the monastery now, but the church does continue a long line of Christian heritage.
The cast: The service was led by Rev. Paul Houston, who also preached. The lay reader was Sylvia something – I missed her surname.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
When I arrived five minutes early, the church was virtually empty. However, 10 minutes into the service, it was almost one quarter full, containing approximately 50 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, a lady handed me a hymn book, prayer book and service sheet at the door and said good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?
Surprisingly, yes. The shape of the pews could best be described as angular, but there was a comfortable cushioned lining on the base which kept the blood flowing.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was friendly chatter among the little clusters of people in the church, which gave the impression that everyone knew everyone else. The organ was playing through some unnamed hymns and giving that eerie Anglican ambiance to the place.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
As soon as the minister opening his mouth, I forgot my primary role and listened intently to the welcome and the announcement of a Mothers' Union fund-raising event to be held in the coming week.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer and the Church Hymnal, which is a rather large hymn book, complete with musical score.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, with a possible choir hidden in the balcony.

Did anything distract you?
Two rows in front of me, a three year old boy peered endlessly back. This included a staring contest with an attractive young woman in the pew directly in front me. Occasionally he wandered up and down the aisle, but never went too far from his mother.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was traditional Church of Ireland fare: led by the organ, we whined through hymns, psalms and canticles, with no one breaking a sweat, and few hitting the high notes with any degree of confidence. The singing was best from the ladies and also the balcony. The men had miserably little to offer with their voices, although perhaps this would change if the songs were brought down a few notes.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
The sermon was... oh dang, ok, it started at 11:54 exactly. I was going to time it precisely, but it was good enough for me to completely forget to check the time at the end! I'll take a guess at 10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The minister is in late middle age. He had a careful, considered style, and was obviously well prepared. His speech was slow and clear, with a quiet Ulster accent coming through. He didn't try any gimmicks to get people's attention, but simply went through his sermon with calm confidence.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We should become fools for Christ, like St Basil of Russia, a jester in the court of the tsar. He risked his own life and reputation to be truthful about the problems and afflictions of his day. God became human so that we could become sons and daughters of God. We have been set free and nothing now can bind us. We are free to become who we truly are, so we should put on our own coat which has been made to fit our own shape.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a tranquil vibe to the whole service, from the pre-service chatter to the post-closing hymn. The building has been very well preserved and presented, and I found it very peaceful just sitting there in quiet reflection.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The biggest problem I had was with the heating. I was wearing a warm fleece, and, until the sermon ended, I was nice and cosy. Then I noticed a cool breeze directly hitting me in the side of the neck. Had someone turned off the heating early? I mostly definitely didn't want a sore neck out of the experience.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were all invited to the vestry for coffee afterwards. After the closing hymn, everyone filed out of the church after the clergyman, with many turning left and exiting the building and the remainder continuing straight through to the large vestry. I went into the vestry, was offered a coffee and with it walked to the nearest empty space to wait out my five minutes. After no less than a minute, the minister and lay reader came over, said a brief hello, collected my name and surname (important in Church of Ireland circles) and then went off to change out of their garb. I was left on my own again, but then another man came over and said hello and we exchanged polite conversation for a few minutes. After a few minutes I had had enough, and excused myself to take the walk home.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Instant coffee may be seen as universally bad by many, but I've tasted enough of the stuff to realise that what we had was good instant coffee, and not the factory floor sweepings I've sometimes had. The biscuits served alongside were plain but fresh; a major plus point as they are often stale or soggy at such places.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I'm open to looking at new churches at the moment, but the tight-knit community in this church is a little too tight-knit for me. Having said that, I would have no objections to visiting this church occasionally.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The sermon reminded me that not all sermons are about either religion or real life – some are able to combine both.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Two things – the breeze on my neck, and the sermon.
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