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811: St Lawrence Jewry, London, England
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St Lawrence Jewry, London
Mystery Worshipper: The Bishop of Stortford.
The church: St Lawrence Jewry, London EC2.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: This is a large stone building, rebuilt in 1670 by Sir Christopher Wren following the great fire of London, and re-furbished in 1957 having been gutted during the second world war. It was originally built in a white stone, but after centuries of London traffic it is now almost black with grime. Inside, the church is a big open space with modern-looking pews. Almost everything is decorated in gold leaf.
The church: It is the official church of the Corporation of London and stands next door to the Guildhall.
The neighbourhood: St Lawrence is in the middle of the City of London's "square mile" – the main financial district in the UK. Very few people live locally. Many of the churches in the City concentrate on lunchtime services and concerts, rather than Sunday services, since the place is normally deserted on a Sunday.
The cast: Priest: Rev. David Burgess, MA.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) at lunchtime.

How full was the building?
Besides me, there were five people present, including the priest and a server.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. The service books were on a table at the front of the church for people to help themselves.

Was your pew comfortable?
No, the pews in this church are not comfortable, but that doesn't matter, since most of the service is spent on your knees. The kneelers are very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet – you could have heard a pin drop, except for the sound of passing traffic outside.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer (1662).

What musical instruments were played?
None. It was a said service with no hymns or music.

Did anything distract you?
A tourist wandered into the building a couple of times during the service, made some noise and left again. I guess that's the price you pay for worshipping in historic churches during a weekday.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a standard 1662 BCP Holy Communion said service with the priest facing east (i.e. with his back to the congregation). In other words, about as stiff upper lip as they come!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Using the old 1662 Prayer Book. I've not been to many BCP services, but whenever I do, I find it adds an extra dimension. The fantastic language used in this historical document just makes you feel like you're involved in something timeless and continuous. The Bible readings were from the King James Authorised version, which has the same effect on the atmosphere.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Trying to follow the service in the Prayer Book. In spite of what I've just said about the joys of the BCP, if you're not used to the Prayer Book, it can be quite difficult to work out which prayer is being said and whether you are supposed to be joining in or not. Added to this, the priest went at break-neck speed to try to complete the service and let us office workers get back to our desks as soon as possible, so I spent a lot of time thinking about the book, and not enough thinking about the words.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The priest was at the door to shake everyone's hand on the way out, so I ended up in a brief conversation with him before I left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I'd have to try their Sunday service before deciding – I couldn't live life without hymns. Unfortunately they only have a service on Sunday once a month.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
All that gold leaf.
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