|965: St Margaret's, Westminster Abbey, London, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Newman's Own.
The church: St Margaret's, Westminster Abbey, London, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Both the beauty and historical significance of St Margaret's seem too extensive to restrict to a brief summary, and I would recommend readers check the website for the tour. It is a building of stately magnificence, with the effect spoilt only by the dreadful, modern, somewhat surreal Chapel of the Intercessor to the left. Its cartoonish depiction of Christ, contrasting so with the elegant brocade and silver cross of the nearby altar, made me wince.
The church: St Margaret's, in the parish sense, offers various services all week, many with guest preachers and notable music. They also hold a healing service weekly.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in perhaps the busiest tourist area of London, flanked by Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Pier and the like. Only worshippers are permitted to enter the church during the services (at which all are welcome), which makes it a blessedly quiet haven for the duration. It was appalling how crowded the area was with those who were assembling, quite noisily, to photograph the Shrine of Diana... excuse me, Westminster Abbey, which, to many, has historical significance solely as the place where the funeral for the Princess of Wales was conducted.
The cast: Rev. Robert Wright, rector, was the celebrant for the eucharist. Rt Rev. Richard Llewellin, former Bishop of Lambeth, was homilist and minister of confirmation.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist with Confirmation, Seventh Sunday of Easter.
How full was the building?
It was about one third full. Many of those in attendance were clearly family and friends of those receiving confirmation; others were tourists.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The greetings at St Margaret's are born of necessity rather than sheer welcome, and staff at the door asked, "Are you attending the service? It is at 11 o'clock." I had arrived about 20 minutes early, to pray in preparation, but considering how many of the congregation neither participated in the responses nor received communion, presumably the guard wanted to caution me against possible boredom during such a lengthy wait.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes rather standard.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quite noisy and hectic, with many greetings exchanged between those who appeared to be family or friends of the six people to receive confirmation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Those of the opening hymn: "The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a special leaflet for the occasion, which contained all of the prayers and hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The music, overall, was neither poor nor exceptional it was of a standard which many parish churches achieve regularly.
Did anything distract you?
The Chapel of the Intercessor, which I mentioned above, somehow remained in view, and my meditations were interrupted by the thought that when taste falters in buildings which are otherwise exquisite, somehow it makes poor art advance to the status of grotesque. This sadly is not an unusual situation in various major churches and cathedrals in recent years.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Though I know the term is seldom employed today, I would say "broad church." It was a dignified, elegant service, strictly according to Common Worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 His Grace's style was very engaging and warm, and included anecdotes related to his previous service in Africa.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Referring to the day's Gospel reading, the bishop mentioned how the "sailors" were helpless without the breath of the Holy Spirit, and how we, as well, must "hoist the sail" with prayer, worship, service and the scriptures.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Following the administration of confirmation, the exuberance the bishop expressed in saying, "This is the faith of the Church!" made the words seem awe-inspiring rather than standard responses. It moved me deeply.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Sorry to mention these again, but viewing the Chapel of the Intercessor and hearing the noise outside from those who had no concept of either religion or history.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. The ample number of people who probably were not Christians (and certainly not Anglicans) looked lost and puzzled to an extent that I could never have matched. Most of those in attendance were wrapped up in congratulating those confirmed.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. I headed for the Mall, where there is a pub which offers a cheap Sunday lunch.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 Royal chapels are "nice places to visit."
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It is particularly heartening to see new Christians welcomed into the church. Since several of those confirmed were of quite mature years, it seemed quite possible that they were people who came to a deepened faith later in life, and that never fails to impress me (now that I am verging on the age of wisdom).
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The bishop's sincere warmth and enthusiasm, which made it seem that the Christian path never ceases to be a happy one no matter how much of the unfortunate side of life one has seen, whether at Lambeth or in Africa.