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983: St Anthony of Padua, Forest Gate, London, England
Other reports | Comment on this report
St Anthony of Padua, Forest Gate, London, England
Mystery Worshipper: Mark Wuntoo.
The church: St Anthony of Padua, Forest Gate, London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: This is a very large brick building with lots of stained glass. There are two altars: a high altar and a lower communion table. Many shrines open off the worship space, some commemorating Christ's life and death and others dedicated to saints. To the rear is a parish centre and an area where they sell cards, candles and other devotional objects.
The church: The congregation was very mixed in age and ethnic background. We were invited to use pins to mark our birthplaces on a map; this revealed a world-wide representation. The church has links to a local community of Ursuline nuns. They also sponsor a number of groups meeting the needs of particular people (for example, the Nigerian Catholics Association and the Senior Citizens Club).
The neighbourhood: The church and its associated premises occupy a very large site and dominate the skyline. A secondary school is located nearby. The surrounding area is all terraced housing of the older type (possibly built at the end of the 19th century) managed by a housing association.
The cast: The Rev. Bartholomew Lynch, a visiting priest. Various people read the lessons and led the prayers.
What was the name of the service?
10.00am Mass with folk choir.

How full was the building?
I estimate that there were between 400 and 500 people present, filling about two-thirds of the seats.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I helped myself to a hymn book and a notice sheet. One or two people smiled as I looked around after settling in.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not really. It was a solid wooden pew with an immovable kneeler just at the place where I wanted to rest my feet – so I had to straddle it and was uncomfortable sitting and, even more so, standing.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet, except that the echo of the tall building amplified the slightest sound. People were lighting candles and praying at the shrines or with their rosaries.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The lead singer said, "Good morning, welcome to Mass." We then sang a song, after which were spoken the words "In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Celebration Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
There were two guitars accompanying a group of eight singers.

Did anything distract you?
The echo was a little annoying, although I can understand that some people would take from this a sense of awe, space and devotion.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was what you would call a folk mass. On reflection, it was not at all unlike a hymn sandwich. I was amused that one of the songs was set to a secular tune of the 1960s ("The Carnival is Over") which I guess has probably now become part of many repertoires. In addition, all the musicians were well over middle-age. During the Gospel reading the priest smiled strangely at one point.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Lynch spoke simply and to the point, but I was amazed at how many sheets of A4 paper he rustled through for a sermon that was so short.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father preached on the story of the prodigal son, emphasising the decision of the son to return, the welcome of the father and the attitude of the elder son. He then said that we should forgive one another and also our enemies, just as God has forgiven us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Rarely has a service been so emotional and brought me so frequently to tears. The songs and liturgy were wonderful and the atmosphere was a great aid to worship. One of the hymns was "Take Our Bread", which I found especially moving.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not being familiar with this sort of liturgy, I would have liked to have had a sheet of explanation, although it was easy to follow along with the congregation. It was assumed that we all were familiar with every part of the worship.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I needed to check out one or two points so I engaged a few people in conversation. Those I spoke with were friendly and encouraged me to return. But unless I approached them directly, no one else seemed to notice me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Were I to embrace the Roman Catholic faith (which I don't think I could do), this would be my church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so, although my personal faith requires more of a feeling of fellowship. I was, however, able to appreciate the value of everyone doing the same thing at the same time.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The smile (was it a bit cheeky?) on the face of the priest as he read the Gospel. And also the song "Take Our Bread".

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