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  1270: Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Simon Stock, Kensington, London

Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Simon Stock, Kensington, London

Mystery Worshipper: Newman's Own.
The church: Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Simon Stock, Kensington, London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The building is of brown stone, both inside and out, with a simple interior in neutral shades. Statues of saints are located on the inner walls. The austerity, well suited to the Carmelite tradition in which this church was founded, is relieved by a striking reredos in red and gold. The altar is constructed of brown brick, matching that of the walls, with the alpha and omega symbols appearing on the front.
The church: The parish seems to be a centre for community involvement and encouragement of devotion. The side chapel to Our Lady of Mount Carmel had many a visitor before and after the service, and plainly there are many devotional exercises here. There is evidence of extensive attention to the needs of those with children. Petitions included those for the unemployed and for social justice. The announcements mentioned several groups active in the parish, but the ministries pursued by each group are not apparent from their names.
The neighbourhood: Kensington High Street is a less showy crescent, wedged between the yuppie preserves of Notting Hill and the museums, upper class shopping, and posh restaurants of South Kensington. The immediate neighbourhood has many shops devoted to antiques, interior design, and fashion.
The cast: Not provided.
The date & time: Saturday, 29 April 2006, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Vigil Mass for the Third Sunday of Easter.

How full was the building?
Nearly full. Many of those in attendance were Latin Americans, but whether this is coincidence or evidence of some particular outreach to that community I cannot say.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I had arrived rather early and no one was yet manning the doorways.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, standard.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was wonderfully silent, making the contemplative air of the Carmelites seem very much present. Many were engaged in silent prayer, lighting candles, or making sacramental confession.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"You'll find the mass on page 135 in the Parish Mass Book. Please join in the entrance antiphon."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Parish Mass Book and Hymns Old and New.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
I could not help but wonder why a church with such an elegantly simple design allowed the effect to be marred by two huge, tacky floral arrangements. They reminded me of the flowers one would find at my family's Italian funerals.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a simple, garden variety Roman Catholic mass, with nothing especially elaborate or trendy. It was not a choral service, but perusing the announcements I noted that a high musical standard appears to be maintained.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Simon Stock, Kensington, London

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The priest was slightly dramatic – in fact, throughout the service, he inserted extra comments before the prayers, such as "Let us join in Easterhood." He presented interesting topics for thought, but was not quite able to tie them together, nor did he mention how to apply them in our own lives. The preponderance of topics admittedly could fill two libraries, and one had the impression of travelling in ten directions with collisions possible.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Christ rose in transformed glory, and is present both in this and in ourselves and the eucharist. Our bodies are wonderfully good, and must say to God, "I am all yours," as indeed the Spirit does. He illustrated this by contrasting sexual expression within marriage to that outside of marriage, saying that the latter implies a bond that actually does not exist. He also told a story about Mother Teresa's caring for a dying man, who had told her that he lived like an animal but, because of the care of the Missionaries of Charity, died like a king. The living presence of the risen Christ is a constant reality.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was truly lovely to see how worship and sacrament clearly enrich many lives. The packed church, with many young people in attendance, the humility and reverence clear in the demeanour of the many gathered at the altar rail, and the ample queues for confession were all icons of such devotion.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were announcements and a petition related to opposing the Assisted Dying Bill. This brought back vivid pictures of the long, painful deaths my parents endured. It is hell to admit agreeing with the moral position expressed by the Bill whilst knowing I would welcome passage to another world, quickly, were I suffering so.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The atmosphere was rather bustling, and I went unnoticed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None provided.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I was moved by what I saw, but I am not Roman Catholic and also have different tastes in liturgy.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. I am deeply impressed when I see sheer devotion in a congregation.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The "filled silence" of confession, devotions, and private prayer before the mass. In the shadow of the statues of Carmelite saints, one felt intensely that the legacy of Teresa and John of the Cross is alive and well.
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