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||1310: Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, London
Mystery Worshipper: Abed-Nego.
The church: Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, Chelsea, London SW1.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Consecrated in 1890, Holy Trinity is the last and finest
work of the noted Arts and Crafts architect John Dando Sedding. It is a
free adaptation of the late English Perpendicular style, with Gothic, Renaissance
and even Byzantine elements clearly visible. Former poet laureate John Betjeman
called the church "the cathedral of the Arts and Crafts movement."
The west front is of banded brick and stone, with twin turrets flanking
the west window. Upon entering, one's eye is immediately drawn to the massive
east window, one of the largest and most complex to be found anywhere. The
interior abounds in detail – decorated railings, cherubs, altar-pieces,
absolutely stunning stained glass, and a rather jolly looking Madonna and
Child. The proportions, the decor, and, above all, the windows simply take
your breath away. This church is truly a wonder to behold – beautiful,
complete, and unspoilt by the passage of time. It should be on the itinerary
of every visitor to London.
The church: According to their website, Holy Trinity "provides
a vibrant spiritual and physical presence in the heart of Chelsea, with
an international congregation befitting a world city such as London."
The congregation appeared to be a broad cross-section of people who live
in and around Chelsea, and although the church has the obvious potential
to attract tourists, I felt I had joined a community of people who regularly
worship in this place.
The neighbourhood: This is quite a well-to-do area, serving as a
magnet for up-market shoppers, with a wide array of restaurants. For theatre-goers,
Sloane Square is the home of the Royal Court Theatre.
The cast: The Right Rev. Michael Marshall, rector, was the preacher.
The celebrant was the Rev. Nadim Nassar, director of Trinity Foundation
for Christianity and Culture. The director of music was Andrew O'Brien.
The date & time: Trinity Sunday, 11 June 2006, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist, Festival of Title.
How full was the building?
Pretty full, around 150 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A pleasant "Good morning."
Was your pew comfortable?
These must be the most comfortable seats in all Christendom. (Are they a
recent addition, maybe?) There's plenty of space to kneel and nothing slides
around. And the hassocks are quite beautiful.
How would you describe the pre-service
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
What books did the congregation use during the
New English Hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ – and a first rate instrument it was.
Did anything distract you?
I was thoroughly distracted by the stunning beauty of everything. Wherever
I turned – the pulpit, the high altar, the lectern, the light fittings,
the organ case – my breath was taken away, and these are surely the most
awe-inspiring windows imaginable.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
This was high church, Anglo-Catholic worship, very Anglican – in modern
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I'm ashamed to admit, I was so taken with Bishop Marshall's preaching, I
forgot to look at my watch at the end. But I'd say it was about 20 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 I am an admirer of Michael Marshall's books, and so I was expecting
a lucid and highly literary style. I was not disappointed. He is simply
riveting as a speaker, and delivers with a freshness and clarity that had
me in the palm of his hand.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Bishop Marshall spoke on John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world..."). First,
the bishop asked us to imagine what God is like. He reminded us that God
sent his Son to show us the face of God, and that the ultimate picture is
of a dying man. There's no way we can understand such love, but we might
experience it. First we are loved by our mothers. We respond to this love
with love. And finally we fall in love. This in short is trinitarian love.
He invited us to "lift the veil of dry doctrine" by quoting St Teresa of
Avila: "Prayer is not thinking much. Prayer is loving much." We come
to church to worship, to adore, and eventually to love. Everyone worships
something – football, booze, drugs, overeating. But for the Christian,
God is our ultimate concern – not religion, not this church, but the
love we have for the God who sent his Son to die for us.
Which part of the service was like being in
Oh, the whole experience was heavenly, with one exception.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The exception being that the choir seemed a bit out of control. They came
scurrying in with a rather relentless, loud, out-of-tune rendering of Alleluia,
I heard a voice by Thomas Weelkes. Things improved in the mass setting
by Widor – Widor's style seemed much closer to their own. Although the
service leaflet mentioned a Benedictus, the choir sang none – I guess Widor
must not have set it. And the promised anthem, Schutz's setting of Psalm
100, never happened either.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The mass ended in a very original way. We were led outside into Sloane Square,
where a large net of helium-filled balloons awaited us. The children then
released the 265 balloons, one for each congregant on the church's electoral
roll, with the aid of a character Bishop Marshall addressed over the loudspeaker
as Mister Balloon Man. It was fun to see the police bring the traffic to
a complete standstill while we sang "Christ is made a sure foundation"!
How would you describe the after-service
We headed back toward the church for wine and some not-very-interesting
nibbles served from tables outside the entrance. It was an exceedingly hot
day, and no one seemed eager to strike up a conversation.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 The organ playing was excellent, but the general lack of choral
discipline would make it difficult for me to settle down here. I'd have
to go and get my musical fix in one of the many local churches with more
interesting musical traditions.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Very glad indeed.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That I had surely been in a house of prayer.
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