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||1440: St Paul's Within the Walls, Rome, Italy
Photo: George P Landow, Victorian Web
Mystery Worshipper: Ave Maria.
The church: St
Paul's Within the Walls, Rome, Italy.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Convocation
of American Churches in Europe.
The building: Dating from 1873, this is the first non-Roman Catholic
church to be built within the walls of Rome. In addition to its mission
as a Christian church, it is responsible for overseeing a remarkable collection
of art. The exterior is something you might easily pass by without notice.
However, once inside, the visitor is awestruck by the apse mosaics of George
Breck and Edward Burne-Jones, tiles by William Morris, stained glass by
the English firm Clayton and Bell, and other such treasures. Their website
features a detailed discussion of each artist and his contributions.
The church: St Paul's first rector wrote of the church that it was
destined to be "a solemn witness, in this papal city, of a faith which
is Catholic without being papal, and Protestant without ceasing to be Catholic."
The community of St Paul's is made up of people of many different nationalities,
all influenced by different traditions. They sponsor several hospitality
and outreach ministries, including a Latin American ministry and a refugee
The neighbourhood: St Paul's is located close to the Termini train
station as well as some high priced hotels. If you want a good pre-service
coffee, try Flann O'Briens bar, across the street.
The cast: The celebrant was the Rt Revd John Flack, director of the
Anglican Centre and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative
to the Holy See. The preacher was His Excellency Mr Charles Agyei-Amoama,
ambassador from Ghana to Italy. Also participating was Mr Ben Oduwole, president
of the congregation.
The date & time: Pentecost Sunday, 27 May 2007, 11.00am (although
it started five minutes late). It was also Africa Day.
What was the name of the
Sung Eucharist, Day of Pentecost and Africa Day.
How full was the building?
Packed to the rafters.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy with crying babies, excited children, people gossiping and
choir doing some last minute practicing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We welcome all to this wonderful celebration where we bring together
many different groups for this service of Pentecost as well as many different
languages." This was a special event, with guests from
Africa, England and Switzerland as well as Italy. The procession in African
dress entered in silence, after which the cantor began to chant Veni
Creator Spiritus in Latin.
What books did the congregation use during the
The 1982 Hymnal; Book of Common Prayer; service leaflets.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, several guitars, tambourines, Peruvian wooden flute, bongos,
plus several African drums, including one I'd never seen (a large metal cone).
Did anything distract you?
The noise. The late start. Also, every time a new procession or "delegation"
had a performance, it took about five minutes to set it up.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy,
Definitely happy clappy – lots of clapping during most songs, as
well as some dance type movements. The choir was very enthusiastic. A
Peruvian group sang the Lord's Prayer in Spanish to the tune of Simon
and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence". By contrast, the organist
tried to maintain a serious Anglican mode with a Bach prelude and postlude.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes, although the congregation president took longer than that to
introduce our preacher, the Ghanaian ambassador, Agyei-Amoamat.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 The ambassador's style was very formal. As an example, at one
point he said, "Let us eschew violence and let dialogue be our portion."
Very King James!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The ambassador welcomed everyone to the church and talked about what could
be done for the immigrant community by the Italian government as well
as by the church. He expressed pride in Africa as a continent and said
he was hopeful about its future. He mentioned that whereas only a generation
or so ago the world sent missionaries to Africa, Africa now sends missionaries
out to the world! He asked that people in authority pursue the cause of
humanity and seek peaceful solutions to Africa's liberation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The artwork in the church. Also the African choir was very enthusiastic
and colorful with clapping, dancing, etc.
And which part was like being in... er... the
At times there was so much noise one could not hear anything. The kids
were hyped up, too. The Gospel was read simultaneously in 10 languages,
which was inspiring but also very confusing!
What happened when you hung around after the service
Absolutely nothing! I tried to buy postcards, but was told to wait until
later, when a stand would be set up (it never was). We were told that
refreshments would be served in the crypt and so I went down there, but
no one spoke to me there either. The only time anyone ever spoke was during
the peace, and that was only to say "Peace be with you."
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was overbrewed. Brand unknown. Tea the same. All served in
plastic cups. Milk was also available. Someone announced that African
goodies would be forthcoming but they never materialised. I saw some plates
of what looked like crisps or potato chips, pretzels and cheese puffs,
as well as fruit baskets, fried chicken and some kind of pastries. But
people seemed to have staked out their own picnic tables and this food
was not offered to the general public.
How would you feel about making this church your
regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 I am not sure what it would be like on an average Sunday, but
I don't think I could handle the noise and confusion on a regular basis.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, mainly because of the diversity. I'm not sure that many Anglican
churches could pull together so many races for any kind of event.
What one thing will you remember about all this
in seven days' time?
The Peruvian choir singing the Lord's Prayer to "Sound of Silence".
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