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||1513: St George's, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Mystery Worshipper: Strange Pilgrim.
The church: St
George's, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
The building: Imposing and beautiful late-Victorian church in a strange
but effective mixture of Gothic and Byzantine styles. Especially impressive
mosaics and tiling in the sanctuary, in a sort of cross between Ravenna
and a Barcelona opera house.
The church: The congregation seemed a fairly representative cross-section
of the neighbourhood, and appeared organised, purposeful and, in a typically
low-key Anglican way, devout and prayerful. There was a good mixture of
ages (including some lively but well-behaved young children), though as
it was outside term, the student population was doubtless under-represented.
The neighbourhood: A mixture of studentsville in the streets of typical
Tyneside flats (two storey terraces) and middle-class suburbia nearer to
the church. Many small hotels, clubs and wine-bars in this neighbourhood,
which is seen as one of the trendier suburbs of Newcastle. A beautiful wide
open space like a village green in front of the church.
The cast: Celebrant and preacher was the vicar, the Revd Dr Nick
Chamberlain. Joan Grenfell led the intercessions.
The date & time: Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January 2008, 9.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Probably less than half full, but in that vast church it would mean at least
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The welcome team almost literally fell over each other in their haste to
hand us books, which they did with warm smiles. Friendly but not chatty
greetings at the peace.
Was your pew comfortable?
Well-made bench (presumably contemporary with the building) which was reasonably
comfortable both for sitting and kneeling.
How would you describe the pre-service
Unfortunately we arrived just a few seconds before the service started,
so it is impossible to say. Judging by people's demeanour (and the fact
that they were quite scattered in the pews) I expect there was probably
reasonable silence with perhaps some discreet chat.
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
Locally-produced service book for the Christmas-Epiphany season (Common
Worship order 1), plus Hymns Ancient and Modern (New Standard)
and a notice sheet which also gave the prayers and readings for the day
(in the New Revised Standard version).
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. There was also a large robed choir of men and women.
Did anything distract you?
The proportions and embellishment of the building were fascinating. This
must be one of the highest (in an architectural sense) churches in England
and it is an achievement that in a Northumbrian January it did not feel
unbearably cold. Another distraction was seeing the heads of the priest
and assistants looking rather like a fairground shooting range when they
sat down behind the altar.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Dignified Anglican eucharist, just on the high side of middle of the road.
There was a noticeable smell of incense at the beginning of the service
(doubtless in honour of the feast) but it was not used liturgically and
had burnt out well before the end. Formal, but the friendly atmosphere took
it out of the stiff- upper-lip category. The choir sang part of a Latin
mass setting (which was not identified) and an anthem; the gloria and the
hymns were congregational.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Father Nick had an engaging style, using personal anecdotes and
humour to illustrate the theology, rather than, as is often the case, scattering
bits of theology on top of a personal diatribe or performance.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He said that the action of the magi – journeying toward the Christ
Child – was more important than the gifts, significant as they were.
It showed a willingness to put worship first, and to recognise what is good.
Too much of our religion, especially for the English, starts with looking
at what is wrong and then seeing how to put it right. Rather, we should
start by affirming what is good, looking for what is positive, and building
on that. This church, he said, was built for worship first and foremost.
We need to celebrate Epiphany Christianity.
Which part of the service was like being in
The affirmation of the value of worship in the sermon. The choir sang the
anthem ("From the Rising of the Sun", by F A G Ouseley) from the
back of the church during communion, rather than from the acoustically less
effective choir stalls.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Kneeling for the eucharistic prayer is not necessarily a bad idea, but sitting
I find inappropriate. It would have seemed discourteous or at least odd
to be the only one standing, but to be kneeling when most others were sitting
was (mentally, not physically) uncomfortable. Communion was distributed
from the otherwise unused high altar, but mass was celebrated at a rather
makeshift and cramped altar on the chancel steps. I'm not generally an enthusiast
for ad orientem celebrations, but in a building such as this it
would seem a better solution in the absence of a well-thought-out reordering
scheme. Such half-measures rather contradicted the vicar's message in the
sermon that worship was the priority.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't have time to look lost, as the lady in the pew in front immediately
turned round and, without assuming we were visitors (which would have been
embarrassing if in fact we'd been attending for weeks) made friendly conversation.
On the way out, people were queuing up to shake hands with the vicar, who
greeted us warmly and invited us to go to the hall for coffee.
How would you describe the after-service
As we had a long journey ahead of us, we didn't stay. But the parish website
mentions regular fair trade coffee mornings, so I assume it is fairly traded.
From the general air of quality about the place, I guess too that it might
have been real, not instant.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 It's a bit too far to commute (150 miles), but if it were round
the corner I would find it an ideal spiritual home, if just a little too
conscious of its Anglican respectability.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. And more particularly, to know that solid liberal Anglicanism
is far from dead.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
:"We need to celebrate Epiphany Christianity."
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