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|1853: St John
the Evangelist, Bexley, Greater London
the Evangelist, Bexley, Greater London.
Church of England, Diocese
A fairly typical Victorian structure of grey stone. It has a
spire, added in the early 20th century, that is visible from
quite a distance. Aesthetically it is a very nice building to
look at. The interior is nice and airy, with wooden beams on
the ceiling of the nave. There is an iron screen separating
the nave from the chancel, which has a beautiful painted roof
with plant-like designs. The altar is set quite far back in
the chancel, and above it hangs a stone carving of the Last
Supper. The pews are all of a traditional wooden type. The pulpit
is of brown and white marble, and the overall impression is
one of lightness. There was a fairly large Christmas tree at
the back of the church, and we were told that it's the church's
tradition to write the names of lost loved-ones on paper stars
and to hang them on the tree. There is a church hall with kitchen
facilities that is used by various local groups.
They sponsor a number of groups: there were notices on the board
for two Advent groups, and the website lists others, such as
Musical Toddlers, Ladies' Fellowship and Church Flowers.
Bexley is a fairly affluent area on the southeast edge of London.
The immediate area around the church is quite leafy, and Bexley
town centre has a village feel with some very old buildings,
restaurants, pubs and a little stream just away from the centre.
Surrounding the area are 1930s-type suburbs, and the A2 motorway
is a few minutes away. There are a number of churches in a very
The Revd Scott Lamb, vicar, who has been at St John's for only
a few months. This is his first Christmas there, and he seems
to have tried to make his mark on the church, as he commented
during the service that he'd "thrown lots of new music
at the choir" for tonight's service.
The date & time:
Sunday, 20 December 2009, 6.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The church is a fair size, and it was heartening to see it a
good three-quarters full, particularly as the weather was very
cold and there was a good inch of ice on the path. The congregation
were all fairly smartly dressed.
Did anyone welcome you
Yes. One of the two sidesman said hello as he handed me a service
sheet. The chap in the pew next to me smiled as I sat down but
nothing more than that.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard wooden pew but did the job. The back was at
a nice angle to get comfortable for the duration of the service.
How would you describe the pre-service
Rather quiet, just a murmur of chatter from the congregation.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good evening, everyone, and welcome to our carol service."
What books did the congregation use during the
A photocopied and stapled hymn sheet produced specially for
the occasion. No other books were available in the pews.
What musical instruments
An organ, played very well. There was also a very good choir
which sounded very well-rehearsed, and the vicar drew particular
note to this in the service. The choir encompassed a wide range
of age groups.
Did anything distract
Being a carol service, there were quite a few children present,
who were very well-behaved throughout. Unfortunately, the same
could not be said for the two older ladies opposite me, who
talked throughout one of the readings. Perhaps they were bemoaning
the fact that they couldn't hear very well, as the reader was
not speaking into the microphone. This made listening difficult,
especially when she had to compete with the aforementioned chatty
ladies! There was a wooden wardrobe to the right of the chancel
and I wondered if the cast of The Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobe might walk out at any minute. Also, I felt the
choice of readings was a little too weighted toward the New
Testament. There could have been a few prophecies thrown in
here and there from the likes of Isaiah or Micah, which I always
particularly enjoy at Christmas.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Fairly stiff-upper-lip. Both choir and vicar were robed, and
we used the more formal version of the Lord's Prayer ("Our
Father, which art in heaven"). The service followed the
traditional nine lessons and carols format, but each of the
readings ended with "Thanks be to God" without the
preceding "This is the Word of the Lord" or "Here
endeth the lesson." Some of the carols felt a little too
easy to sing, and I wondered if they'd lowered the pitch or
if I was just in exceptional voice that evening.
Exactly how long was the
There was no sermon, but the vicar interjected a few comments
at various points in the service.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The lovely lightness with which we sang "The Holly and
the Ivy." This is a carol I've never really appreciated,
but at this service they got the speed just right and the folksy
tune really made me smile. Being inside a fairly warm church
on such a cold night with a good-sized congregation and pretty
surroundings made me feel lovely and Christmasy! But all that
cosy warmth came at a price – read on!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Picture a beautiful building, decorative pillars down the nave,
a nicely ornate chancel and an impressively large carving of
the Last Supper above the altar. A tastefully-decorated Christmas
tree adorns the back of the church. Now picture two long metal
rails screwed between each row of pillars down the entire length
of the church. Now imagine someone has attached a large number
of 1970s-style bathroom bar heaters to these rails.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, I tried sitting in my pew for a few minutes looking confused,
and then I walked to the back and did my best to look lost.
All I felt was awkward, and so I wandered around a bit as if
unsure where to go next. But no one approached me at all! Rather,
everyone filed out in their little groups toward the church
hall behind. After a while I did the same and stayed a few more
minutes looking lost in the church hall. One older gentleman
gave me a half-hearted smile, but other than that I felt completely
unwelcome. There was a choir member standing by the door giving
everyone a mechanical droid-like "Good to see you."
I was surprised at the lack of welcome.
How would you describe the after-service
Mulled wine and mince pies. Tables and chairs had been set out
a little too far apart for intermingling, and all the little
social groups seemed to stake out their territories on these,
with no room for strangers to join. It was a cold evening and
I finally thought I should better get home safely before it
got even colder! So I left, stopping at a shop on the way to
pick up some salt for my driveway.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 I'd give it an 8 or 9 based on the service and the
attractiveness of the building, but I have to knock it down
some having experienced the cliquiness of the congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, on the whole it did. It was a nice, comfortable, traditional
Anglican lessons and carols. The carols were nicely sung and
the readings were read thoughtfully.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The 1970s-style bathroom heaters between the pillars.
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