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1964: Christ Church, Istanbul Turkey
Christ Church, Istanbul Turkey
Mystery Worshipper: Basilica.
The church: Christ Church, Istanbul Turkey.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese in Europe.
The building: This amazing sacred space, down a tiny cobbled street in the middle of bustling Istanbul, is a stone building in the French Gothic style. In speaking with some of the locals, I found that many think it is Roman Catholic! The work of George Edmund Street, the architect famous for designing London's Royal Courts of Justice, the building was completed in 1868. Outside the church is a high stone wall with a tall iron gate that was locked when I approached on a Saturday, although I understand that matins and evensong are prayed daily. Inside, there is a lovely painted rood screen and red Turkish lanterns, as well as a beautiful pulpit made of marble from the seven churches of Asia Minor. The raised altar, with riddell posts and curtains, has a wooden reredos with an image of Christ the King enthroned upon a rainbow. During the 20th century the church gradually fell into disuse but was brought back to life during the 1990s by its chaplain, the Revd Canon Ian Sherwood, OBE, who literally moved his bed into the pigeon-ridden chancel to prevent the Turkish government from taking over the building.
The church: The chaplaincy is also known as Christ Church (Crimea Memorial Church) With St Helena and is composed mostly of Caucasians, both English and American. I also noticed some darker faces, probably Tamils, and a few black faces, including one beautiful toddler who ran around at the end of the service in great glee. They manage a house for homeless refugees as well as a school.
The neighbourhood: This is a poor inner city residential area of cobbled streets, steeply sloping to the Bosphorus Strait, off a very busy pedestrian precinct. It was hardly less busy on a Sunday than any other day, even though many shops in Muslim Istanbul are closed Sundays. The area didn't really liven up, though, until after the service.
The cast: Canon Sherwood, the chaplain, was celebrant and preacher.
The date & time: Low Sunday, 11 April 2010, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
About 80 per cent full, which meant about 50 to 60 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived about a half hour early, as I wasn't sure how long it would take me to walk from my hotel. There was hardly anyone else inside, although some people were standing around outside chatting. A few minutes after I sat down, a lady wished me good morning as she walked by and later brought me a service booklet and a hymn book.

Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on metal and plastic folding chairs. They were not uncomfortable but did not look as nice as the 12 wooden chairs in the front pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet but with bustle and purpose as they prepared for the service. There was quite a bit a chatting at the back of the church, but I wouldn't call it irreverent. Then one of the servers came out to put the hymn numbers on the board and a hymn book on the piano. He generally made himself busy getting the church ready for the service. People began to drift in and continued to do so for at least 10 minutes after the service began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Alleluia! Christ is Risen!" To which we replied, "He is risen indeed. Alleluia!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal and a booklet with the order of communion.

What musical instruments were played?
None, even though the server had set a hymn book on the piano. An organ in the rear gallery also remained silent. All singing – hymns and psalm – was led by the strong, clear musical tenor voice of the chaplain. Everyone seemed comfortable to join in strongly. Somehow we didn't miss the accompaniment. I actually think that everyone sang more loudly because there was no organ to drown them. (A bit of a lesson to you high church Anglicans whose home churches panic if the organist is missing.)

Christ Church, Istanbul Turkey

Did anything distract you?
There was some scraping of the folded chairs as latecomers fetched them from the side wall to sit on. There was one mobile phone that rang; I quickly checked to make sure mine was off!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was solemn, joyful and traditional Church of England style. The order of communion was from the Prayer Book, not Common Worship. There was incense in abundance. Although it was not advertised as such, I gathered from some of the congregation and from the sermon that the service was a memorial for a parishioner who had recently passed on.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
4 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Straightforward delivery, clear and concise. No frills.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The chaplain spoke of Daisy, the lady who had recently died, and compared her to the apostle Thomas. Thomas may have had his doubts, but Daisy's belief in the resurrection never wavered, nor did her family's belief.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The variety of skin colours – though mostly Caucasian. The little toddler who joyfully ran around at the end of the service. The beautiful stained glass. Clouds of incense.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The scraping of the aforementioned chairs and the mobile phone.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't hang around. The congregants who had come for the memorial service were invited to a lunch after and I did not want to intrude. I am not sure if I would have been welcomed. I had a feeling that they were not too effusive in their hospitality. Besides, there was no general welcome extended for visitors other than Daisy's friends and family.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had heard that wine would be served at the luncheon. Having already tried Turkish wine, I don't think I missed much there!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in Istanbul I would definitely go there again. I wanted immediately to ask if there was anything I could do from a practical point of view. I know they are in desperate need of funds to keep the church open and for renovations. I wanted to feel a part of this effort.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The chaplain's tenor voice and what Bishop Desmond Tutu calls "the rainbow people of God."
 
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