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  1012: St Anne and St Agnes, London

St Anne and St Agnes, London

Mystery Worshipper: Monty Moose.
The church: St Anne and St Agnes, London.
Denomination: Lutheran.
The building: The church was restored by Christopher Wren in 1680 after the great fire of 1666, and is built of red brick with large arched windows on each wall. The sanctuary has a light, airy feel. The room is square, with as many pews side-on as facing the front. A high ceiling is embossed with intricate decorations and gilt rosettes. A golden lectern in the shape of an angel stands next to the communion table, which is covered by an embroidered altar cloth on which rests a candle at each end. The front wall is adorned with a simple cross made of what looks like two very straight branches, with black gold-inscribed plaques in the centre and on either side. One of these holds the Ten Commandments, another the Lord's Prayer, and I couldn't make out the third as it was hidden behind a pillar.
The church community: St Anne's, as a centre of Lutheran worship, boasts a congregation made up of more than 30 nationalities. The church holds services in English, Swahili and Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia), with services in Estonian and Latvian once each month. Additionally, it sponsors frequent musical performances plus youth and Bible study groups.
The neighbourhood: Tucked off in a side street amidst office blocks and museums, St Anne's is within earshot of the bells of St Paul's Cathedral. The Barbican Arts Centre and the Museum of London are just up the road, with St Bartholemew's Hospital just around the corner. A stone's throw in the opposite direction are the Bank of England and the Stock Exchange. This church is really right in the heart of the City. Past residents of the parish include John Milton, John Bunyan and John Wesley.
The cast: The Rev. Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, pastor, presided and preached, with Tuamaini Kallaghe and Martin Flower assisting. Lectors were Valda Aviks and George Cienciala. Markus Reule led the prayers, and the organist and cantor was Martin Knizia (good voice). The serving team consisted of Winnie Lee, Sarah Farrow and Gigi Werner-Winslow. I was impressed by the number of different accents heard during the course of the service.

What was the name of the service?
Choral Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Probably around 80 people were present. Every pew was occupied, but we were comfortably spaced and they could probably have fit in double the number if they had to.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I tiptoed in late, a friendly sideswoman rose and presented me with the service book and told me I could sit anywhere I wanted.

Was your pew comfortable?
For a plain, wooden, straight-backed pew it was surprisingly comfortable – just the right height and depth to encourage perfect posture.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Alas, the lateness of my train prevented me arriving on time; thus I was unable to sample either the pre-service atmosphere or the opening words of the service.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We sang hymns from the Lutheran Book of Worship. The liturgy was printed on the order of service and the Bible readings (New Revised Standard Version) were on another sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Two pipe organs – a moderate sized one that filled up the front right hand corner of the room, and a small, portable one alongside it. Both were played, but I didn't realise they were separate instruments until the very end of the service, when the organist disappeared to strike up the postlude (I'm not sure what that was played on!). During the choral preludes the organist doubled as cantor, singing and playing the small organ simultaneously, accompanied by a choir of six in civilian clothes.

Did anything distract you?
The number of people who arrived after me, even though I was late – at least six or seven in the 20 minutes after I arrived. One man looked like he'd just returned from a long journey, as he came in wearing a waxed jacket and carrying an enormous rucksack, complete with bedroll. Several minutes in, I was shocked to notice that despite the international nature of the church and the leadership, the congregation had segregated themselves. All the white people sat on one side and the black people on the other. I wondered if it was always like that.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Lutheran, I presume, as all the hymns were from the Lutheran Book of Worship and sounded quite old. The choir mumbled into their books as if unsure of the tunes, giving me the impression that the hymns aren't repeated very often. The liturgy was much more satisfying, using everyday language to proclaim the gospel with beauty and power.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Rev. Jeruma-Grinberga is a friendly mannered woman with a clear and crisp English accent, which made for easy listening.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based purely on the gospel reading, with Jesus telling the disciples, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." The pastor wheeled out C. S. Lewis's famous analysis of Jesus as either lunatic, liar or Lord, as well as Sherlock Holmes saying, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains must be the truth." Jesus wasn't just a good man – he is God – so we can trust in him and not have troubled hearts.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The intercessions began with a period of silent prayer in which people could go up to the front to be prayed for. In contrast with the many awkard five-second "In a moment's silence we remember people known to us . . ." periods of silent prayer I've experienced in my home church, the good ten minutes we got were blissful. Also uplifting was the range of nationalities present, a reminder that the church is a worldwide family.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Fumbling with the hymn book, service sheet and readings whilst at the same time trying to take in as much as possible from the surroundings. I was always several lines behind everyone else. Apart from that, there was a notable absence of awkward, cringeworthy or hackle-raising moments.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
We thanked our beautiful Saviour for the support of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod, whose gifts are used in turn for the work of a church in Birmingham. We also prayed for a list of 19 "troubled places" in the world without bothering ourselves with the details of their troubles, and for a list of ailing congregation members. We praised God for the witness of St Mark, Catherine of Sienna and Josephine. Nothing political and no mention of the Pope.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After a few minutes of hanging around the bookstall at the back, I was approached by a tiny, chatty older lady with a big smile who introduced herself and told me I could find refreshments outside. The pastor caught hold of my coat as I tried to sidle by her, and tugged me back to say hello, as she didn't recognise my face.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A great spread of refreshments, including bagels and cream cheese, brownies, coffee and tea, were available in the garden outside the church. I drank a good strong cup of tea from a styrofoam cup, and chatted with a gentleman from India who looked about my age.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It felt very welcoming and I enjoyed the liturgy. I'm not used to this style of service, but if I ever moved to London I'd certainly give it a go. The one drawback is that the area is not residential, so there isn't much feeling of the church's being part of a local community.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. A real effort was made to accommodate everyone – all baptised Christians were invited to take communion, and everyone else to receive a blessing. They even went to the length of having two chalices available – one for people who sip the wine, the other for those who prefer to intinct the wafer.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The "ahhhh" factor provided by a tiny young lad whose job it was to snuff out the candles at the end. He could barely reach high enough to manage it!
 
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