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  1021: All Saints, Margaret Street, London

All Saints, Margaret Street, London

Mystery Worshipper: St John of New Orleans.
The church: All Saints, Margaret Street, London W1 (map).
Denomination: Church of England.
Comments: We have received a comment about this report.
The building: A small city parish church, All Saints Margaret Street was built in the mid-19th century along Tractarian lines in a period of Gothic revival. Inside, the elaborate decor is obscured by a haze of incense.
The church community: It is well-known as one of the best places for Anglo-catholic worship.
The neighbourhood: The church is in an unremarkable neighbourhood just a couple of blocks from Oxford and Regent Streets.
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was the Rev. Ivan Aquilina, assistant priest.

What was the name of the service?
Solemn Evensong and Benediction.

How full was the building?
I counted 35 worshippers in a building that can hold about 350. There was quite an empty feeling.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered, someone smiled and handed me a hymnal, prayer book and order paper. No one sat next to me, and there was no passing of the peace. At the end I was warmly greeted by the celebrant.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews; we sat on movable wooden chairs with a wicker seat. I was not at all uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
'Please note it is our custom to keep silence before services,' read the order paper. No one failed to observe this custom. Some people knelt and prayed; others sat quietly in their chairs. I had arrived about ten minutes early, and church staff were quietly lighting candles and preparing the choir stalls. People drifted in slowly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The organ began to play and we all sang the hymn Regina Coeli: "Joy to thee, O Queen of Heaven, Alleluia." The celebrant's first words were, 'Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, Alleluia.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
In addition to the order paper, we used the New English Hymnal (words edition) and the Shorter Prayer Book, 1946 edition.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ was the only instrument.

Did anything distract you?
All Saints is famous for its use of incense in worship, and tonight was no exception. My nostrils were greeted by the smell when I entered, and the censer was swung frequently during the service. About 20 minutes into the service, a thin haze developed in the chancel and the nave. After about thirty minutes, it began to sting my eyes and nostrils ' and they hadn't even brought the censer into the nave! The strong scent was a big distraction. Additionally, a man behind me had a very unusual voice, which meant that I was constantly tempted to turn around and look at him.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
All Saints is the ultimate Anglo-Catholic high church. Very high indeed. With all the incense, I was well nigh high as a kite.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the New Testament lesson, Revelation 21:1-14. The new heaven and new earth will be a world without sin, the end and fulfillment of all creation. We should focus on the destination, not silly temporal distractions. We can make John's vision a present reality by practicing prayer, holy living, and action, in that order.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The anthem sung before the sermon, a setting by Hadley of a passage from the Song of Solomon. It was transportingly beautiful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The incense. I know it's supposed to conjure up thoughts of heaven, but I was slightly nauseous for several hours afterwards, and my clothes still smelled of it the next day. Also, I'm not entirely comfortable with the sacerdotal approach to worship as practiced here. During Benediction we sang the Tantum Ergo: 'Therefore we, before him bending/This great Sacrament revere/Types and shadows have their ending/For the newer rite is here.' It seems to me that since Christ has already fulfilled the old types and shadows as our high priest, making atonement for us and winning eternal redemption, we no longer need rituals which (however beautiful) mimic those of the old covenant.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The intercessions came from the prayer book: prayers to save the Queen and grant righteousness to the ministers (a good prayer, to my mind). We prayed the anima Christi ("Soul of Christ, be my sanctification..."), one of my favorite liturgical texts, which I always find inspiring and beautiful.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I waited by the door for several minutes, but no one spoke to me. When I handed back my hymnal and prayer book, the man collecting them said nothing to me. I walked slowly and aimlessly through the small courtyard, where several parishioners were carrying on lively conversations, but no one said anything to me. Father Ivan was greeting people as I left, and he gave me a warm handshake and immediately recognised that I was not a regular there. He asked where I was from, and I told him, and he encouraged me to drop by anytime I'm in the neighbourhood.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no visible refreshments.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – As mentioned above, I'm not of a high-church persuasion, nor do I live close by All Saints. With so few people present, one would think that the congregation could have been a bit more inviting and friendly.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes and no. It was wonderful to hear the beautiful music and prayers of the Christian tradition. However, the strict sacerdotal aspect of the service is very forbidding. If I were a non-Christian, I would have to ask, 'Is their God this distant?' We need to remember both God's imminence and his transcendence, and know that through Jesus Christ we can call God, "Abba, Father."

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The incense will be unforgettable.
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