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||1021: 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,
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
'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
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
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
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?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
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
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
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
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,
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The incense will be unforgettable.
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