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  1031: Our Lady and St Joseph, Dalston, Hackney, London

Our Lady and St Joseph, Dalston, Hackney, London

Mystery Worshipper: Tirzah.
The church: Our Lady and St Joseph, Dalston, Hackney, London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Modern, low rise brick building. Inside, the sanctuary is white with stations of the cross along the walls. The ceiling in the main part of the sanctuary is blue but it's pink above the altar. Centred behind the altar beneath a huge cross is a large tabernacle covered with a gold cloth (I thought at first it might be a birdcage..
The church: Whilst the service I attended was not very racially mixed, I'd say the church community as a whole is pretty representative of the diversity of the area. There's a strong Irish connection ' Irish newspapers are available in the foyer alongside the Catholic ones.
The neighbourhood: Dalston, like much of East London, has always been home to immigrants. It was once predominantly a Jewish area but now is home to large Caribbean and West African populations, as well as Turkish, Polish and Vietnamese. The church sits next door to an almshouse.
The cast: It wasn't clear, but I believe the Rev. John Hai Pham, assistant priest, took this service.

What was the name of the service?
Mass, 7.00pm (Saturday evening)

How full was the building?
About 40 people ' maybe a sixth full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, there was no one there to do that or to hand out service sheets, hymn books, etc. I noticed the people before me picking up a piece of paper from a tray by the door to the sanctuary, so I did the same.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, plain long pew, modern in style with hollow back. Long kneeler folded down. No cushions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pretty quiet. A few people were chatting unobtrusively. A few were on their knees praying. It might be fanciful, but it felt like people were popping into the service as part of their day. Nice.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Sing to the Lord a new song."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Well, there was a service sheet, but all it had on it were the readings and the notices. No books were given out at the entrance and most people just seemed to know all the words to the various prayers, responses, etc. Having had an Anglican/Methodist upbringing I could muddle my way through, but the words were slightly different so I never really got the hang of what was going on. Afterwards I discovered that on a shelf at the entrance there were books entitled Missal.. Presumably these might have been helpful.

What musical instruments were played?
None ' there were no hymns. The priest did chant a few lines of the liturgy.

Did anything distract you?
I'm easily distracted. There was a small child in my pew who was running up and down, climbing on the seat, climbing over the pew into the pew in front. Also, the congregation weren't in time with each other or with the priest as they said the responses.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly formal in style. There were bells rung at certain points. The priest was vested in white and gold. No one was dancing in the aisles, but there was a relaxed, comfortable feeling.

Our Lady and St Joseph, Dalston, Hackney, London

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Father Pham is obviously not a native English speaker and spoke with a heavy accent in a very slow monotone which made the sermon a little hard to follow. However, his slow, chant-like diction was very effective during the eucharistic prayer.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It's when we're afraid that we need our faith the most that, paradoxically, it's often hardest to have faith. Faith equals trust in God. Jesus assures us that we need not be afraid. He is always there.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The inside of the church is sparse, clean and beautiful. Just sitting there was heavenly.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The fact that the congregation's responses were all out of time with each other and with the priest. Oh, and in the creed we said that Jesus came "for us men and for our salvation." Er, what about us women, then?

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
For the new Pope, for the poor, for justice and equality, for the general elections, for the sick of the parish, for the dead and, interestingly, for the different political factions under the Pope.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People disappeared withing about two minutes. I moved slowly from the pew to the lobby and stood there looking vaguely lost, but no one stopped their rush to the exit. Father Pham did shake my hand, though. Finally I had to leave, as someone was closing up the doors.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none on offer.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – But if I were Catholic then 8. Despite the lack of attention paid to visitors, I think if you made the effort to introduce yourself it would be a really good community. However, I'm not Catholic and therefore wouldn't be welcome to receive communion, and the good points of this one church are not enough to convince me to cross the Tiber.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I felt very connected with the worldwide church, present, past and future.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How much the tabernacle resembled a birdcage, and how, when it was opened, the ciborium also resembed a miniature birdcage.
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