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  1042: Moot at St Matthew's, Westminster, London

Moot at St Matthews, Westminster, London

Mystery Worshipper: Ecclesiastical Flip-flop.
The church: Moot at St Matthew's, Westminster, London.
Denomination: Alternative worship, Church of England style.
The building: St Matthew's is a chapel rebuilt on the site of a much larger Victorian Gothic church of 1851 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, which was largely destroyed by an arsonist in the 1990s. The new worship space was created by the architect Donald Buttress, within the chancel and sanctuary of the burnt church, while the rest of the site was sold off for an ugly office development. A huge Bodley reredos dominates the sanctuary, which is a lofty and dignified Gothic space.
The church community: Moot describes itself as "a developing community of spiritual travellers who are seeking to find a means of living a life that is honest to god and honest to now. moot seeks to make connections and find inspirations in the meeting of faith, life and culture. moot looks to the christian call for justice, equity and balance as a means of living politically and ethically. we recognise the inspiration of saints, mystics and artists throughout the centuries." For more about the foundations of moot, click here.
The neighbourhood: St Matthew's is situated between Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, and is very near Church House, where London meetings of the General Synod of the Church of England take place. There are several church shops and offices nearby, for various church societies. Other offices and places of work are in the vicinity.
The cast: Graham led the service, dressed casually.

What was the name of the service?
Moot alternative church worship. The theme of the service was "Abraham our faithful Father".

How full was the building?
The small nave of the church was not used, and there were about 25 people present, seated between the nave and the altar-space.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
On arrival, I needed the "little boys' room" and the door leading to it was locked. I was about to enter the sacristy, looking for an alternative way in, when a man said to me, "You cannot go in there". I told him what I wanted. "Are you coming to the service?" "Yes". So he showed me the way through. When I had sat down in the church, a man sat next to me, and introduced himself as Fr Peter, the assistant priest at St Matthew's. This immediately put me at my ease, as I had turned up totally in the dark about what I was going to find.

Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden chairs were specially in place for the small congregation to sit on, comfortable enough for me.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A lot of chatter, and music already playing – not at all conducive to prayer.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, tonight we have a re-hash." Graham then went on to explain a few small changes in the service for the evening. As a first-timer, this was useless information to me.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books for the congregation, only a printed order of a short rite of blessing at the end.

What musical instruments were played?
Light rock music was being played, and the amplifier was in evidence in front of the altar. I presume the music was recorded, as no instrumentalists were visible.

Did anything distract you?
At one point in the service, the congregation was invited to circulate, read printed sheets to do with the Muslim faith, the Bible opened at the book of Genesis, and the Old Testament prophets. While this was going on, I could not help stopping to look at the board commemorating the re-opening of the Church following the fire, and re-dedicated by the then Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard. Then I stopped to admire the ornate stand for the pascal candle.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The act of worship was informal, with no liturgy, except for the short rite of blessing at the end. So it was far from being stiff-upper-lip, and was not really happy clappy. The music was played throughout, and visual aids were projected onto a large white-sheeted wooden frame, serving as a primitive screen, specially erected for the evening. There was no singing.

Moot at St Matthews, Westminster, London

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon. The whole service lasted only 35 minutes.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The blessing at the end of the service was for a couple – Graham (who led the service) and his wife Bethan – as the were about to set off to travel around Europe for six months in a newly-bought camper van. Fr Peter used holy water to sprinkle the couple for this blessing: a piece of ritual like that always rejoices my heart. There had also been plans to bless the camper van itself, but as it had broken down an image of the van, projected onto the screen, was blessed instead.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Fear of being unable to make notes for this report, for not only was the light dimmed most of the time, so that I could not see to write, but the small congregation was seated in two rows facing each other, and people were sitting on either side of me. I had to forget about writing any notes, as it would have been too conspicuous.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
Pictures were shown on the screen as we prayed the general confession, indicating how humankind had abused nature, and also for the Lord's Prayer. Any intercessions were brief and transitory, and not very memorable.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no need for that, as people were so friendly and welcoming.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was served before the service, but as this was not advertised, I did not taste it. There was talk about a pub adjournment after the service, but I quietly departed after 25 minutes without waiting any longer, before my Mystery Worshipper calling card was found!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – The service was fine for an act of worship at the end of Sunday, but for me, the principle Sunday service of solemn mass is much more special. St Matthew's itself I would provisionally rate about 8.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It was as if I were going to a church of a different denomination, or even a different faith, for all I knew beforehand. But yes, it made me glad to be a Christian, as it happened.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The friendliness of the people.
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