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  1050: St George's, Hanover Square, Mayfair, London

St George's, Mayfair, London

Mystery Worshipper: Blessed Percy.
The church: St George's, Hanover Square, Mayfair, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
Comments: We have received a comment about this report.
The building: A large, galleried, neo-Classical church, built 1721-4 to the designs of John James, under the provisions of the Fifty New Churches Act, 1711. The fine reredos is the work of Grinling Gibbons. George Frederic Handel, who lived just around the corner, was a regular worshipper here.
The church community: It is noted for its strong musical tradition, and has a full-time mixed professional choir. It is also a favourite venue for society weddings, and a number of famous people have been married here.
The neighbourhood: Mayfair is an immensely wealthy district of central London, and the church is but a stone's throw from the shopaholic hordes of Oxford Street.
The cast: Rev. Canon Dr John Cullen, priest-in-charge, was both celebrant and preacher. An unnamed priest read the Old Testament lesson and led the intercessions. The organist and director of music was Simon Williams, and the assistant organist was Paul Ayres.

What was the name of the service?
Festal eucharist for the feast of Saint George.

How full was the building?
Pretty full, but with a little space in the side aisles.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were given a cheery "Good morning!" while the sidesman handed us a leaflet containing the propers for the day.

Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly comfortable, owing to the presence of a thin red velvet cushion along the seat of each pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Hushed chatter, church bell tolling, and a quiet English baroque organ voluntary just beforehand.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We sing the processional hymn, number 305."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Leaflets containing the order for sung eucharist in Eastertide, with texts largely from the Book of Common Prayer 1662 (BCP), and the propers for the day, as well as Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard. The Bible translation used was the Authorised (or King James) Version.

What musical instruments were played?
A large, three-manual pipe organ.

Did anything distract you?
The wonderful music and the vestments. The two young taperers were wearing albs with apparelled amices, which impressed me, but the clergy were wearing cassock-albs, which did not.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal, BCP-based, eastward-facing celebration of the eucharist, but in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Clear and unhurried, with some humour and without amplification, which was not needed.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was a brief and informative biographical sketch of St George and a history of his cult, followed by an explanation of why we should celebrate his feast today without fear of being regarded as jingoistic. Dr Cullen pointed out that George never had anything in particular to do with England, until becoming the nation's patron saint at the instigation of the Pope in the 12th century!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Well, the sermon was excellent, and the music (Schubert's Mass in G and Parry's "My soul, there is a country") was professionally sung. I also enjoyed the BCP language and the east-facing celebration. The lack of a sound system was a real bonus for me.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Hardly even purgatorial, but I wondered, it being the church's patronal festival, why there was no Gospel procession or incense, and why the clergy couldn't have worn proper albs. The Epistle was read poorly by a gentleman who was unable, or unwilling, to project his voice. This is the downside of having no sound system!

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The standard, non-responsorial BCP intercession was used, so the Queen was, of course, mentioned. The general election was mentioned, briefly, during the sermon.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There wasn't much opportunity to look lost, because we were immediately offered a very nice selection of nibbles and made to feel very welcome. Within a couple of minutes, we were speaking to Dr Cullen, who seems to be a very charming and charismatic parish priest.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee? We were offered champagne! But we didn't have time to partake because we had to dash off to a lunch. I very much doubt that the bubbly was fairly-traded.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – This was one of the most memorable services I have ever attended in a parish church. Despite its obvious affluence and the formality of the worship, the congregation was more mixed racially than I expected in Mayfair, and everyone was very friendly. A few tiny ceremonial adjustments would make the worship perfect in the eyes of this "liturgy queen", and, if the journey was shorter and I had no other Sunday commitments, I would be here every week.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The after-service champagne.
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