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  1060: St Bride's, Fleet Street, London

St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London

Mystery Worshipper: Dunelm.
The church: St Bride's, Fleet Street, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Famous for its spire, designed by Wren, that is reputed to have been the inspiration for the multi-tiered wedding cake. St Bride's was partially destroyed during the Blitz, but the exterior has been faithfully rebuilt to Wren's original design. The interior was redesigned in the 1950s in the neo-classical style.
The church community: St Bride's is the parish church of the newspaper industry. An altar at one end of the north aisle displays placards in memory of journalists who have died recently. Many of the seats are dedicated to the memory of journalists, photographers and cameramen.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in a quiet courtyard just off Fleet Street. It retains the feel of medieval London and is totally removed from the chaos of the modern world.
The cast: Canon David Meara, the rector of St Bride's.

What was the name of the service?
Choral evensong with sermon in music in memory of Guildsman Arthur Walterstow.

How full was the building?
The nave was completely full. It was difficult to tell whether the seats in the aisles were occupied, as the nave is separated from the aisles by high classical screens.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A member of the Guild of St Bride welcomed me to the church and indicated where I should sit.

Was your pew comfortable?
Seating in the nave is arranged into rows of collegiate stalls that run the length of the nave. The stalls are wooden, with well-padded cushions, and are surprisingly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As I arrived slightly early, the choir was still rehearsing for the service. Worshippers congregated in small groups at the west end of the church until the choir had finished, greeting friends and chatting quietly. Two parishioners were busy setting up a stall selling home-made jams, guild members bustled about checking that everything was in order for the service, and a couple of people sat quietly in the aisles in thoughtful contemplation. I was surprised at the warmth of the atmosphere. I had expected a City church to be dead on a Sunday evening, but St Bride's has the feel of a lively community.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome this evening to this service of choral evensong at St Bride's Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
St Bride's service booklet; Hymns Ancient and Modern; and a service sheet giving details of the lessons and the hymn numbers, plus directions on where to find the service details in the service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir.

Did anything distract you?
My gaze kept wandering to the series of modern photographs hung on the plain white walls of the church. I hadn't noticed them at first, but as soon as I saw them I wanted to get up and take a closer look, because they were so different in style to the rest of the church architecture.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Church of England at its best: a ceremonial liturgy with traditional language and recognisable hymns, but not stiff or rigid. Evangelicals might find the style somewhat formal for their tastes.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The sermon was not the traditional homily delivered by the rector, but a "sermon in music". The choir sang two anthems: Bullock's "Give us the wings of faith", and Harris's "O what their joy and their glory must be". Before the service began, I did wonder whether this would be successful, as I had been looking forward to a "proper" sermon. I was wrong. It was a lovely idea and extremely well prepared. Members of the congregation were given a slip of paper which provided background information about the choice of hymns, as well as being told where to find the text of the anthems if they wished to follow the words. The music itself was sublime – I would happily pay to hear this choir at a professional concert. It was a very meditative experience and ideally suited to the need for quiet reflection on a Sunday evening.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This service could easily have been off-putting to a newcomer who didn't know Guildsman Walterstow (to whom the service was dedicated). However, the thoughtful balance of the service provided something for regulars and visitors alike, so much so that I began to think I'd discovered a Harry Potter-type passage direct from Fleet Street to the gates of heaven! The choral music sent a tingle down my spine, the evening light poured through the windows and lit up the walls, the readings reflected my mood perfectly and the rector's words on the life of Guildsman Walterstow got me thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of my own faith.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Surreptitiously trying to write notes on the service, knowing full well that a Guildsman was sitting directly behind me!

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
Prayers were offered in memory of Guildsman Walterstow, for his family, and for all those who had recently been touched by grief for the loss of a loved one. The service sheet provided a longer list of suggestions for personal prayer during the quiet moments, including the church throughout the world, Pope Benedict XVI, the Diocese of London and all those in need.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This is the bit I really hate about Mystery Worshipping! It was all the more difficult since I was very conscious that many members of the congregation would want to spend time after the service reminiscing about the man to whom the service had been dedicated. However, the rector did an excellent job of speaking to everyone, quickly spotted that I was on my own and introduced me to some of the regulars, who made me feel very welcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As this was a special service, the congregation were offered a glass of wine or orange juice, and nibbles. I hesitated in typically British fashion for a moment or two – I didn't feel terribly comfortable about accepting such generous hospitality when I was actually a spy in their midst. But several Guildsmen and women urged me to have a glass of wine, even though I was only a visitor. Refreshments are not normally offered at evensong, but I gather they are available after the main morning service.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I'll definitely be going back whenever I happen to be in that part of town on a Sunday.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Walking down the passage that led from Fleet Street to St Bride's and hearing the choir rehearsing as I approached the church. I instinctively felt that I'd discovered somewhere that reflected spirituality and warmth.
 
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