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  1066: St John the Baptist, Holland Road, London

St John the Baptist, Holland Road, London

Mystery Worshipper: Bell boy.
The church: St John the Baptist, Holland Road, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A magnificent French Gothic style building built in stone between 1880 and 1910. The architect was James Brooks, and the church is apparently a scaled-down version of Brooks' entry for the design of Liverpool Cathedral. I gather it is a Grade II listed building.
The church community: There did not appear to be much community and there were only eight in the congregation.
The neighbourhood: Part gentrified, part transient accommodation, separated by the Holland Road.
The cast: The celebrant was Fr Bright and the preacher Fr Speakman.

What was the name of the service?
Sung mass.

How full was the building?
There were about 15 of us, all told!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Sadly, I was very late arriving and helped myself to a hymn book and service card.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was most uncomfortable, being very upright and shallow in the seat.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I missed it, but I guess it was very quiet, with only a handful of people in a church that can hold a congregation of 500.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Old copies of the New English Hymnal, and the service card with the Roman Catholic mass printed on it.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ.

Did anything distract you?
Where to start? The building is awesome, and that's distracting. The chancel screen draws one's eyes upward. The lights in the nave are suspended from angels extended out from the walls. But the grime is so overpowering, and that too was distracting. I found particularly distracting the actions of a server who kept rather neurotically jumping up to do things. Several pews in front of me sat a priest who seemed very uncomfortable and moved around a lot.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It tried to be modern Catholic, having, I guess, been in the forefront of the Anglo-catholic movement.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Fr Speakman preached on the Gospel of the day, John chapter 14, and failed to stress what makes Jesus unique and how that helps us, though that's what he said he would do.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life", and that is what makes Christianity unique. Fr Speakman ended up by telling us he had stayed at home in the morning to watch the Pope's enthronement, and that brought him to a renewed sense of ministry, though he did not say why. For my liking, he called us "dear friends" once too often. You had to listen carefully to hear.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sense of awe at an amazing building. The quiet, unfussy way the priest celebrated the communion; the wafting of the incense. The sense of being in a holy, but dirty, place.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The spooky music played on what I've been told is one of the country's finest organs. The incidental bits sounded straight out of Phantom of the Opera. Straining to hear the readings and prayers by a lady who looked like an angel. The priest in front of me fidgeting.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
They were well-led intercessory bidding prayers, but it's a shame the sound system can't be cranked up. They mentioned all the significant things, I thought.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
To be honest, when the service finished I walked out past the altar party, as I had already seen on the noticeboard that it was the church AGM immediately after the service.

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

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – If they got their act together, it would great. It was just a little gloomy, but that could be addressed. It was dirty, but it could be cleaned. The priest did a good job and a singeable mass setting and jolly hymns would lift it instantly. I couldn't understand why the principal service of the day was at 6.30pm.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I think so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The awsomeness and the feeling of transendence.
 
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