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  1067: The Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, Surrey

Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, Surrey

Mystery Worshipper: Chalcedonian Definition.
The church: Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, Hampton Court, Surrey.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: It is situated within the palace. The chapel looks like an innocuous door along a corridor, just down from the functioning kitchens. The inside of the chapel is panelled in dark wood from Queen Anne's reign.The ceiling is original Tudor with a blue background and gold stars. The roof is adorned with gold cherubs and lit by candle style lighting (not the real thing, unfortunately) There is a wooden gallery and wooden box pews and choir stalls. It feels fairly dark inside – must be all that wood!
The church: It is one of the Queen's chapels, and as such is a royal peculiar, meaning it has no church authority other than the Queen. It serves the community based in the palace, which still contains grace and favour apartments.
The neighbourhood: The surrounding area is fairly well heeled, just down the river from Kingston. Most of the palace is surrounded by parkland, and on one side the River Thames forms a boundary. Tourists abound.
The cast: Denis Mulliner, MA, BDQ, chaplain and deputy priest in ordinary, led the service.

What was the name of the service?
Choral matins.

How full was the building?
Mostly full. It was packed in the choir stalls, and most other pews contained members of the congegation, too.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was a warm welcome and a degree of banter from the security guards on the gate outside. Outside the chapel we were warmly welcomed by a red-robed usher who wished us good morning. We received another good morning from the besuited man handing out hymn books, and were shown to our seats by another usher.

Was your pew comfortable?
Well, it was certainly huge! In fact, it was difficult to see over the top of my large box pew. But it was fairly comfortable. It also came with handy handbag hooks, although I suspect they were really meant for the kneelers!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The was a soft buzz before the service... and many people had been there for almost half an hour before the service started. These were mostly choir boys' parents who wanted to sit so they could see their boys. There was a very warm atmosphere before the service, both physically and metaphorically. However, if you had wanted to pray quietly, you might have felt it was all a bit loud.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer, and the New English Hymnal. Both were embossed with the Queen's coat of arms and Hampton Court Palace in gold.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ... beautifully.

Did anything distract you?
Constant sniffing during the reading. The large number of ugly golden cherubs in the ceiling. The particularly attractive bass on the cantoris side. A rather over-exuberant counter-tenor on the decani side!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very, very, very stiff-upper-lip, traditional English cathedral style. All responses were sung. There was even an article in the notice sheet on how to correctly announce the Bible readings, paying particular attention to the rubric. I quote: "In the Chapel Royal, where the Book of Common Prayer is our regular liturgy, those of us who read Lessons at the services on Sundays ought to be careful to use the appropriate forms of words for announcing and ending the Lessons."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – I can sum him up as forceful and very proper. No smile, no humour, no warm inclusivity, no Easter joy, no imperfections at all. He was firmly and completely proper.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was a rant about how the "Chapel Royals and English cathedrals provide a sanctuary for the traditionalists in the Church of England", and how they are then protected from the trendy liberals who seek to undermine the church from within. The chaplain clearly supported the new Pope, as he quoted him extensively at the end of the sermon and also paid tribute to the previous Pope's role in the downfall of communism. He highlighted the things that the Church of England and Rome had in common today and he rather downplayed the anti-papist oath in the ordination service. His clear support of the papacy felt a little incongruous in the chapel built by Henry VIII, someone who didn't have a great deal of time for the Catholic Church. The chaplain also made sweeping statements about the congregation, calling us all traditionalist Anglicans. The sermon was not related in any way to either of the readings, although we did get a swift mention of Jesus at the end, when we were encouraged be disciples of the Living Lord and lose ourselves to Christ. This was the only sane moment of the sermon. I wasn't sure if he was still quoting Ratzinger at this point.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The Te Deum by Stanford, especially the unison singing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon, which had me open-mouthed by the end. I wasn't willing to admit to being a female vicar in training when I shook his hand on departure. I didn't like the anthem much, either. It was a strange bit of Elgar.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
There was prayer for the royal family, which was to be expected in one of the Queen's chapels. We used the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer which wish the Queen good health and wealth! That always raises a smile. We prayed for the Bishop of London, for the sick and recently departed. We also prayed for a couple in the congregation who were celebrating a ruby wedding anniversary, which gave a brief pastoral moment to the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat, along with many others, to listen to the end of the superb organ voluntary. I couldn't really look lost, because as soon as I managed to step out of my box pew (in itself a tricky manouevre), I was stuck in the line to shake the chaplain's hand. I couldn't bring myself to compliment him on the sermon, so I said thank you instead. Someone in front of me asked him for a copy!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee was available in the chapel, but there was a great café over the bridge in Molesey.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I liked the music, but I suspect the obsession with tradition would drive me round the bend.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, because of the music.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The handbag hooks.
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