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  1072: Our Most Holy Redeemer, Exmouth Market, London

Our Most Holy Redeemer, Exmouth Market, London

Mystery Worshipper: Ambrosia.
The church: Our Most Holy Redeemer, Exmouth Market, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The church dates from 1888. Huge in the narrow street, it is a brick basilica complete with campanile. Inside, there are signs of dilapidation on the walls and ceiling, massive Corinthian-capped pillars, yellow walls and blue ceiling. An extraordinary baldacchino is over the altar, with a lovely gilt dancing figure on the top. There are relics on the altar, many candles, shrines, pictures, icons and statues, confessionals and the smell of incense. It is as if a Renaissance church has flown in from Italy.
The church: The church is described on the website as a "bastion of Anglo-catholic tradition" from the outset. Bulletin sheets show at least one mass every day (with intentions) and the rosary on Saturday. There is a daily intercessions list, including dioceses abroad and parishes in London, streets in the parish, the sick and the departed.
The neighbourhood: Holy Redeemer is just off Farringdon Road and near the huge Mount Pleasant Post Office sorting office. This is an area of terraced Georgian and Victorian housing, with modern infill. There are signs of gentrification in some of the terraces. Exmouth Market has houses, small shops and cafés – there is a pleasant buzz here at 6 o'clock on a Sunday evening, but also a small open space tenanted by drunks.
The cast: Parish priest Fr Paul Bagott was assisted by the curate, Fr Robert Mackley.

What was the name of the service?
Healing mass.

How full was the building?
The service was in the Lady Chapel behind the main altar, which could hold 24, together with assorted seats for celebrants. The altar is on the east wall and the chapel holds more candles and relics, a Pieta, St Pancras and the Holy Child of Prague (with smart clothes), and lots of icons. When we started, I was the only person in the congregation, but shortly afterwards we were joined by a woman and a little girl.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
When I entered the church I heard people talking behind the high altar, then a priest emerged and said, "Welcome, are you here for the healing mass?" He gave me a mass booklet and directed me to the chapel.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were standard wooden seats and thin kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Silent!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Healing Mass (Roman rite with the sacrament of healing) – a booklet produced by the church.

What musical instruments were played?
None.

Did anything distract you?
The service was punctuated by shouts, howls and bangs from the street outside.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very high church, eastward facing (the celebrant had his back to the congregation) to celebrate the mass. Everything was done with intense care. Before the healing rite and after a moment or two of a silence so profound you could hear your hair growing, the curate sang, perfectly and unaccompanied, the plainchant, "Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire". During the healing, the celebrant's hands became very hot on my head, which I have been told by priests happens from time to time, independent of the officiant.

Our Most Holy Redeemer, Exmouth Market, London

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – He was diffident, but intense, and spoke without notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The passion and the resurrection narratives, read together, make them more a part of ordinary life. We know we and our loved ones will die, we hope it will be painless, we hope it will be a good death, but this does not lessen the pain of bereavement. When people are sick or dying, what can you say? All we can do is hold their names in the context of the daily mass, where bread is broken and wine poured out. The context of the mass alone is where things make sense.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing by the curate.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The scary street sounds.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
Intercessions included: the new Pope and his meeting with Rowan Williams; the parish and the local Roman Catholic church; sick people by name; those who had recently died, including John Paul II; all ending up with the Hail Mary and a concluding collect.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I lingered, admiring the church while the priest chatted with the other attendees, but not for long as they were clearly in discussion. I felt sure that if I had specifically wanted to talk to someone, I would have been welcome to wait.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no refreshments.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Although it is higher than I am used to, I am sure I might want to attend regularly, if I lived within travelling distance. But I would need to sample the main Sunday mass first.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was a perfect example of how a formal liturgy and plenty of silence gives you space in which to be touched by God. Overall, this was an hour of complete grace.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The healing rite leaving me with a profound and deep peace.
 
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