Situated on Kew Green, the church looks like a quintessential English country church overlooking its village – there is even a cricket pitch on the Green! And thus indeed St Anne’s once was. Though dating from 1710, not much of the 18th-century church is obvious today, since it was altered repeatedly. The most radical changes seem to have been those of 1884 and 1902, which created a spacious domed crossing and chancel beyond, while the galleried nave was converted into a wide basilica with muscular columns and wide aisles. The domed crossing is well-lit with plentiful stained glass. The interior is attractive, and in spite of the many changes everything hangs together quite well as a welcoming space. The botanical theme suggested by the church’s location alongside Kew Gardens is taken up inside with a nave altar that is decorated with an abstracted tree-form (or was it a root-form?). The altar frontals and embroidery and vestments were green for the season; the set at St Anne’s were delicately embroidered with a cream decoration that looked like giant cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris, since we are being botanical). This bucolic touch only added to the impression, already given by the setting of St Anne’s, of a country church embedded in the city. St Anne’s contains several monuments to important botanists and others associated with Kew Gardens, including the important father and son pair of Sir William Hooker and Sir Joseph Hooker, both Directors of Kew Gardens in their time, and important scientists. The painter Thomas Gainsborough is buried here.
St Anne’s seems to be a thriving parish with a range of activities and groups, to judge by the notices given out at the service and the parish website.
Kew is perhaps best-known today for being a very prosperous residential neighbourhood, and as the home of both Kew Gardens and the National Archives. Kew Gardens is a remarkable hybrid institution that combines the splendours of a Royal pleasure garden, complete with follies, a palace, and multiple glasshouses, with world-class, cutting-edge research science and conservation work in plant sciences done alongside. The National Archives occupy a huge concrete bunker of a building that is (happily) tucked away out of sight but which is an historical resource of the greatest importance, a significant local employer, and destination for scholars from across the world. Even though Kew in 2019 is a heavily built-up suburb with plenty of traffic and constant Heathrow Airport flights overhead, the church and its delightful setting can readily take one back to the days when Kew was a riverside settlement a few miles outside London.
Vicar, deacon, altar party of five, choir of ten, organist, cellist.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist.
How full was the building?
Quite full, perhaps 100.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
One of the duty welcomers greeted me with a smile and gave me directions to the church WCs (which were three in number – spacious, fragrant, clean and sunny).
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a traditional pew and suited me very well.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite chatty. Three ladies with impeccable accents were having an animated catch-up for all to hear. The children had not left us yet, and some of them were quite lively. As a couple came and sat beside me, we wished each other good morning. ‘I expect we will have the sun in our eyes in a few minutes,’ the lady of the couple added. And on this gloriously sunny winter day, so we did.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Following the entrance hymn: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just the service sheet, customised for this day and clearly set out with hymns, notices – all that we needed.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The altar party wore plain white cassocks and I was reminded that one has to be careful what one wears underneath. During the gospel procession, the bold lettering of a beer brand grinned through the liturgical top layer of thin white. It could, I suppose, have been worse.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Its base was a middle-of-road Anglican service, but with some liturgical tendencies. The service sheet mostly had us using words from Common Worship, with one or two updates that were new to me. There was a gospel procession. Incense was used. It was very much the mix I have come to expect in the Southwark Diocese. At St Anne's they substitute the words ‘May your Word live in us’ and the response ‘And bear much fruit to your glory’ after every reading instead of the customary wordings. The children left us after the collect and returned for communion; or rather to receive a blessing at the altar rail after our communion. They also showed us their work from the Junior Church. It was good to see children so well integrated into things. However, the children were energised by their activities – I wondered if it would not have been better for them to return a little later. I often find the silence after communion the best moment of a eucharist. Children are not yet able to understand this moment, though with an embracing Junior Church like this they will, one hopes, in time.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 — The vicar preached to the readings. He was clear, direct in his manner of addressing us, meaty, with not a word wasted and not too lengthy. A fine example of how to do it. This Mystery Worshipper has at last felt comfortable awarding a 9.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He connected the three readings of the day, embellishing the imagery of Jeremiah 17:5-10 (the watering and nurturing of a plant as a metaphor for faith and righteous life). In 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Paul says that faith in the resurrection becomes one of the first fruits of faith; whilst the gospel (Luke 6:17-26, the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ rather than the one on the Mount) talks of the non-material fruit of the Kingdom. The readings (and responses used at St Anne’s) emphasise the journey of faith as an organic process of germination, growth, pollination, and finally the fruit of the Kingdom. All so suited to a service a stone's throw from Kew Gardens.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The communion anthem, which I think I recognised as a modern setting of an early Christian hymn from the Lenten prose (though we were not in Lent). The words were the only thing not included in our otherwise comprehensive service sheets, nor could I find them afterwards on the website. But they were beautifully sung by the choir with organ and cello accompaniment.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not hellish at all, but slightly distracting. Junior Church was held in a spacious purpose-built parish room. Very occasionally one could hear the children’s high-spirited conversations. One toddler was not a happy bunny, however, and had decided to throw a strop and scream the church down. This did carry clearly into the church, and the lady behind me let out a quiet but audible ‘Ah!’ in acknowledgment of the child’s distress.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance, these were chatty people.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was served in the parish room, though I noticed that a good half of the congregation didn't partake. Me neither, on doctor's orders, but they had fair-traded products from Palestine on sale too. I could not resist the delicious Medjool dates, which I buy whenever I see them. After today's sermon they seemed especially apt.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 — Sadly, St Anne's is on the other side of London for me – but if I have a reason to be in the area again I shall be there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The botanical theme of memorials in the church, vestments and embroidery, readings and sermon, plus of course post-service dates!