St George's, Bickley

St George’s, Bickley, Bromley, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St George’s, Bickley
Location: Bromley, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 July 2023, 10:30am

The building

The history of St George’s begins in 1861 when Bickley Park was sold for development. The parish church was built in 1863-65 by the architect George Barnes in Decorated style, using Kentish ragstone. The spire above the west tower had to be rebuilt in 1905-06, when it was shortened to the current height of 175ft. The nave has five bays and a clerestory, with north and south aisles, and transepts, and the chancel has a canted apse. The building suffered in the Second World War, losing much of its glass and the roof, and in 1989 a fire destroyed much of the interior. The church was rebuilt in the original Victorian Gothic style. Today, St George’s is in good condition and has a light and airy interior. It offers easy access for disabled users, with accessible toilet facilities and an induction loop system for the hearing-impaired. Baby changing facilities also available.

The church

A Sunday School was evident, and the children’s work was displayed to the congregation towards the end of the service. The church supports a local food bank and other local charities.

The neighborhood

Bickley is a London suburb between Bromley and Orpington, and is on the railway line out of London Victoria. The area remains a wealthy one, characterised by large detached housing, although many of these have now been subdivided.

The cast

The parish priest was away so the service was led by one of three retired priests, a second acting as deacon, who read the Gospel and preached. A serving team of five assisted ably with worship, but I was disappointed to see only one medal of the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary being worn. It would be great to see the whole team enrolled in this organisation. A choir of seven and an organist performed well to complement the worship, and it was good to see lay people reading and leading intercession, as well as acting as sidespeople.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Mass with Children's Church.

How full was the building?

About 50 people in church, about one-third full, with plenty of space.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. We met our preacher as we got out of the car, who chatted away, and then we were welcomed at the door and handed the service leaflet, and finally greeted by another welcomer who chatted for a few minutes.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a pew. Are they ever entirely comfortable? However, we had no complaints, and the integrated kneeler came down easily and quietly, and was good.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was fairly quiet, and it was obvious people were using time to pray, although there was a muted hum of chatter nearer the door.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

We went straight into the hymn, ‘Take up thy cross’. Then after 'In the name of the Father...’ and ‘The Lord be with you’, we were all welcomed to the Mass, and the children were despatched to their activities with much amusement.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

All we had was the service leaflet, which contained all the words we needed, including hymns, the notices for the week, and even information about the incidental music that was played.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ.

Did anything distract you?

The acolytes leaving the sanctuary during the intercessions and returning to finish setting up the credence table, which I thought ought to have been done beforehand! There was a delightful little boy in Sunday School who was seen beforehand in the arms of his father, one of the serving team, who was so well behaved. Also, the lass from Sunday School who bravely stood up before the congregation, and told us all what they had been up to, out in the hall.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Reverent Anglo-Catholic worship done well, with all the bells and smells, beautiful music and appropriate hymns, and a touch of humour in the right places.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

Approximately 14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 — It was to the point, and interesting. People were listening!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

We started with a quote from the last line of TS Eliot’s poem, ‘Journey of the Magi’ – ‘I should be glad of another death’. Our preacher then talked about the little deaths we all go through in the course of living, and how we should not impede other’s access to Christ. We should make space for God in our lives, and not just for ourselves. He went on to talk about a recent visit to the National Gallery to see the Anthony Gormley sculptures, especially St Francis, and then talked about the saint and how he died a ‘death of self’ for God, and took the gospel to the poor and needy, breaking all the social taboos of the time. He closed by advising us to strive to become more like Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The moment of consecration, like a step out of time, with the incense rising to heaven accompanied by the ringing of the bells to tell the world we are there... wonderful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Odd bells ringing in spurious places, e.g. while people were receiving communion! This was especially annoying when you know where they should have been rung!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

No chance! We were invited several times to join the congregation for refreshments in the hall behind the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Delicious coffee. And cake. And biscuits. Yum! Worth travelling for. We were amused that the decoration on the cakes (chocolate honeycomb) had been purchased in Walsingham, where some people of the parish had made a pilgrimage last weekend.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 — If I lived near enough I would undoubtedly become a member of this lovely, friendly church. I am hopeful of visiting it again, though, as we have family nearby.

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 friendliness. Meeting two servers who both belonged to the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary, and hearing about their local chapter of St Justus, which is based around Orpington.

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