St Mary and St Andrew, Dollis Hill, London

St Mary & St Andrew, Dollis Hill, London


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Mystery Worshipper: Dedalus
Church: St Mary & St Andrew
Location: Dollis Hill, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 November 2010, 12:00am

The building

St Mary and St Andrew sits atop one of the few proper hills in north London. From the outside the building looks quite plain and narrow. It is built of brown brick and raised up from the road by steps. Inside, it looks almost like an Italian church, with white washed walls, marble columns with colourful pediments. Above the altar is a representation of the night sky in a half dome, which is simple but quite beautiful. Actually I think this describes the interior in general quite effectively.

The church

The church was built by the Institute of Charity, more commonly known as the Rosminian order, to accommodate an increased number of Catholic living in the area, largely due to Irish immigration. It was handed to the control of the Diocese of Westminster in 1994.

The neighborhood

This is a relatively quiet and suburban area of north London, part of the great urban sprawl. Everything looks to have been built in the 1930s and the church is near Gladstone Park, named after the 19th century prime minister who came from nearby. The area has diversified greatly recently, with worshippers coming from a large number of ethnic backgrounds as more people are moving into the area from other countries. While many churches have seen numbers increase due to immigration from eastern Europe, this has not happened with St Mary and St Andrews as there is a nearby Polish church, St Francis of Assisi.

The cast

The Revd Michael O'Doherty, parish priest. Unnamed members of the congregation were doing readings and prayers.

What was the name of the service?

12 Noon Mass

How full was the building?

Pretty much packed, which was nice to see. It's a relatively small church but I'd say there were at least 300 in the pews. This is a suburban church serving those living nearby. Irish immigration has continued to this day, with a large number of the congregation coming from Irish immigrant families. Many of the people around me were Irish. It was like being at home!

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The lady sitting next to me, who was elaborately dressed in African clothes, said hello and passed me a hymnbook.

Was your pew comfortable?

Standard pew, not too bad.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Largely quiet, but there was a group of singers warming up in the gallery as we waited.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Aside from the introduction of the first hymn: "In the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A generic hymnbook. Although I never got one, I saw some service sheets in people's hands.

What musical instruments were played?

There was an organ and a choir.

Did anything distract you?

I gather the choir is quite a new addition to the services in this church so I'm not going to be too harsh. However, they were very rough in places, which was a little off-putting. But this was not quite as surprising as the sheer speed of the service (see below). I am Catholic and know the service quite well and I was struggling to keep up!

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

I'm tempted to say rushed, as if getting it over with to do something else. A normal mass with music takes about an hour; this priest managed it in 40 minutes! He gave no warning that he wasn't doing a homily and launched straight into the profession of faith, which startled the regulars as well as me as we sat down and stood up again very quickly. Also, he began the eucharistic prayer before the collection was finished. Just before the readings, he introduced a baby who was to be baptised later that week and the congregation applauded.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

People around me in a fairly packed church singing. It always makes me feel closer to God. Also, when I left, there were some Irish old boys talking about horses and going to the pub, which is exactly what they'd be doing in Ireland. Made me smile.

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

Feeling like we were rushing through.

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

I had a quick chat with the lady next to me, who was very nice. Not much else happened, though.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Non-existent as far as I could tell.

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

6 – It was a nice church, and there was real community atmosphere, but the priest needs to slow down a touch.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

In some ways, yes. A large varied congregation gave a sense of the breadth of the church. But the lack of engagement from the priest makes me worried about the depth.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

How quickly the mass went.

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