Mystery Worshipper: Kenelm
Church: St Vincent de Paul
Location: Clapham, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 September 2012, 6:00pm
Built around the turn of the century, the church has a red-brick exterior. The inside is particularly pleasing: a large high nave painted cream with half-domed apse above the sanctuary, supported by faux columns with gold Corinthian capitals. It was well lit and created a dignified, harmonious environment.
They run a number of the usual groups and activities: music group, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and a branch of the St Vincent de Paul society, in keeping with the parish's dedication.
The church is located in Altenburg Gardens, a residential street running between the bustling shops of Lavender Hill and the vast open space that is Clapham Common. The transport hub of Clapham Junction is a couple of hundred yards away.
The celebrant and preacher was the parish priest, the Revd Msgr Timothy Galligan. He was assisted by the Revd Mr Jon Dal Din, deacon, who read the gospel.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
Most of the pews had at least two or three people in them: about 120 in total.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman handed me a hymnbook and a several pieces of paper. I don't recall him saying anything, though.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard wooden pew with a fixed, thinly padded kneeler. Plenty comfortable enough for an hour.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
In true Catholic style, quite a lot of the congregation arrived at the last minute or slightly after the start of the service. But the atmosphere was generally quiet and prayerful.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening and welcome to St Vincent's. The first hymn is number 8."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed mass sheet with the day's prayers and readings, a pink sheet with songs used, the Laudate hymn book. We were also given a flyer for a concert, a newsletter, and a Catholic Agency For Overseas Development appeal envelope.
What musical instruments were played?
An amplified acoustic guitar and bongo drums.
Did anything distract you?
The altar servers were very young and seemed a little inexperienced and the deacon had to shepherd them a bit, which he did very kindly. But I remember learning to serve, and the fact they were willing to learn means I couldn't hold anything against them.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The mass itself was standard Novus Ordo, and celebrated reverently. The music, as you probably guessed from the bongo drums, was fairly happy-clappy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Msgr Galligan communicated clearly and structured his sermon well.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The church was celebrating its patronal feast, so Msgr Galligan began with a brief biography of St Vincent de Paul. He then examined what it was to be a saint, and how saints would not consider themselves such. He told us that we are all called to be saints, and that we should strive to make ourselves holy in our everyday lives, referring to Pope Benedict's speech during his 2010 visit to the UK. Indeed, he had printed some extracts from the speech that he handed out at the end of mass.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The dignified celebration of the eucharist, and the silence during which everyone was united in prayer.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The music, I'm afraid. While the guitarist and singer were competent, the songs were completely unknown to me. I love singing, and the Laudate hymn book is a good one, so it was a great shame we only sang one hymn from it (the only one I knew). The congregation joined in only half-heartedly.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A couple of parishioners said hello to me, and the deacon greeted me on the way out, giving me a copy of the Pope's speech.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I'd like to go to one of the other masses on a Sunday to see what it is like in comparison to the 6.00pm service. There was certainly a friendly atmosphere to the parish.
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 simple, yet beautiful inside of the church that was so conducive to prayer.