Queens College Chapel, Oxford, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Queens College Chapel
Location: Oxford, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 23 February 2020, 6:15pm

The building

Classical chapel of great beauty containing a gorgeous wooden screen, splendid brass lectern and chandeliers, and much Van Linge glass. The one I like best is the Ascension, which adds a welcome note of absurdity, with Christ's feet dangling out of a cloud.

The church

The chapel is run for and by the college. The public are admitted (quite grudgingly by the porter) and do not expect to be included. Indeed, I feel that only some ancient statute prevents them being excluded. I love that, being a professional outsider.

The neighborhood

Oxford goes on outside with academics, tourists, homeless and beggars. I hear (but not yet see) that the homeless are getting more attention and more help.

The cast

The chaplain took traditional evensong, singing the priest's part herself and introducing the visiting preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Evensong.

How full was the building?

Congregation about equalled the choir in number: roughly thirty of each, plus two priests and a musical director.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. We were excluded until the choir had finished rehearsing and we were let in well after the advertised hour. Probably they use Oxford time.

Was your pew comfortable?

Luxurious. Much red velvet and a huge radiator.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Expectant and very brief, because they were late.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘This is the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ...’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Service sheet; Revised Psalter; New English Hymnal; Common Worship; The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version (Anglicised edition).

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

Wondering if I'd ever be allowed to clean the brass bird (1660s) still used as the lectern – splendid and disdainful creature.

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

Completely traditional, with chaplain and preacher officiating from their stalls. After an introit in the ante-chapel, the very large choir processed in.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

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

5 — The sound system did not reach me, so I was guessing most of the time. The guest preacher used a lot of hand gestures, which felt very sincere. I think I got the gist, which was statistical. She has evolved a 'new' method of defining poverty. It goes straight from statistics into prayer.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The preacher runs the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative. I think she told us a great many facts like the world percentage of people with no toilet. If she told us what we could do about it, I missed that bit, but she had a lot of advice to God about what he might do about it.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The singing, the setting.

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

The sound system. Having a mic makes speakers think they will be heard if they talk softly, in a space where they could easily be heard without amplification if they used a normal voice.

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

Everyone left before I did – and I wasn't slow.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

10 — It is a beautiful building and they are singing well, with many interesting concerts.

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

Delighted that the whole tradition of college services still goes on in a place where religion is considered to be only for the stupid.

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

The preacher's mime.

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