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65: St Joseph the Worker, Northolt, Middlesex, England
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St Joseph the Worker
Mystery Worshipper: Five pints.
The church: St Joseph the Worker, Northolt, Middlesex, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: An ugly 1960s concrete construction, with separate church and bell tower, which have been described as 'a smarties tube placed next to a biscuit tin'. However, the reality once across the threshold is very different. It has the architecture of a sports hall, but inside is a welcoming, light, versatile and attractively decorated worship space.
The neighbourhood: The church is on the edge of a modern estate. All worshippers were handed an information sheet about how to give to the church's 'Dovetail Centre' project, which aims to build facilities to meet the needs of the local community.
The cast: The parish priest, Fr Denis Bradshaw. Preacher: Fr Scott Anderson, vicar of St Andrew, Willesden Green, London.
What was the name of the service?
Celebration Mass for Patronal Festival (St Joseph's Day). Pope Pius XII instituted this feast day on International Workers' Day (May 1st) in 1955, when he put all working people under the protection of St Joseph, the Worker.

How full was the building?
Packed, with people of all ages.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I got a warm 'hello' as I was handed my service book.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was a modern, comfortable, low pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty, worshipful (we sang two worship songs before the service proper began), and expectant.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Good evening, everyone', from Fr Denis, to which the immediate response was, 'Good evening, Father'.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service booklet produced especially for the occasion, with all the liturgy and songs we needed.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, synth, guitar and drums, plus a music group of nine singers.

Did anything distract you?
My stiff new Doc Martens shoes, which rubbed painfully on my heels whenever I stood up or sat down. Why did I wear them to a long church service?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A most intriguing mixture. It combined the richness of the Catholic tradition (liturgy, bells, smells, vestments and lots of bowing) with openness to the power of the Holy Spirit within the Charismatic tradition. We had lively worship songs, lots of arms in the air, singing in tongues, words of knowledge and 'ministry' times, with people having powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit, and some falling over.

St Joseph the Worker

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7. Fr Scott, who had arrived at the church on his large motorbike, began his sermon with: 'My Dears, I bring news that the beretta has gone at St Andrew's.' This was received with enthusiatic appluase. Clearly a local in-joke!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Nothing spectacular, but an inspiring reflection on Joseph the carpenter and the challenges and responsibilities that we face as followers of Christ and as those who incarnate him in the workplace.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
That wonderful interweaving of sacrament and Spirit. Once we had received from Christ in the sacrament, we were invited into the sanctuary to receive from the Spirit of God through prayer ministry. Nothing was forced. It all felt incredibly natural and a delight to be part of.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The rumbles of my stomach reminding me how long ago lunchtime was – and the constantly recurring thought that there were tables laden with food and drink outside, while the mass ran for 2 hours and 20 minutes!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get into conversation with a 'regular', probably because there was a large number of visitors, and also because I made a beeline for the food, and then got chatting to the curate and his wife.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Vol au vents, sausage rolls, chicken legs and red wine in a plastic beaker: blessed relief at the end of a long day!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
As clouds of incense swirled around, the sight of four clergy behind the altar, splendidly vested, utterly lost in worship and doing the actions to songs such as 'We want to see Jesus lifted high', without a hint of embarrassment. The beauty of worship in the midst of such 'ordinariness'.

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