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246: St Mary's, Summerstown, Earlsfield, London
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St Mary's, Summerstown, Earlsfield, London
Mystery Worshipper: Andras.
The church: St Mary's, Summerstown, Earlsfield, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Externally, a brick barn, built in 1903 to serve the increasing population of the area. Internally, a delight with beautiful murals, clear windows (very little stained glass) and signs of having been at least partially (and sympathetically) restored over the last few years. And comfortably warm!
The neighbourhood: Not a million miles from Peckham (where Damilola Taylor had been murdered a few days earlier). The service included prayers for peace in the community, so that people can walk the streets without fear – but there is a good deal of gentrification in the neighbourhood, and even small houses are going for around a quarter of a million pounds.
The cast: The Vicar, Rev. Roger Ryan MA (his successful MA was announced at the beginning of the service, and applauded by the congregation).
What was the name of the service?
Sung Communion.

How full was the building?
About 35 in a building that could have seated 300. But the people didn't all sit at the back, and it didn't feel uncomfortably empty at all.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted with a handshake by the steward as he handed out the books, and by the occupants of the pew in front as we sat down.

Was your pew comfortable?
An apparently conventional pew, though when I leaned back against the seat it moved and clearly wasn't fastened down. Not really enough room to kneel, but there were no hassocks anyway.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, calm – just the playing of the (very talented) organist. But most people only arrived just before the service began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning to you, and welcome to St Mary's church!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
"The Lord is with Us" (an illustrated version of Rite A of the Revised Book), "Songs of Praise" hymnal, and RSV Bibles scattered along the pews.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The racket made by a couple of emergency vehicles passing by on the main road outside.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty low-church and comfortable – the vicar said in his sermon that worship ought to be accessible, and it was. The only surprise was that most of the congregation did a rather formal clockwise parade in the aisle during the Peace, so that everyone got a chance to shake everyone else's hand.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes exactly.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – This man is a great encourager, and spent time telling his congregation that they could do what they had set out to do. In his own words, they are not many people, but good people.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He broke from his apparent regular practice of a scripture-based sermon to speak instead about "Common Prayer to Common Worship", and spent the time introducing the new Church of England service book, and explaining what difference it would make to the congregation. Probably boring if you weren't interested in that sort of thing, but an encouraging sign of a priest who wants to make sure that he has his congregation with him in the changes.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The feeling of encouragement. The service started with a lengthy practice of "Awake, awake..." which was very appropriate for Advent Sunday. This was a bit of a gamble, since the congregation was small and included few notable singers, but the vicar and organist gradually made us feel that we could do it. Having said that, the service itself had very little numinous feeling, except during the communion itself.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The racket from the police cars passing outside – but perhaps a salutary reminder that the church is in and not cut off from the world.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I couldn't stay for a coffee as the service ran rather over time (thanks to the hymn practice at the beginning).

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee looked very inviting, with proper cups and a very welcoming congregation.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – This church has decided that it wants to grow and to present Christ to its community. I pray that they succeed.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The feeling of encouragement.
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