|292: St Michael's, Highgate, London|
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Mystery Worshipper: Clothmoth.
The church: St Michael's Highgate, South Grove, London N6.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Victorian. The interior is relatively untinkered-with and there is a dramatic 1950s east window. The spire is visible for many miles as the church is at the top of Highgate Hill.
The neighbourhood: The church is in an affluent, beautiful part of London, bordering on Hampstead Heath and surrounded by the sort of 18th-century residences most of us could only ever dream of owning.
The cast: The preacher was Rev. Dr Jonathan Trigg, the Vicar. The celebrant was Rev. Jeremy Brooks, the Curate.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist (Book of Common Prayer).
How full was the building?
One-third full. The congregation was almost all adult, probably because there had been an earlier family service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smile was served with the hymn and prayer books.
Was your pew comfortable?
Adequate, distressed pitchpine. Proper hassocks and enough room to kneel.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Arrived just too late to tell.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer and the New English Hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ for most of the service, with a piano for the anthem.
Did anything distract you?
The startling east window depicting Christ in Majesty, the Last Supper, the foot washing, etc. was breathtaking and colourful. It contrasted with the drabness of the congregation, who favoured monochrome garb. There were no hats, unless you count a balaclava helmet. On going up to make communion, the organist's mobile phone (switched on) was visible, propped up prominently on his music stand. Perhaps he was someone important on call, but from then on I couldn't get the thing out of my mind. It was so un-Book of Common Prayer. I was also worried by the inadequacy of the collection plates for the reception of the piles of large manilla Gift Aid envelopes. The offertory procession galloped up and down the aisle.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Old-fashioned, classic surplice-and-stole churchmanship. The hymns were all familiar and eminently singable.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was based on the Gospel, Luke 6: 17-26. We were told that we should not use the Beatitudes as an invitation to the greyness which the poet Swinburne associated with Christianity.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir chanting Psalm 1 at the start of the service. The choir was large for these days and the choristers, including many adolescent girls, sang well. Said girls succumbed to a splendidly bad attack of the giggles before and during their post-communion rendition of Byrd's Ave Verum Corpus.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The celebrant's slip of the tongue early in proceedings "... and from whom all secrets are hid." This may have had something to do with the against-the-clock style of liturgical delivery. The speed with which the choir and clergy processed from and fled the building at the end of the service was similarly breathtaking.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
By the time the organist had finished Bach's Fantasia in C minor (not long, even at the speed they do things here), the congregation, bar three people absorbed in shelving books, had evaporated into the bracing air of Highgate. The clergy were friendly enough, with vicar in porch and curate at the outer entrance. Nobody would have missed a greeting from them, unless deliberately avoiding one.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Perhaps that was what everybody had rushed off to partake of. If they had, I wasn't invited.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 I sensed no joy in this service or numinousness in the building. I doubt I could ever gather myself and my books up fast enough to meet anybody so that I could discover whether they welcome strangers in these parts.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Of course. Any celebration of the eucharist does.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The stained glass.