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342: St Paul's, Covent Garden, London
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St Paul's, Covent Garden, London
Mystery Worshipper: Mystery Librarian.
The church: St Paul's, Covent Garden, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: This is the parish church of Covent Garden, a large and comparatively unadorned church building designed by the architect Inigo Jones and first opened in 1633. The architect described it as "the handsomest barn in Britain". The building is decorated with memorial stones to various notables of the theatre – among them Charlie Chaplin, Marie Lloyd, Noel Coward, Terence Rattigan and Tony Simpson (1905-1983), "an inspired player of small parts".
The church: The church is well known as the "actor's church" due to its links with the theatre dating back to the mid 17th century. The church has many literary and historical connections – it was in the vicinity of this church that Henry Higgins met Eliza Dolittle in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.
The neighbourhood: The church is in the centre of the Covent Garden area and is in close proximity to Covent Garden Market, the Royal Opera House, the London Transport Museum and the Theatre Museum. When I visited, the area was crowded with tourists, musicians, street performers and pavement artists: an excellent venue for a service celebrating Christian creativity in the arts.
The cast: Canon David Winter, David and Carrie Grant, Springs Dance Company, Nigel Goodwin, Sir Cliff Richard and many others.
What was the name of the service?
Arts Centre Group 30th Anniversary Service of Thanksgiving.

How full was the building?
There were several hundred present, though there were still some empty rows on one side of the church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A steward gave me an order of service sheet and asked me if I could share!

Was your pew comfortable?
Reasonably comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty but expectant, with much greeting of old friends and theatrical hugs and embraces.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening everybody, it's my job to start this..." from the dancer Patrick Wood, before launching into a dance routine performed to the music "The Day of Salvation" from Rachmaninov Vespers.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Printed order of service sheets. There were two Bible readings – from Isaiah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:13-16, but the version was not specified.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ for congregational singing and guitar by the singer Susanne Scott.

Did anything distract you?
Various noises and loud music outside the church, though this subsided shortly after the service began – and the late arrival of two prominent founder members of the Arts centre Group during the performance of some scenes from a play based on Adrian Plass's story, "The Visit".

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The hymn singing was fairly traditional and restrained, though there was hand-clapping and movement at other times, notably during the performance of David and Carrie Grant.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – This was probably not the most profound or original sermon that Canon David Winter has ever preached, but it was probably right for the occasion and nobody would have wanted a long sermon anyway!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
David Winter spoke about the calling of Christians in the arts and media to be salt and light in contemporary society. He described the purpose of salt in the ancient world and spoke about the ability of the arts to enrich and improve society.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sheer artistic diversity of the service was impressive – everything from classical, pop and soul music to poetry, dance and drama. I enjoyed singing along with Sir Cliff on the Millennium Prayer and I also enjoyed the opportunity to see the actor Nigel Goodwin dressed in something other than a purple jacket!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing really – though I always get slightly irritated by singers who perform with backing tapes, as David and Carrie Grant and Sir Cliff Richard did on this occasion. A live band or orchestra would certainly have enhanced the occasion.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the board members of the Arts Centre Group chatted to me about its work and the importance of encouraging prayer for Christians in the arts and media.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Apple and orange juice served in plastic cups was a welcome alternative to tea or coffee on a hot summer evening.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – As this was a special service, and not one of St Paul's regular services, this question is not really applicable, but I would certainly like to belong to a church that took creativity and Christian engagement with the arts so seriously.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was good to know that there is so much talent in the Christian community, even if only a minority of members of the Arts Centre Group are ever likely to become household names.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
David Grant's suggestion that some Christians experience a deep joy that is so deep it never reaches their faces!
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