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357: St Silas, Kentish Town, London
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St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London NW5
Mystery Worshipper: Sarum Sleuth.
The church: St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London NW5.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Early 20th century by E.C. Shearman, a little-known architect. Expressionist Gothic in brown brick. Whitewashed interior crammed with the most hair-raising objects of piety imaginable. It has to be seen to be believed.
The church: The present vicar has built up the church from a very low ebb, and it is now reasonably well attended on a Sunday with a good range of the local community represented.
The neighbourhood: Inner-city Kentish town, but bordering on the leafier areas of Hampstead and Chalk Farm.
The cast: The principal celebrant was the Bishop of Beverley, the Rt. Rev. Martyn Jarrett, one of the Church of England's three "flying bishops". The vicar, Rev. Graeme Rowlands, acted as assistant priest.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Pontifical Mass.

How full was the building?
The centre of the church was comfortably full, with about 120 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was no sidesperson, but I was welcomed by a friend.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a chair, and it was very uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reasonably quiet, but quite a lot was happening in the way of preparation. Some flute music was played a few minutes before the proceedings commenced.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A special booklet which included hymns. The rite followed was that of Rome, using the most traditional canon.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, flute, strings and a very prominent trumpet.

Did anything distract you?
The shrieking soprano in the choir, who were trilling away in a late Viennese setting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The churchmanship was so exalted it made papal Rome in the days of Pius XII look restrained. Birettas all came off at the name of the saint, the lavabo was administered to the bishop by kneeling attendants, the altar was covered in reliquaries, and there were no fewer than 16 concelebrants, all clad in red fiddleback chasubles. The bishop wore full pontificals. The relic of St Silas was available for veneration afterwards, although I did not avail myself of this privilege. Yet the ceremonial was not self-conscious and affected in the manner to be found in so many Anglo-Catholic shrines.

St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London NW5

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Competent but undistinguished.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Take up your cross and follow me" – applied to St Paul and St Silas, as well as those present.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The magic moment for me was one of the concelebrants declaiming his part of the consecration in a broad Ulster accent... hardly what one expects from the land of Dr Paisley!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The bell rung before the service was one of the worst I have ever heard. I suspect it was made of steel! The shrieking soprano and uncomfortable chair were purgatorial rather than hellish.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I know a few regulars, so there were no problems here. What did impress me was the way that someone I had met very briefly on a previous visit took the trouble to find me and make conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The red wine was very acceptable, and refreshments, which included a cake with black icing, shaped like a biretta, were provided on a generous scale.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – It really is far too high for me, although it scored very highly in the friendliness department. But I can enjoy this sort of thing as an occasional treat.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The veneration of the relic.

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