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415: St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, London
Other reports | Comment on this report
St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, London
Mystery Worshipper: Northern Light.
The church: St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: Widely regarded as one of Comper's finest. Horrible red-brick crouching exterior but a delightful interior, especially the chancel screen and the sanctuary roof. Some people might think it a little papier-mache in style, but I like it. Built in 1903 and bits added through the years (all by Comper). The Alcuin Club Directory of Ceremonial Illustrations came from here.
The neighbourhood: Baker Street Station is just round the corner. Mansion flats in abundance. High proportion of Arab and Middle-Eastern population which has seen a corresponding falling off in the attendance here as the nominal Anglicans have lessened in numbers. Pretty shabby in parts and deeply expensive in others. Regent's Park just around the corner but also the Lisson Grove estate.
The cast: Fr. Christopher Gower (Priest-in-Charge and Rector of St Marylebone) was the celebrant. Fr. Alan Moses (Vicar of All Saints Margaret Street) was the deacon and Fr. Sean Cathie (who I think does most of the services here as the honorary curate) was the sub-deacon and preacher.
What was the name of the service?
High Mass for the Feast of St Cyprian the Martyr.

How full was the building?
In a building that could seat perhaps 150 there were about 90 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A verger in a gown, cincture and white bowtie sort of sneered at me as I went in. Fr. Gower was friendlier and shook me by the hand. I think they were both waiting for the Lord Mayor. Two people gave me the service books with a friendly smile and a "good morning".

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a chair and OK. Nothing special and not utterly uncomfortable. It had four legs and did not rock.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Not particularly prayful and there was quiet chatting. A bit of coming and going amongst the servers.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to our patronal festival and please stay behind for the buffet afterwards."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A booklet specially printed for the service plus the church's regular mass booklet. The hymns were printed out in the special booklet but no tunes were printed.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ (too loudly).

Did anything distract you?
The antics of the thurifer at the offertory who seemed to be trying to cense the ceiling by the amount of 360-degree swings he was doing. Also the man next to me kept wandering around for no apparent reason.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic. The Lord Mayor was processed in by the churchwardens who were carrying their staves for the occasion and wearing gowns and hoods. One was an Oxford MA hood and the other was a Cambridge MA which leant a pleasing air. Lots of servers and incense. No exchange of peace which was a relief. Eastward facing at the high altar. The celebrant censed the altar lefthanded, which I have never seen before. Sung (after a fashion) gospel and sung creed (Merbecke). The ceremonial was OK and wasn't over the top or badly done. The thurifer certainly enjoyed himself.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes (although we had sat through a 10-minute address from the Lord Mayor earlier).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – A thoughtful style with few notes. Quiet voice but worth listening to. It was good and not the rant one sometimes hears at patronal festivals.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The US terrorist attack was only a few days previous. Fr. Cathie spoke of the need for love and the certainty that the Christian God was the God of love not vengeance. We needed to look to ourselves and put that love into practice through our Christian vocation.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The congregation actually singing the Creed to Merbecke (which I like), the reception of communion and the silence after the sermon. The thurifer's antics at the offertory were heavenly funny.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The appalling bass soloist who tried to sing the bass solos in the mass setting (Darke in F). I suspect he might have sung at the Church's consecration in 1903. Just dreadful, and several people physically flinched as he attempted to hit his high notes.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I knew several people there but when I was on my own at the beginning of the bunfight, Fr. Cathie came over and introduced himself and we talked briefly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As it was their patronal there was a buffet at the back of the church with some good cold food (slightly better than most church festival food) and wine of the usual cheap standard. Fruit juice was also available. Don't know about Sundays. I expect just tea and coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – As it was their festival, this service was atypical. I suspect that whilst the building and ceremonial would be up my street the music wouldn't be (I think they got in some ringers to make the music a bit better for the occasion). Also, I suspect the regular Sunday congregation is very small, which might be rather dispiriting. So, for selfish reasons, probably not.

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 verger, who insisted on leading the Mayor the five yards from his seat to the lectern, and the thurifer.
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