|794: St Alban's, Copenhagen, Denmark|
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Mystery Worshipper: Pippin Eastriding.
The church: St Alban's, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Denomination: Anglican (Diocese in Europe).
The building: From the outside, this is a grand Victorian gothic church, with a spire. Inside, it has typical church of England furnishings, including pews, with long padded kneelers. On the walls are brass plaques and stone memorials, and beyond the choir stalls there is a high altar. This church even has a side chapel.
The church: Like all Anglican congregations in continental Europe, St Alban's caters primarily to the expat communities, s well as to visitors. There were however also quite a number of Danes present, at both services observed.
The neighbourhood: The church stands in Churchill Park (complete with a bust of Sir Winston), by the harbour side. It is near the Kastellet fortress and not far from the (in)famous Mermaid statue.
The cast: The Revd Tom Mendel, chaplain celebrated at the eucharist, and led the remembrance service. He was assisted by a reader unnamed either in the service leaflets or on the church's website, but revealed by the diocese's website as a Mrs Wendy Vigild.
What was the name of the service?
Remembrance day service (following earlier sung eucharist).
How full was the building?
Comfortably full. It had been even fuller at the preceding eucharist (with baptism), but that was a very different congregation: buzzy, with lots of families and young people. The remembrance day congregation mainly wore black, and consisted of ambassadorial groups (British and commonwealth) accompanied by military attaches; a detachment from a Royal Navy minesweeper in harbour; and many older people, who were either veterans or wives/widows, with many of the latter being Danish.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I misjudged the time needed for the bus journey and subsequent walk, partly due to the out-of-date information on the church website about recommended bus routes, as well as the changed timetable of services for remembrance day. Thus I arrived at the eucharist only just in time to receive communion, but was very kindly welcomed by the churchwardens on duty in the lobby. They gave me a warm handshake and explanations about the timetable, and encouraged me to go on in.
Was your pew comfortable?
These were well-made, comfortable, classic pews, with cushion-cloths for extra comfort.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The atmosphere at the eucharist was lively without being disturbing. People chatted, but quietly. At the remembrance day service, the mood was more restrained; some quiet conversation occurred before the service started, but once it had begun, the mood was very disciplined and respectful.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The remembrance day service followed the recommended order of service exactly: "We are here to worship Almighty God, whose purposes are good..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
An order of service leaflet for remembrance day, with the hymns (words only, but these were all familiar hymns) and readings in an insert. There was also an order of service leaflet for the eucharist, but, having arrived late, I unfortunately did not manage to obtain a copy.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The choir (at both services) consisted mainly of women, and led the hymns well, with some fine descants.
Did anything distract you?
At the sung eucharist, I might have found the buzz distracting in the long run; but I probably caused more distraction myself, by entering at the 11th hour. At the remembrance day service, I couldn't help feeling sorry for some younger and clearly totally unmotivated members of the ambassadorial contingents.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
At the eucharist, worship was lively, whilst being moderately high Anglican, suggesting that the European chaplaincies need to accommodate a wide range of churchmanship. I noted, however, that relatively many in the congregation did not receive communion; possibly these were baptism guests? At the remembrance day service, the mood was quietened to dignified mainstream Anglican worship. There were three standards (military flags) formally carried in and placed by the altar, and a Royal Navy bugler played Last Post and Reveille.
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?
For the sermon text, the chaplain quoted from King George V's radio speech on the outbreak of war in 1939, about our duty "to do right, as we see the right". The sermon was dignified, intelligent, and scrupulously honest; acknowledging the moral complexity of wars both past and recent, and the inappropriateness of always attributing high sacrificial motives to conscripted soldiers, as well as citing acts of bravery.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There were some splendid hymns, sung with conviction (the old 100th being one). But above all, I appreciated the sermon, for its intelligent clarity; its acknowledgment of and respect for political and moral complexity in war; and then for its firm grounding of a specifically Christian celebration of remembrance day in a generous theology of redemption.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Arriving at the eucharist about as late as is possible without totally missing it. And, at the remembrance day service, the boredom of the diplomatic-corps teenagers.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People nodded and smiled politely. I spoke to a churchwarden about the need to update the bus information on the church's website, and was received very friendlily. There was no coffee or equivalent, so after a rather formal handshake from the chaplain on the way out, I left in search of a cafe, where I noticed other ex-congregants ( they were also still wearing their poppies, which is not a Danish custom).
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 If I lived in Copenhagen, this would of necessity (given my ecclesiastical affiliations and preferences) be my church; and I think I would be very happy with it.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, particularly in light of the sermon. Remembrance day is in many ways more national and even political in nature than specifically Christian, as it enacts a public, formalized mourning – for example the standards presented at the altar – as much as any private grief. The sermon addressed that fact, did so well, and also placed it in a specifically Christian frame of understanding.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The remembrance day sermon – and being so appalling late for the eucharist!