|1119: St Augustine of Canterbury, Queensgate, Kensington, London|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Acolyte.
The church: St Augustine of Canterbury, Queensgate, Kensington, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A large Victorian building dominated by a Martin Travers high altar and reredos. Seating is mainly fixed pews. An array of statues and shrines with their votive candles can be found throughout. The customary stations of the cross alternate with mosaic wall decorations. There is a general atmosphere of decay – an appeal for new roofing tiles is in progress. Could a falling tile account for the broken holy water stoop?
The church: A church under threat, where the worship has been reduced to daily morning and evening prayer except for Sunday holy communion. No full-time priest. Sadly, more notices for concerts rather than church services.
The neighbourhood: Close to the Kensington museums and apparently dependent on local students and passing visitors.
The cast: The Rev. MC Bain, chaplain-general of the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary; the Rev. JD Moore, warden of the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary.
|What was the name of the service?
Guild Office, Procession and Benediction.
How full was the building?
Two-thirds full, about 160 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Six burly gentlemen, resembling bouncers, were at the door and greeted us with "You will need this" as they handed us a service booklet and hymn sheet. No handshake or welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very hard seats and small hassocks.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Most of the congregation were chatting prior to the arrival of the entry procession. About half lit votive candles or knelt to offer a prayer.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"O God, make speed to save us!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially printed service book and a loose-leaf hymn sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
The main church organ.
Did anything distract you?
Various people appearing and disappearing in the sanctuary area. Geriatric choir members hobbling into their stalls. A group of four cantors who looked as though they had slept in their crumpled copes and apparently thought that the "off the shoulder" fashion was appropriate for church. The master of ceremonies, who could well seek employment as a gangmaster in a detention camp.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The first part was a formal service based on a hybrid of vespers and evening prayer sung to Gregorian plainchant. There was some antiphonal back-and-forth between the cantors and the choir. But then came the procession – and I use the term loosely. The deacon started things off with the words, "Depart in peace, alleluia!" instead of "Let us proceed in peace, alleluia" I wish I had! The procession snaked off with many stops and starts. The four cantors formed a football style wall, I suppose to prevent the procession from wandering off course. When they returned to their positions, they knelt – or, more accurately, collapsed to the floor – for benediction.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The actual benediction with attendant clouds of incense.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The censing technique of the thurifer during the magnificat, where he censed everyone in a pattern resembling the feeding frenzy of a swarm of bees. The master of ceremonies driving the troops with sweeping arm movements as though conducting an aerobics class. The cantor and members of the choir who were always a beat behind their colleagues. An ethereal voice from one of the cantors that managed to traverse three Gregorian modes in the antiphon before it was rescued by the congregation.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one wanted to talk apart from an officious person marshalling his troops for a commemorative picture. One of the bouncers snatched my service book with the comment, "I'll take that." A sad day for an organisation promoting good serving in the Church of England. I think people were glad to be going home.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was on offer.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – This was not the general form of worship at this church so it would be unfair to make a decision based on this event. If this had been a typical service, then I would be unlikely to make this my church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but I wish I had followed the deacon's advice to depart early.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The elderly choir members trying to climb over fixed pews, and the football wall of cantors blocking the procession.