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  1202: Holy Family, Langley, Berkshire, England

Holy Family, Langley, Berkshire, England

Mystery Worshipper: Flower.
The church: Holy Family, Langley, Berkshire, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: It was almost midnight on Christmas Eve when I arrived, so I couldn't see much of the outside. It is, however, an oblong brick building. The inside is beautifully and simply decorated in white and light blue. The high ceiling gives the interior a sense of space.
The church: They sponsor several programmes, including a "Sharing our Faith" programme for prospective converts to Roman Catholicism, as well as a mums and toddlers group, lecture series, social events and bingo.
The neighbourhood: Langley is situated in the Thames valley west of London. Its strategic location near several major motorways has spurred light industry and residential growth. The church is set on a housing estate and is opposite the local library and a stone's throw from local shops.
The cast: I think it was the Rev. Kevin O'Driscoll, parish priest, but no name was given at the time.
The date & time: 24 December 2005, 11.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Midnight Mass with carol service preceding.

How full was the building?
Standing room only. Packed like sardines. Fabulous to see on the eve of our celebrating Christ's birth. There were two empty seats in front of a heater, which people kept sitting in but only for a moment, as they realised it was too hot there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
At some point, I don't quite remember when, we were invited to wish one another a merry Christmas – not quite a welcome as such, but at least we all spoke to one another.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew must have been comfortable because I was in it for more than an hour and a half and did not have a sore bum afterwards.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a subdued hum of chatter that created a sense of expectation. People were entering in droves and trying to locate the last seat. There was soft, gentle music playing in the background. Near the altar, an exquisitely decorated Christmas tree and lighted candles created a relaxed ambience.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Well, the first words were the congregation singing, "O come, O come Emmanuel." No intro, no welcome, just straight in there.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Two pre-printed service sheets, one for the carol service preceding mass and one for the mass itself. The poor young lads who had to give these out were getting themselves in a right pickle trying to give everyone one of each. Maybe next year someone could sort them out beforehand.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano. Very simple, beautifully played. It suited the service well.

Did anything distract you?
I noticed a woman who looked like someone I knew from another town. There was also a young girl sitting not far from me in a Santa hat, and her sister was texting on her mobile phone, much to the annoyance of her mum, who told her off. During mass, as the celebrant was being censed, he stood as if his picture was being taken.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The carol service was not exactly stiff, but most definitely not happy clappy either. The singing was poor, which surprised me given that the church was packed with people. The procession at the start of mass was all pomp and circumstance, and mass was all bells and smells.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father established a good rapport with the congregation and made his homily interactive. He came across as being a friendly, approachable man who lives in the real world.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We take many symbols of Christmas for granted without knowing their origin or significance. Tinsel, for example (as legend has it), represents a web that a spider wove over the entrance to the cave where the Holy Family were hiding from King Herod. And the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was a disguised catechism used by the Church when it could not speak out openly about its faith. Whatever we do during Christmas, we should include Christ in all our activities.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The whole service, really. It was a very blessed time. I felt comfortable and in the presence of God. The natural silence between the end of the carol service and start of the mass proper added to the sense of expectation that something special was happening tonight.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The incense. I'm not a fan of incense, I'm afraid. I don't understand the symbolism.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was impossible to hang around afterwards, as everyone in the crowded church tried all at once to cram their way out the door. I caught a brief glimpse of Father doing his best to speak to people as they left, but he could not speak to everyone.

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)?
8 – If my faith were of the Catholic tradition, I would have no qualms about settling into this church.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sense of expectancy and being in the presence of God.
 
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