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|1543: All Saints,
Margaret Street, London
Saints, Margaret Street, London.
Church of England, Diocese
Designed by the Victorian Gothic architect William Butterfield
(1814-1900), All Saints was built in 1859 at the height of Butterfield's
polychromatic period and is regarded as one of his finest works.
Its appearance is a bit of a shock to one more accustomed to
stone walls and plain glass; there isn’t a plain piece
of wall, ceiling or floor in sight! But time and the smoke from
mountains of incense have taken their toll, dulling the ceiling
and walls. The floor tiles are wearing out too, the window tracery
is rotting, the lighting fixtures have seen better days, and
the heating system is falling to pieces. A restoration appeal
has to-date raised about one-third of the just over £2 million
needed for a complete refurbishing.
All Saints is a temple to Anglo-Catholicism, the highest of
the high. What I found encouraging, however, is that they remain
in the mainstream and pray for the bishop of London, not of
Ebbsfleet; they arenít Forward in Faith. Due to their standing
in the Anglo-Catholic community, they minister to visitors from
all over the country and the world as well as to their regular
congregation. They are involved in a number of missionary works
at home and abroad, including West London Day Centre, Christian
Aid, and St Cyprian's Theological College, Tanzania. They maintain
a licensed bar staffed by volunteers calling themselves the
All Saints Club, serving refreshments on Sundays and other occasions.
A relatively quiet enclave of central London, given that Oxford
Street is just two minutes walk to the south and Regent Street
(and All Souls, Langham Place) is two minutes to the west. The
church is sandwiched into a group of commercial and retail premises.
The Revd Alan Moses, vicar, was the celebrant, and the Revd
Dr Graham Tomlin, dean of St Mellitus College, was the visiting
preacher. Add in the deacon, subdeacon, crucifer, boat boy,
acolytes galore and a couple of others in the sanctuary party
and you end up with what seemed a cast of thousands, although
in reality I counted 15.
The date & time:
Ascension Day, Thursday, 1 May 2008, 6.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Around one-third to one-half full, with some spaces in most
rows in the centre but very few people in the rear and the side
aisles. About 120, at a guess. In addition to the aforementioned
sanctuary party, there was a choir of about 12 voices.
Did anyone welcome you
I received a welcoming smile and a proffered set of materials
for the service from one of four sidesmen standing just inside
Was your pew comfortable?
A wooden chair with interwoven seat. Unremarkable compared to
everything else about the event.
How would you describe the pre-service
Quiet and contemplative. The service leaflet said that it is their custom to keep silence before services, and it was mostly observed.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Let us proceed in peace," intoned by the deacon before
the processional hymns were sung.
What books did the congregation use during the
New English Hymnal and a specially produced 12-page
A5 leaflet for this particular service.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ. Music is important to this church and the organ is
magnificent and was played superbly. The choir is small but
extremely competent. The church has an illustrious roll call
of former organists, one of whom moved on to be director of
the Royal School of Church Music.
Did anything distract you?
Many, many, many things. The building is superbly ornate and
decorated. This church has the biggest paschal candle I have
ever seen: an eight foot candle on a seven foot high stand.
It stood next to and towered above the pulpit and preacher.
The altar party had their routine for high mass well rehearsed,
but I was amazed by the choreographed movements of figures in
black cassocks and cottas.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
High Anglo-Catholicism at its highest. Slow, stately and majestic
in its execution. Bells, smells and candles off the scale –
I counted 16 tall candles on the high altar and an indeterminate
number of smaller ones. If formation genuflecting is ever to
become an Olympic sport, here is the venue and here is the team,
fully rehearsed. At my usual place of worship, one or two people
genuflect; here, only one or two didnít. The procession around
the church at the beginning took all of the 14 four line verses
of the two processional hymns. A congregation not used to this
style of worship might think it mannered and extreme. However,
this is who they are at All Saints and this is what they do.
For them it didn't seem at all stilted or artificial, but everything
flowed quite naturally. The choir sang the mass setting (a difficult
but rewarding work by Langlais) millisecond-perfect. There was
also a Renaissance anthem, a plainchant responsorial psalm,
and several lengthy hymns for the congregation, all blending
nicely into the overall atmosphere of the service.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 One would expect the dean of the college that trains
priests and readers for the Dioceses of London and Chelmsford
to be an outstanding preacher – and he was!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He elaborated upon the theology of the Ascension. This is not
a key festival like the Incarnation or the Resurrection, but
rather commemorates the transfer of the resurrected body of
Jesus from one dimension of reality to another – the one we
call heaven – in closer proximity to God. The Ascension is
the vindication of humanity and Jesus' taking of humanity in
the Incarnation. In the Incarnation the Word became flesh; in
the Ascension the Word doesn't leave the flesh, but vindicates
Which part of the service was like being in
Heaven joined in! After the processional hymns, the choir began
the entrance chant ("Ye men of Galilee, why stand gazing
up into heaven..."). Just as this finished, an enormous
clap of thunder rolled around the church. You canít argue with
that. As a singer myself, I appreciate the importance of music
in worship; here, the music was superb and an integral part
of the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As we knelt for the prayers, I settled out of habit into my
customary posture, the one that some call the Anglican squat.
This works only with fixed pews, though – I felt the row of
light chairs move smartly backwards, leaving me in a very unnatural
pose. My knees and thighs were in agony by the time the prayers
finished. Penance, I suppose.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I meandered toward the exit from the courtyard, received a limp
handshake from the deacon, and spoke to the preacher, who was
also looking lost. It was his first visit to All Saints too,
and we discovered several things in common. So the visitors
looked after each other. I was amused by the efforts of a six-foot-tall
acolyte with a ten-foot snuffer trying to extinguish that enormous
paschal candle – it took him three tries before he got
How would you describe the after-service
Coffee? The licensed club bar was open following the service.
But I had skipped lunch and was in need of food as well as drink,
so I passed up the opportunity to test the offerings.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I seem to gravitate toward higher rather than lower
churches to visit. The churchmanship here was much higher than
I am used to back home, and the choir sang most professionally.
It was all very much to my liking.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. To see how the Ascension ties in with other Christian teachings
was a joy to experience.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That mega paschal candle!
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