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|1585: St Agnes,
Kennington Park, London
Worshipper: Ecclesiastical Flip-flop.
Kennington Park, London.
Church of England. St Agnes is under the episcopal care of
This is the sixth church since the foundation of the parish.
The congregation first worshipped in a shed on property occupied
by a vitriol works. Construction began in 1875 on a neo-Gothic
building by George Gilbert Scott, Jr, who also designed the
Cambridge colleges of Christ's, Pembroke and Peterhouse. Scott's
church was outfitted by his apprentice, Temple Lushington
Moore, and included stained glass by Charles Eamer Kempe,
one of the major figures of Victorian decorative art. That
church, thought by many to be the finest Victorian church
by the finest Victorian architect, was bombed in 1941, along
with other churches in the area. Although not as badly damaged
as some others, St Agnes was nevertheless demolished and replaced
by the present building designed by the firm of Covell Matthews
and Partners. Sir John Betjeman, noted for his nostalgia for
Victorian architecture, dedicated the first edition of his
Collins Guide to the English Parish Church to this
and one other church, writing that the old St Agnes Church
was "destroyed by the Diocese of Southwark after some
war damage." The fittings of the present church are from the
old, including the triptych reredos by Temple Moore said to
be based on the golden reredos in the Church of Our Lady,
Oberwesel in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.
St Agnes has been Anglo-Catholic, as well as controversial,
from its inception. Today St Agnes is a Forward in Faith church.
Among the parish ministries and activities are Confraternity
of the Blessed Sacrament, Society of our Lady of Walsingham,
Society of our Lady of Pew, Society of Mary, and Guild of
St Raphael. Solemn mass is sung every Sunday and on holy days
of obligation. Mass is celebrated every weekday except Mondays.
The Rosary is prayed daily, and the sacrament of reconciliation
is administered on Saturdays. The congregation
is a racially mixed community, as is typical of South London,
and they also appear to attract worshippers from near and
The church is just off the Kennington Park Road, on the other
side of the park. It is situated a short walk away from the
Kennington underground station and is also served by several
bus routes. The area is residential, with a variety of dwellings,
and there are shops and offices as well.
Mass was celebrated in the presence of the Rt Revd Christopher
Chessun, Bishop of Woolwich. The Revd Christopher Pearson,
SSC, vicar, was the chief celebrant. There were 15 concelebrants,
including the Revd Prebendary David Houlding, SSC, Master-General
of the Society of the Holy Cross. Bishop Chessun was vested
in cope and mitre and carried a crosier. Father Pearson wore
a gold chasuble and the other concelebrants white chasubles.
The deacon gospeller was vested in a dalmatic. A team of six
servers wore cassocks and cottas, the latter edged with gilt.
There were also two lectors in street clothes.
The date & time:
Saturday, 24 May 2008, 12.00 noon.
What was the name of
Solemn Mass, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the rebuilding of the church following war damage by enemy action.
How full was the building?
Comfortably full, short of a tight squeeze.
Did anyone welcome you
Various people, including the bishop and the vicar, greeted
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pews, comfortable enough for me.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty and unrestrained conversation; some pre-service organ
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
The Angelus was prayed: "The angel of the Lord brought tidings
to Mary..." This was followed by the hymn, "In our day of thanksgiving
one psalm let us offer." Finally the mass itself began
with the sign of the cross.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
A specially printed leaflet containing everything needed.
What musical instruments
The organ. There was an unrobed choir in the gallery.
Did anything distract
The ornate reredos was a distraction. At one point a door
was slammed. The first and last verses of the responsorial
psalm were sung by a woman cantor with a strong Cockney accent
– distinctive but somehow not quite right. The middle
verse was taken by a different cantor, a male.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It was a solemn concelebrated mass with incense, bells and
ceremonial according to the novus ordo rite. The third eucharistic
prayer was used ("Father, you are holy indeed...") Bearing
in mind that Father Pearson is the superior general of the
Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, he knows his onions
when it comes to a correct and orderly celebration of the
mass. The mass was celebrated facing the people and it was
10 candle-power on the reredos behind the free-standing altar.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
8 Well organised, but average, ordinary and uneventful.
He had notes in front of him. He included a quote from Archbishop
Michael Ramsey and said something about his own recent visit
to the United States.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
His text was 1 Kings 8:13 ("I have surely built thee
a house of habitation, a place for thee to dwell in for ever.")
Look around; look out; look up. We are a varied collection
of individuals who serve the local community and witness to
the world. We have a vocation to fulfill: to express to God
the honour due him; to reach up to God in return for his love;
to answer God's call to be his people. Worship of God is Trinitarian
in unity of love. We are fed with the fullness of God. This
year is the 175th anniversary of the Oxford Movement. Mindful
of the differences dividing the Church, we must nevertheless
stand up for the Catholic faith and for orthodoxy.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
It was heavenly all the way through. As I always say about
a mass, the consecration is the nearest thing you can get
to heaven in this world.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
I can truthfully say there was nothing hellish about any part
of the service. With a sermon like that, it was all very far
removed from the "other place." I did, however,
feel somewhat sorry for the bishop, who seemed to be rather
left out – he didn't even give the blessing at the end
of the service. But speaking with the bishop afterward, it
didn't seem to me that he felt particularly sorry for himself.
He seemed satisfied to have said the prayer of dedication
at the foundation stone at the west end of the church. No;
for me the most hellish moment came at benediction, which
had been announced as taking place at 4.00 that afternoon.
After enjoying the top-rate after-service meal that had been
set out (see below), I popped out for a bit and returned at
3.25, in plenty of time (or so I thought) for benediction.
However, they had decided to have it at just after 3.00 instead,
and I arrived just in time for the Tantum ergo. I
hate being late for a church service, but on this occasion
the lateness was not my fault. I felt put out!
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Looking lost!? What for!? This is Ecclesiastical Flip-flop
writing, and as my alias name suggests I get around from place
to place. At a London church like that on such an occasion,
there are people I know all around me. The hellos began outside
walking to the church from the tube station.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Ample sumptuous refreshments had been prepared. I had two
helpings of main courses, two different meat dishes with rice,
and a portion of chocolate cake for pudding – all washed
down with a glass of wine and quite satisfactory coffee afterward.
A commemorative mug was given free of charge to each and every
worshipper as they came away at the end of the proceedings.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
10 This church would suit me down to the ground.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely, in every way.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sumptuous refreshments, although that was not the main
reason for my being there.
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