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|1813: St Cyprian's,
Clarence Gate, Marylebone, London
Worshipper: Cool Dude.
Clarence Gate, Marylebone, London.
Church of England, Diocese
The decent but unremarkable red brick exterior of the church
in no way prepares you for the interior, which is much loftier
than you expect and exceptionally beautifully furnished. White
walls and a high arcade remind one of one of the great East
Anglian medieval churches. But crucially, this looks like one
that did not lose all its fittings in the Reformation and later.
The screen, English altar and other fittings are rich but understated;
nothing is for show alone, but everything done to emphasise
liturgical purpose. It was all designed by Sir Ninian Comper
in the early years of the 20th century and is probably his early
I understand that over the last 20 years this parish has been
troubled by dissent, semi-detachment from the hierarchy, and
crises of various sorts. I came to mass open-minded to take
it as it is today – and found it in interregnum and with
a small congregation. I had read much on the parish's excellent
website, which gives not only details of services and the usual
information, but has links to photos, for the Comper fans, and
an excellent explanation of why liturgy matters entitled, "An
Introduction to Our Worship and Practice," set out
in clear jargon-free language.
Situated at the end of a gloomy row of mansion flats, just off
Baker Street, this is a prosperous but rather soul-less part
of London. It is not one of London's villages, but an area with
many tourists, hotels, offices, and nondescript streets. Apart
from tourists on the Sherlock Holmes trail, there were few pedestrians
as I made my way to church. I would guess that most attending
St Cyprian's would have come from further afield, and since
the church is a short step from Baker Street Underground station
that's easy enough.
The Revd John Barrie, who was standing in, as the parish is
in interregnum. An altar party of three, all vested in albs.
The date & time:
Sunday, 13 September 2009, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
When I arrived there were just six dotted around a spacious
church, and I rather wondered whether I was and hour late or
too early. A trickle of latecomers brought the total to 18.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but there was, I think, someone on duty who was chatting
to another arrival. I helped myself from the stack of handouts.
Was your pew comfortable?
Comper disliked pews and always furnished his churches with
chairs, feeling that pews represented the worst aspects of English
churchgoing that developed in the 18th century. Whatever were
originally provided, we sat on oak wooden chairs of attractive
1960s design that fitted in well. They were not wobbly or noisy,
and comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service
Silence was kept.
What were the exact opening words of the
A plainsong introit was followed by the Sign of the Cross.
What books did the congregation use during the
New English Hymnal, a service booklet (traditional
language), and a sheet with today's readings.
What musical instruments
Organ in the west gallery. There were two cantors with strong
voices up there too (or was one the organist doubling up?).
They helped greatly, given the tiny congregation.
Photo by Br Lawrence Lew, OP
Did anything distract
There were several young children who behaved themselves impeccably
throughout the service. However, two babes-in-arms made non-stop
noise. They called for their mothers, cried, shouted, and blew
juicy raspberries. They wailed as we sang responses and hymns,
they interrupted the sermon and readings so that they were substantially
inaudible. They were seated behind me, so what attempts their
parents were making to calm them I know not; but whatever effort
there was didn't succeed, nor did their parents remove them
from church to calm them down. There is a dilemma here. This
kind of service is going to bore and frustrate babes-in-arms,
who are going to require attention, noisily demanding it if
they don't get it. A parish like this which is evidently short
on personnel can scarcely justify a creche, but a room where
the babies can be noisy offstage seems to me the only way. If
this essential provision is not made, the worship and sense
of prayer is quite lost for the rest of those present. I could
not even hear about one-third of the service for the noise of
the two babies. And what's more, they were in far better voice
than the congregation when singing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Traditional language. The priest celebrated facing east and
there was no nave altar, though the altar party sat west of
the screen until going to the high altar for the Gloria. The
screen doesn't obstruct a clear view of the high altar, which
is on of Comper's signature English altars – that is, a recreation
of what one might have found in about 1450, with side hangings,
dossal, and richly gilded tester. Incense but no flummery. It
was all serious and not too much for show, just as the setting
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 based on what I could hear over infant cries.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He preached about good teaching and the revelation of divine
purpose as the product of the highest form of teaching – that
which actively enables discovery. And of the need to practice
what one teaches, to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Which part of the service was like being in
Going up into the sanctuary from the nave to take communion,
an approach to a holy place. I do so value this. When nave altars
are used it is a moment that is lost.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Noisy babes – see above, at length!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Coffee was offered and there was a pile of expectant cups, but
I couldn't actually see anyone pouring. I chatted briefly to
the priest and left, as did most people, I think.
How would you describe the after-service
Available but passed over.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 If the service were uninterrupted and audible it would
be right up there on my list.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The beauty of the church interior.
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