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|2438: St Thomas
of Canterbury, Fulham, London
© Nigel Cox and used under license
Worshipper: Newman's Own.
The church: St
Thomas of Canterbury, Fulham, London.
The building: This
Gothic Revival church, its exterior a staple of the Victorian
era, is the only complete example of the work of the architect
Augustus Pugin in central London. The interior, clearly a
product of later redecorating, tends to the potpourri, full
of vivid colours that strike the eye with some force. Only
the windows behind the sanctuary are of stained glass. Statues
of Our Lady, the Sacred Heart, and a few saints are not of
high artistic quality. The ceiling features a repeated IHS
motif, and the surrounding wall areas enough fleur-de-lis
images to honour every Marian feast three times over, with
some left over for meditations on the French court were one
so inclined. The building and neighbouring graveyard have
a rather interesting history, accessible on the website.
The church: There
was nothing in the bulletin or announcements that indicated
anything beyond normal parish offerings, such as sacramental
preparation or registration details for the local primary
school. However, the bulletin indicated a temporary reduction
in celebrations of the eucharist, and explained that due to
being short-staffed, rather than eucharistic ministers being
on schedule, parishioners so commissioned would be summoned
from the congregation. The website lists a variety of community
and church groups, but I could not determine what further
ministries the parish may engage in regularly.
The neighbourhood: Fulham
is a residential area of inner west London. The street on
which St Thomas of Canterbury is located has none of the bustle
of nearby Fulham Broadway or the markets on North End Road.
Fulham itself is the sort of "mixed class" neighbourhood
common to many London areas now. Fifteen years ago, the area
was a combination of tiny bed-sits and some expensive flats,
with the affordable housing of the council estates basically
blending in with the beginnings of "yuppie" housing.
Today, many properties in Fulham are quite expensive, though
the less prosperous have not completely disappeared.
The cast: I
heard others refer to the celebrant/homilist as Father Alan,
but his name was not listed in the bulletin. Right before
communion, he requested assistance.
The date & time: Saturday,
25 August 2012, 6.30pm.
What was the name of
How full was the building?
About 40 per cent full.
Did anyone welcome you
I arrived a bit early. As exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
was taking place, no one was anywhere except on their knees.
The priest greeted the people in a restrained fashion after
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
St Thomas's has exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the
hour preceding the evening eucharist. Everyone was very quiet
and reverent. Shortly before the mass began, the priest quoted
from the gospel of John about "my flesh is food indeed,"
then led the congregation in the Divine Praises and a few
other prayers in honour of the Blessed Sacrament, and gave
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Good evening," immediately followed by another,
more emphatic, "Good evening!" when the congregation
did not respond immediately.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Parish mass book and a card with the order of service. Quite
recently, the English text of the mass was revised, and, though
it is far closer to the text of the Latin missa normativa
than past efforts, its being a purely literal translation makes
it very awkward. I particularly noticed this because it has
been some time since I attended a Roman Catholic mass. With
the previous version having been in use since the 1960s, I found
the service sheet necessary it is too easy to repeat
the words one said for over 40 years, and I kept lapsing into
the Anglican responses.
What musical instruments
There was no music at this service. Considering the rather
awkward results when a sung alleluia was attempted before
the gospel, and my previous experience with other RC parishes,
perhaps that was merciful.
Did anything distract
The celebrant regularly added comments and improvised prayers,
some of the former being brief explanations of rubrics. For
example, he said, "Have a seat!" before the scripture
reading, and commented about the text's meaning before the
reading of the gospel. I'm sure some would find this enriching
or helpful, but I found it rather irritating.
John Salmon and used under license
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Somehow, the first word that comes to my mind is "restrained."
There was nothing that struck me. My own tastes in liturgy
are formal, and I prefer quiet, yet I had an impression of
boredom. I was vividly reminded of my own Roman Catholic youth,
when there was great caution about being "distracted"
at the liturgy, and fervour was to be kept in check lest one
seem prideful or superstitious.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
4 The gospel for the day was quite glorious, and the
homilist made a few superb references, which only led to my
greater regret that there were many tangents and a lack of
unity in development. I was sorry that someone so clearly
capable of developing intelligent, soul-stirring, solid theology
had to drown it in other references. I had the strong sense
that I was listening to a priest who could have prepared an
excellent sermon had he done more editing.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
The sermon was especially grounded in the text where Peter
asks: "Lord, to whom shall we go?" Father Alan's
emphasis was on how Jesus' invitation to us remains a matter
of free choice in our response. The three best points in the
sermon were about our freedom to choose and love (a favourite
scholastic emphasis for me); how Jesus so loved us that he
gave himself for us; and a brief but vivid reminder of God
as Trinity. He did mention how important it is for one to
read the scriptures (understandable, since this does not have
a history of being a common RC pursuit), yet he seemed to
be at his wits' end to underline that the RC Church exerts
no force on members. His repetition about how "doors
are not locked from the inside" in the Church, comparisons
of how Jesus does not use force to how totalitarian regimes
do so, references to extreme evangelical groups, plus such
flavouring as stories from his seminary days, seemed to me
more to distract than enrich the listener.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
I particularly liked the honest simplicity of the petitions.
For example, there were blessings asked for the ongoing paralympic
games participants and the government.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
This is a tie between the sermon having three superb sentences
and so much added drivel, and the distracting comments throughout
as noted above.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
The congregation, understandably for relatively late on a
Saturday evening, did not "hang around" at all.
About the most interesting reaction afterward was to a large
cat that had wandered into the narthex.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
4 My visit to this rather obscure church was prompted
by my having heard that John Henry Newman once preached from
its pulpit. However, I'm neither Roman Catholic nor a local
resident. Were I both, I'd gravitate to a location where I could
have more intellectual and aesthetic enrichment.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I especially was reminded inwardly of both the recusants,
who kept their Roman Catholic faith under duress and persecution
from the time of the first Elizabeth to that of the second;
and of the discreet, powerful influence the Romans would have
had during the period in which this parish was built.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Potential not being realised.
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