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2670: St Mary le Strand, London
St Mary le Strand, London (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: St Mary le Strand, London.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of London.
The building: The site where the present church stands was occupied in medieval times by Strand Cross, the origin of which is unclear. A church dating from the 13th century, also called St Mary le Strand, stood slightly to the south but was pulled down in 1549. In 1711, Parliament authorised the building of 50 new churches in the fast expanding suburbs of London, and so work began on the "replacement" St Mary le Strand in 1714. It is the first public building of the highly respected 18th century architect James Gibbs. A very tall church, it was renovated in 1989 (the balcony was removed, among other changes). The flooring is wood, with red carpeting covering it. There is a high brown wooden pulpit that looks really lovely! On the day of my visit there were lots of pretty flowers shown above at the top, and coloured lights at the front.
The church: It is said to be one of the oldest parishes in London. They are the official church of the Women's Royal Naval Service, the Women's Royal Naval Reserve and the Association of Wrens. Their mission action plan is (quoting from their website) "committed to serving God's love in a world city." They are open to visitors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and celebrate a sung eucharist on Thursdays as well as Sundays.
The neighbourhood: Until the Reformation, the Strand was mainly the home of bishops and princes. Today it is one of London's principal thoroughfares. It is quite near to the river and has always been a fashionable promenade for the smart set. There is also a lot of hustle and bustle about, with many cars, bicycles and buses. Lots of shops, restaurants and theatres.
The cast: The Revd Patrick Allsop, Chaplain and Head of Theology and Philosophy at St Paul's School, was the visiting celebrant. The position of rector is currently vacant.
The date & time: Second Sunday in Lent, 16 March 2014, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Solemn Eucharist.

How full was the building?
About 30 people – a goodly mix of children and adults, male and female, and some elderly people. It was not completely full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter at the front welcomed me with a smile and a hello. And when I sat down, others smiled and talked to me. At the end, the minister also smiled at me and chatted.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a really nice pew with brown wood and lovely blue soft cushions to kneel on.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We arrived a little early before the service started. The organist was playing some lovely selections, and people were checking hymns and speaking to each other as they arrived.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal and Order for the Solemn Eucharist for the Season of Lent. Also a handout entitled The Season of Lent that had the psalm and other readings.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. There was a piano there too but it was not used. One woman, dressed in white, also sang to us.

Did anything distract you?
People were prayed for and I felt very sad and distracted remembering many who were ill and had died as well as people across the world being killed.

St Mary le Strand, London (Pulpit)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
We all sang well and stood still as we sang. The numbers of the hymns to sing were put up in front of us. I enjoyed greeting others as we exchanged the peace.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Patrick Allsop spoke well and could be heard clearly – unlike some other churches where it is difficult to hear!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Belief leads us from the blackness of night into the light of day, the dazzling light of truth. There is greatness for us in God's word. Rejoice in what Christ has done. Come to a faithfulness in God. Really think about it always. Divine power rescues us from evil.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Taking communion. It always reminds me of Jesus' commandment to eat and drink in memory of him.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Jesus won heaven for us, but what about those who do not believe in the power of Christ? Will they go down to hell and stay there? The very thought upsets me!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Many people chatted with me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We had tea and coffee and bits of sweet food. It all tasted lovely. And it was lovely just being there together, all of us. Some literature was offered for sale.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I really felt happy to be in this church. I am not near it but I would love to belong to it if I were close.

St Mary le Strand, London (Ceiling)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt glad to be a Christian and felt happy that Jesus, Father and Spirit love me and love us all.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How lovely the church looked and how blessed we are to be able to read the Bible.
 
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