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  1015: St Jude's, Clapton Park, London

St Jude's, Clapton Park, London

Mystery Worshipper: Rosamundi.
The church: St Jude's, Clapton Park, East London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Fairly typical modern Catholic church, in the middle of a row of post-war terraced houses. Very plain inside, but very bright, thanks to big plain glass windows and pale blue and cream walls.
The church community: It really was most extraordinarily difficult to find out the service times. I didn't want to phone up and hence risk blowing my cover, so a fellow Shipmate offered to phone up for me. But the phone call went unanswered. How much trouble would it be to have an answering machine message that says, "Mass times are as follows..."? Finally, I browsed to the diocesan website to learn the church address, and then I had to go to a different website to discover the service times.
The neighbourhood: This is one of the most deprived areas in the country. However, the local council has undertaken a massive regeneration project, with 15 tower blocks recently demolished and replaced with more traditional housing.
The cast: The Rev. Neil Hannigan, plus unidentified readers.

What was the name of the service?
Sung mass with baptism, fifth Sunday of Easter.

How full was the building?
Full. I estimate the main body of the church could seat 150, with room for 25 more upstairs.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived ridiculously early due to the vagaries of London Transport, so I was already in my seat as the majority of people were arriving. A nun said hello to me as she sat down. The only other acknowledgement I got was from people excusing themselves as they tried to slide past me into the pew.

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden pew with kneeler. The kneelers were well padded and therefore much more comfortable than the ones in my usual church.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A great deal of quiet but persistent chatter, with some crying babies. The door into the main body of the church slammed distractingly if you weren't careful closing it, which a few people weren't.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
A very badly out of tune hymn, Open your ears, O Christian people, followed by the priest saying, "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?
Celebration Hymnal and a leaflet giving the readings and responses.

What musical instruments were played?
Guitar. The church has a lovely organ, but I don't think anybody in the parish can play it. The organ console sits near the altar, and one of the servers fiddled with it briefly before mass but then became bored and turned it off.

Did anything distract you?
I kept thinking that dark red roses would not have been my flower of choice against a pale blue wall. That, and the singing. I know Catholics can't sing, but this was pretty bad, even by the lowest of standards. The woman playing guitar struggled valiantly with a congregation that generally didn't join in until the second verse of any hymn, and then trailed along about half a beat behind. The Catholic Church must be the last refuge of 1960s folk hymns such as This Little Light of Mine. I haven't sung that since I was 10, and I disliked it even then.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard low Catholic mass – no incense, for instance. Fairly stiff upper lip, with singing that alternated between bouncy and dirge-like.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I kept wanting to leap to my feet and yell, "Stand up straight and stop leaning on the lectern!"

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about going home and our quest for spiritual identity. The Lord has called us home to him in the eucharist, which is a homecoming unlike any other because everyone is free and equal before God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a little girl aged about two being baptised, and her family seemed very joyful that they were taking this important step in faith.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being ignored by everyone except the aforementioned nun.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
For the Pope, the sick, and those who had died recently, and for the girl being baptised and her family.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The nun said hello to me and asked if I was new to the area. Other than that, the only words I heard from anyone were "Excuse me." I was obviously in their way as they hurried off to wherever it was they were off to.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
If there was any, I failed to find it, and everyone else was too busy excusing themselves to tell me where it was.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I happen to think that the coffee hour after mass is very important as a place to get to know your fellow parishioners. If there isn't any, and everyone's too busy rushing off home, then newcomers get overlooked.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did – mainly thanks to the joy of the family of the girl who was being baptised.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The way the little girl accepted the water being poured on her with complete aplomb.
 
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