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  1059: All Hallows by the Tower, London

All Hallows by the Tower, London

Mystery Worshipper: Mary Margarine.
The church: All Hallows by the Tower, Byward Street, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A church building has been here since the year 675. It survived the great fire of London which started nearby, but much of it was destroyed in the Second World War. From the inside, the rebuilt roof looks like an inverted boat – this is intentional, hinting at the church's many nautical connections. There's a lot of brass on show – in fact it is (apparently) one of only two churches in London to offer brass rubbing to visitors. There is also a museum in the crypt. The pew sheet stated: "If you want to see the crypt museum after the service, one of the sidesmen will guide you through the Crypt Experience."
The church community: The church's main impetus is "Living the gospel today in the community", says the website. This means it ministers to tourists, people who work in the city during the week, and others.
The neighbourhood: All Hallows is next door to the Tower of London. This means lots of tourists around and a fair sprinkling of tacky places for them to eat. On the other side of the church is Tower Place, a large, glass plaza presumably containing offices. A security man is paid to loiter in the vast concrete forecourt of Tower Place. He eyed me suspiciously as I was taking photographs and generally looking slightly shifty.
The cast: The celebrant, preacher and intercessor was Rev. Canon David Driscoll. Rev. Gualter de Mello, who I think must have been some kind of visiting celebrity priest, was the concelebrant. I learnt by observation that this meant he said bits of the liturgy under his breath from time to time.

What was the name of the service?
Sung eucharist.

How full was the building?
At first I thought it was going to be largely empty. But people drifted in bringing the total number of attendees up to a healthy... what, was I supposed to count them?

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The man on the door was enthusiastic when he found out I was coming to the service. He told me to grab a seat at the front so I could hear everything. I suppose I do look slightly old and hard of hearing. Other people didn't hesitate to welcome me during the peace and after the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden pew, possibly slightly broader and therefore perhaps marginally more comfortable than the average. I think I saw one or two people sitting on kneelers, but I can't be sure and made no further enquiries at the time.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a certain amount of chattering among those who'd come early to get a back pew. Most people sat quietly as the organ played.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A warm welcome to our service, a special welcome to any visitors who might have joined us, also a special welcome to Reverend Gualter de Mello who has joined us for our AGM."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service sheet was a yellow covered Common Worship eucharist booklet, which included the music for the sung bits. The hymn book was the New English Hymnal. There were no Bibles in the pews, in fact I didn't see any anywhere, but then I'm not that observant.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ was the only instrument used. However, there was a buzzing noise which made everyone stand up at the beginning of the service immediately before the priests, etc., processed in. I'm not sure how the noise was made – if it wasn't the organ it could perhaps have been some form of nautical apparatus. I may never know.

Did anything distract you?
Someone nearby said the spoken bits of the liturgy with feeling and enthusiasm. I found this rather distracting as I prefer to join in with the responses with a half-hearted mumble.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was formal Anglican. I'd estimate about five-eighths of the way up the candle, slightly higher than the average.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The preacher spoke clearly and well. That said, I tend on the whole not to find preaching the most engaging form of communication, so a 7 was about as high as anyone was going to get. I did, however, notice a range of boats hanging from the ceiling.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He explained why a reading for the last supper appears in the lectionary after Easter, but I can't quite remember what the reasons were. The theme linked in with preparations for the church's new vicar, Bertrand, who will arrive in July, but once again, I forget how. In one sentence: "Having faith in each other, faith in Bertrand, and faith in God."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The genuine sense of community there was among members of the congregation, particularly demonstrated during the peace. In addition, a lady complimented me on my coiffure. I blushed.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
People who walked in during the sermon and sat near the front in a distracting fashion. If you're going to be late, sit at the back or at least to the side. I also thought I'd lost the Mystery Worshipper card I had so carefully placed in a collection envelope. I spent a lot of time rummaging through all my pockets trying not to draw undue attention to myself. The need to rewrite the calling card on the back of a used bus ticket was only narrowly averted when I found the card at the last minute. It was under the hymn book all along. It's not easy, this Mystery Worshipper lark, you know.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The intercessions included prayers for the new Pope and the fact that it was Poverty Sunday. Trade justice, debt relief and Third World aid all got a mention.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The person next to me in the pew introduced themselves to me after the service and was very friendly and welcoming. I then loitered at the back for only a few moments before someone else came and chatted with me and invited me to have some coffee. I didn't hang around too long after I'd had the coffee as the AGM was beginning and I didn't want to get accidentally voted onto the PCC.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was served in a plastic cup with holder at an appropriate temperature. I don't think it was fairly traded. I didn't see any cakes and cookies. Oh... actually there might have been some basic biscuits. Observation really isn't my strong point. There was an art exhibition to look at in the coffee area to the side of the church.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I would go here if it was nearer to where I live. Or if I lived nearer to where it is. I felt very welcomed. There might not be a huge number of people of my age group here, but the sense of community made that feel unimportant.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Apart from the stress of being a Mystery Worshipper and remembering to notice the right things at the right time and look at my checklist under my coat in a dubious fashion... I'd say the welcome I received.
 
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