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  1062: All Soul's Place, Langham Place, London

All Soul's Place, Langham Place, London

Mystery Worshipper: Arthur Dent.
The church: All Soul's, Langham Place, London W1 (map).
Denomination: Church of England (not made clear on any website or in church).
Comment: We have received comments on this report.
The building: All Souls was designed and built in the early 1820s by John Nash, a Regency period architect who laid out Regent's Street, Regent's Park and other areas of London. The church, with its circular tower, sharply pointed steeple and warehouse-like church building, was mocked and satirised when it was first built.
The church community: The church is famous as a solidly evangelical church of the old school. The evangelical author, John Stott, was rector here for 25 years. All Souls has extensive ministries for children, young people, students, families, people working in the area around the church, and so on. Organ recitals and concerts featuring the All Souls Orchestra are also regulars in the output of All Souls. "There's the Bible... and music! The two go together" as former rector Richard Bewes helpfully explains. The church also offers its own Alpha-type course, called Christianity Explored, which is "for people who'd like to investigate Christianity, or just brush up on the basics".
The neighbourhood: All Souls is just north of Oxford Circus and next door to BBC Broadcasting House – also a building of note! – and near to numerous coffee shops and restaurants. It is about five minutes amble from the tube station, and provided many amusements on the way to church. The church was signposted from the tube station, which was helpful, as my sense of direction is not usually very good!
The cast: Jago Wynne, the associate minister (workplace), and Rupert Higgins, who preached.

What was the name of the service?
11.30am guest service.

How full was the building?
The building was nearly full. There were a few spare seats dotted around, and this was about 15 minutes before the service started.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, as I approached the church there were lots of people sitting on the steps to the church which was a little intimidating. I walked into the church and affected looking lost. I was handed a notice sheet by a welcomer wearing an almost fake smile, and given no directions where to sit. I sat down at the end of a row of chairs. There was no more interaction with anyone between then and the end of the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was a well-padded chair which had a convenient stand for a Bible and notebook. All the chairs contained a pen to fill in the church contact sheet. Mine was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The atmosphere before the service was reverently chatty, with no excessive noise. People were talking with friends about their week. However, I was not noticed or welcomed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to All Soul's Church, Langham Place."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Every chair came complete with a Bible. The service was printed on the notice sheet, which made it very easy to follow.

What musical instruments were played?
There was a choir (four part and soloist), a flute, a sax and an organ. The organ is a four-manual Harrison & Harrison with a detached console.

Did anything distract you?
The Roman-style decoration in the church, which included marble columns at the front with gold swirls around the side, and a painting of Jesus entitled "Ecco Homo". It looked like a film set which had been rejected for Ben Hur. The painting was apparently presented to the church by King George IV on completion of the building.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was the highlight of the service: there was a polished four-part choir and orchestra, and the members gave the impression that they were worshipping. The conductor was obviously having a good time conducting both the congregation and the choir. The soloist was also excellent. The worship included a mixture of songs, modern and older. The modern ones were sung in the same style as the hymns, which was amazing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
22 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The speaker was short and to the point, and made good use of humour.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was called "Good news to die for", and was based on Mark 8:27 and the following verses: "If anyone wants to be my disciple, they should take up their cross and follow me." Rupert Higgins talked about how Jesus attracted people by doing the opposite of what we would expect – he gave himself away. We can "find ourselves" by doing things to serve others, and not necessarily by travelling (he was making a point about those who go overseas to "find themselves"). Studies show that the people who are most satisfied are those who give themselves away.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The worship was professional, but done with the right attitude. The sermon was just the right length, and had interesting points to consider.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lack of welcome from start to finish.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
I was impressed by the prayers for the general election, that wise and godly people would be elected. There was no "party political broadcast". There was also no mention of the Pope, which I found a little disappointing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The two people sitting beside me started a conversation, and introduced themselves to each other. One of them said, "I don't yet know anyone and I have been coming about four weeks." I went downstairs and bought a coffee, sat down and looked lost. Someone came and spoke to me briefly, but when their friend arrived, they left me very quickly. I didn't notice the vicar actively looking out for new people, even though he had said twice from the platform that "everyone is warmly welcome". I didn't see any real evidence of this.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Awful. It was too cool, too strong and tasted stewed. I didn't think it was very good value for money. I would prefer to make a donation for coffee in church, or for the coffee to be free, which is more common in my experience. Also available were "trinity" biscuits, which were only available in packets of three!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – Not likely! I didn't feel welcome as a visitor and got the impression that their main "target" congregation were students or those on overseas experience. There were no noticeably older people in the congregation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Mostly: the worship and speaker were good, as I have mentioned above.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The conductor really enjoying himself!
 
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