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  1078: St Mary Newington, Kennington, London

St Mary Newington, London

Mystery Worshipper: Ford Prefect.
The church: St Mary Newington, 57 Kennington Park Road, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: There has been a church here since Norman times, but the 1876 model was destroyed in an air raid on 10 May 1941. The 1876 tower now fronts (and masks) a 1958 replacement. If you're a fan of 1950s austerity architecture, you'll love it. If you're not, go inside, as it only gets stranger! If this church were an episode of Friends, it would be "The one with the suspended Pyx".
The church community: This seems an unusually diverse congregation. All ages and races seemed to be represented; the young in unusually high numbers.
The neighbourhood: The parish is the archetypal gritty urban mix ' a multilingual, multiracial combination of affluence and poverty, cheek by jowl.
The cast: Father Andrew Dodd, the rector, with intercessions by Father Emmanuel Francis.

What was the name of the service?
10am parish mass and holy baptism.

How full was the building?
I counted about 100; mostly from the native congregation, but leavened with about 25 per cent of attendees at the baptism of Persephone Jane Francis Adamson, who was very much the star of the show.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I came in through a door at the front of the church and took a pew. A lady behind me pointed me to the west door where two more ladies fell over one another to give me a smile and my books and service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?
The conventional looking pew was unusually comfortable and spacious, perhaps a legacy of 1950s design rather than the standard Victorian knee-cracker.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
In a word, bustling. A whole gang of people of every age and race, but no determinate role, were bimbling hither and yon very purposefully. Those who weren't bustling were gossiping. Reverend silence it wasn't, but it wasn't unpleasant or disrespectful either.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St Mary's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New, a bespoke parish mass leaflet, a separate leaflet for the baptism and a sheet of notices with the text of the readings and collect. On the back of this sheet was a short piece by the rector on the election of Pope Benedict XVI and the "disappointment the selection... will cause to open minded catholics, particularly women." This short piece was of very high quality indeed. I've saved it.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ of, I guess, 1950s vintage or later. And very well it was played too. A small but unusually competent choir boosted the hymns and sang some sections of the service.

Did anything distract you?
I was fascinated, and therefore rather distracted, by several rather restless small children in the pews in front of me. But they were a welcome distraction from the job of keeping track of a hymn book and three leaflets, all of which fell onto the floor at the least convenient moments.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was hard core Anglo-catholocism: asthma inducing amounts of incense, bells and no one without robes inside the alter rail.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – It was well conceived and delivered, although the rector is not a commanding presence, either physically or vocally.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
New beginnings. The sermon wove the election of the Pope, the rite of baptism and the goings-on in the church's children into communion class into an easy listening melange, albeit without a crystal clear, take-home message.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The congregation were invited by the rector to welcome the newly baptised Persephone "in the traditional way", and a thunderous round of applause followed. Somehow it fitted, even in the midst of so much high church ceremonial.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sheer amount of paperwork I was expected to juggle drove me nuts.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
All the usual suspects featured, along with the Pope and a special mention of the African diocese from which Father Emmanuel is visiting.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have time to look lost. I was shepherded to the adjacent parish hall for coffee. For the guests at the baptism, that turned into an excellent lunch, and I made my way back to the tube some hours later, and slightly unsteadily!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair trade tea and coffee, plus biscuits.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I'd be there like a shot. The congregation "own" this church. It feels like they believe they are truly the body of Christ.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes, although I cried all the way through the baptism (I always do!).

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The rector leading a rendition of happy birthday in honour of several members of the congregation.
 
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