St Clement's, Prague, Czech Republic


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Clement's
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 March 2018, 11:00am

The building

A Neo-Gothic structure, one of the older churches in Prague, dating back to possibly about 1065. In the 18th century it was used as a miller's granary until it was bought by the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren, from whom the St Clement's congregation rents the building to this day. Major reconstruction took place over the years, which in the 1970s revealed 14th century wall paintings in the chancel area depicting Jesus' Way of the Cross. The apse impressed me as being rather stark, with a large pulpit but not a cross in sight!

The church

St Clement's brings together the English speaking congregation of Prague. There is a Lent study group that meets in the week. The church also supports the work of the Salvation Armys programs for the homeless in Prague by having wheelie bins at the back of church for donations of clothes and food. They describe themselves as a "safe church" where (quoting from their website) "all people, especially those who may be vulnerable, for any reason, are able to worship and pursue their faith journey in safety." They regularly sponsor concerts and host guest choirs from elsewhere in the English speaking world – the Leeds University Chamber Choir are scheduled to take part in the upcoming Maundy Thursday service. They also hold services in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic.

The neighborhood

The church is in a residential part of Prague – nothing much else to say about the neighbourhood.

The cast

The celebrant and preacher was the Revd Nathanial, interim chaplain (no mention of his surname anywhere). The organ was played by Michal Novenko, professor of improvisation and musical theory at the Prague Conservatory and a well known concert organist.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?

It felt comfortable, but there was room for many more. I counted thirty-six adults and five children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I seemed to arrive in the confusion of a previous Czech speaking congregation leaving and the Anglicans trying to sort out the space. So no immediate welcome. I managed to pick up the needed books from a pile and find a pew. The sideswoman did come and say hello and welcomed me shortly after making sure I had all the right books.

Was your pew comfortable?

So-so. Short seat and very straight upright back, but there was a padded runner to make it more comfortable and ... (part of what was like being in heaven!).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was busy, with people rushing around getting things ready, and others greeting each other and chatting in the aisles. It quietened down when the organist started playing an improvisation on the first hymn, "Lift high the Cross."

What were the exact opening words of the service?

At 11.05 people were still standing chatting at the front of church (I'll have more to say about this below)! The service started with the first hymn, which ran straight from improvisation to us standing up and singing it – thankfully only six of the eleven verses, plus chorus. The priest started with, "Please take the blue order of service book and turn to page 3." He then mentioned what a wonderful day it was and that St Patrick's Day had been the day before.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Complete Anglican Hymns Old & New; Holy Communion for the Season of Lent, Order 1, Contemporary Language (a home-grown affair); and the weekly news sheet with the collect and readings printed.

What musical instruments were played?

A fine three-manual organ that sounded magnificent. The church claims that Mozart did not play it, but Dr Albert Schweitzer did!

Did anything distract you?

The Creed. I left wondering if I was now a heretic or should I join the Eastern Church! The Holy Spirit only proceeded from the Father – there was no Filioque. Also, the starkness of the apse, the absence of a cross, and people still standing and chatting past service time were rather distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Middle-of-the-road Anglicanism: priest vested in alb and stole, but no servers.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes – and a 2 minute childrens talk from the Sunday School teacher before this.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – Very much read from a script but with some emotion woven in. It should be available to listen to on-line from the church's website soon. I'm going to give the children's talk a 10, though.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Children's talk: The Sunday school teacher said that he had once put a child in detention and the child told him he should go and see The Wizard of Oz. Why? "Because you need a new heart!" the child replied. Adult sermon: Jesus Christ the perfect High Priest and King. How Paul's epistle to the Hebrews is in its entirety a long sermon that relates the Old Testament to the fulfillment of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The organ playing both before and after (thankfully they don't stop this for Lent) was magnificent. The intercessions, led by a member of the congregation, had to be the best, most thought provoking, and most beautifully written that I've ever heard. The under-pew heating – it worked beautifully. It had been snowing and was very cold outside, but this was a real treat to sit on a hot seat.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

One thing that gets me going is services starting late. We were almost 10 minutes after the advertised start time before we stood to sing the opening hymn. If I hadn't been enjoying the organ improvisation, I might have left. And just before the peace, the priest asked any visitors to stand and introduce themselves. I find that horrible, and I didn't do it. Again, if I'd been pressured into doing it, I would have left.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The man sitting behind me chatted to me for a few minutes. Then there was a queue to shake hands and say good-bye to the priest.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

This was described as coffee hour in the news sheet, so I was put off from the start but thought I would go. However, because the service didn't finish until 12.25, I was already running late for lunch. And as I was queuing up to say good-bye to the Revd Nathanial, he said to the person in front (who was a regular), "Are you going for coffee? I will see you over there." However, he extended no such invitation to me, and after exiting the church I wasn't exactly clear where it was anyway, so I was let off the coffee hour.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – I would certainly make it my church if I lived in Prague. The music would be a big draw, and I am sure I could get used to the things that annoyed me so. Best of all, I would no longer be asked to stand up as a newcomer.

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


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The children's talk.

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