St John the Evangelist, E Dulwich

St John the Evangelist, East Dulwich, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John the Evangelist
Location: East Dulwich, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 May 2016, 8:00am

The building

The prominent red spire is one of the most recognisable features of the Dulwich skyline. A Grade 2 listed building, it was originally built in the mid 19th century, but underwent significant restoration in the 1950s. Inside, the contrast between the white walls and pillars against wooden beams gives it a very light and airy feel. The silverware has recently had a thorough polish, which was very well done and it gleamed brightly.

The church

They are just about to come out of a period of interregnum, with the Revd Gill O'Neill taking over in July. They have a wide variety of ministries, including but not limited to a women's ministry, a men's ministry, a silent prayer group, a food bank, and a forthcoming pilgrimage to Winchester Cathedral.

The neighborhood

The church more or less marks the border where East Dulwich ends and Peckham begins. Sat on the corner of Goose Green, it is a rare piece of greenery in London, next to a fairly busy play park, used by many a young family who inhabit the area. The main road, Lordship Lane, has undergone gentrification in recent years and is now home to a wide variety of restaurants and gastropubs, as well as some of London's most famous cheese shops, butchers and fishmongers.

The cast

The service was led by the assistant priest, the Revd Anne Clarke, who also preached.

What was the name of the service?

Said Mass

How full was the building?

We only used the Lady chapel, off to one side of the church. The 18 people there made the chapel about half full, but the couple of hundred empty seats in the nave was a reminder of how few we were. I was told that it was an unusually large number of people for the 8.00am service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was handed some literature when I walked in. I was only the third person in and it wasn't clear where to sit. I studiously followed the other two over to the far corner of the church, which is home to the Lady chapel. Shortly after I took my seat, the Revd Anne spotted me as a newcomer and came over to greet me.

Was your pew comfortable?

We sat on individual wooden seats that were the very antithesis of comfort.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet but friendly. Everyone knew everyone else and greeted one another warmly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and a warm welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

We alternated between a well-thumbed booklet of liturgy and a weekly service sheet, though it wasn't clear which one was supposed to be used at any one time, resulting in a certain amount of fumbling on my part.

What musical instruments were played?

There was no music. The large pipe organ on the right hand side of the church, a JW Walker opus, remained silent.

Did anything distract you?

There was one young family whose two little ones were, for want of a better phrase, stealing the show with some very cute antics. I also noticed that some of the paint on the walls near me was peeling off quite severely.

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

Fairly conservative; middle to high candle. The Revd Anne was sporting a very striking gold coloured chasuble. The liturgy was chanted with a monotonous dourness that appeals to some, but which others find life-sapping. Just when I think I'm getting used to Anglicanism with the standard refrain of "And also with you," it was here changed to "And with thy soul," which rather threw me.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

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

6 – The Revd Anne didn't give herself enough time to go into any depth, but she is a very clear communicator.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Trinity. Her text (John 17:20-26 – "that all may be one") was apparently not the "right" one for today but does contain suggestions of the unity of the Trinity within in. The idea of the Trinity is only hinted at in the New Testament and was not developed until the 4th century with the creeds. The three Persons of the Trinity can be understood as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The giving of the peace was indicative of much of my interaction with the congregation, who were universally welcoming and friendly.

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

The service sheet. It was printed almost entirely in Comic Sans Serif. It offends me even now, sat next to me as I write up my notes!

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

Several people came up to chat briefly. One of the toddlers then directed everyone toward the door, which has apparently become something of a tradition within this church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There were no refreshments on offer.

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

5 – It was lovely to visit, but I found the service a bit dry. There's another morning service at 10.00am that might be more to my taste.

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 strong sense of community.

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