St Mary Magdalene, Paddington

St Mary Magdalene, Paddington, London


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Mystery Worshipper: Barbara Pym
Church: St Mary Magdalene
Location: Paddington, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 July 2012, 9:30am

The building

Red brick Victorian, designed by the 19th century Victorian Gothic Revival architect George Edmund Street and widely regarded as his masterpiece in London. The long, tall narrow design was dictated by the layout of the streets in the area, which have long since been replaced by a modern housing estate. The bell tower, topped by a narrow spire, is perhaps the most striking feature of the church's exterior. Inside, there is a south aisle but only a narrow arcade where one might expect to find a north aisle. The eye is beguiled by lavish decorations, including mosaics, paintings, memorial brasses, beautiful stained glass, and statues of saints under canopies.

The church

Founded in 1865 as a church plant from All Saints Margaret Street, they are now part of the united benefice of St Mary Magdalene and St Peter. They have long prided themselves on their music program. French composer Maurice Duruflé conducted the British premier of his Missa Cum Jubilo here in 1960, and on All Souls' Day 1963 he conducted his Requiem at the church, thus beginning an annual tradition that continues to this day. St Mary Mags is frequently used in location shots for cinema, television, and music videos.

The neighborhood

The church sits on the less smart side of the canal from Little Venice and serves the Warwick and Brindley housing estates.

The cast

The Revd Henry Everett was celebrant and preacher. He was assisted by the Revd Frank Ward (I think - no one was named) and the Revd Regi Raj-Singh.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Mass

How full was the building?

Two minutes before the service started, there were only 20 people present, and I started to wonder if I was in the right church. Even later on, it was never more than one-third full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A sideswoman handed me a service sheet and said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a modern, stackable, wooden seat, that when interlocked made a pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The people who were there were talking to each other, and there was bustling around with people dropping off food at a trestle table, as there was a party after the mass.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A printed service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ.

Did anything distract you?

The service sheet made it clear that incense would be burned, and I have to say that the thurible was one of the smokiest I have ever seen. Many of the women fanned themselves with their service sheets, which somehow reminded me of being in church in Spain.

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

Relaxed Anglo-Catholic with plenty of lace cottas on show, but with an altar party that included women and girls.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

6 – Father Everett finished by saying that there was plenty more that we can say about Mary Magdalene, but that was for another day. I would rather have heard that plenty more than what had preceded it.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown and his ilk have got the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene wrong. But even if it were true that they had a relationship (and there is no evidence that they did), this would make no difference to the nature of Jesus, who was both fully human and fully divine.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The Gloria was that known as the Lourdes Gloria, and the cantor sang it wonderfully.

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

The ladies fanning themselves with their services sheets were very much a distraction.

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

The vicar exchanged a few words with me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was was a huge buffet spread, but as no one invited me to join them, I slipped away.

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

7 – If I lived nearby, I would be happy to worship here. It was touching that it was an Anglo-Catholic church but clearly a parish church serving the local community with none of the pantomime one associates with many of London's other Anglo-Catholic churches.

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 billowing thurible and the fanning service sheets.

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