Christ Church Southgate, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church Southgate
Location: London
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 March 2020, 10:00am

The building

Consecrated in 1862, Christ Church Southgate was designed by the hugely prolific and rather good Victorian church architect George Gilbert Scott in his favourite Early English Gothic style. The spire is a prominent local landmark, and the church with its churchyard trees forms a welcome break in the suburban landscape. Inside, all of the lower windows are filled with handsome stained glass by various studios, including that of William Morris, who replaced church windows all over the country and provided fashionable Victorian families with everything they needed to furnish their homes in the new Arts and Crafts style. There is a wonderfully wide and soaring chancel arch that focusses attention on the altar; this is backed by a richly decorated alabaster reredos.

The church

The church was the first in the episcopal area to sign up for the Eco-church scheme, intended for churches who want to demonstrate that the gospel is good news for God’s earth. Christ Church has been granted bronze and silver awards under the scheme, and they are now going for gold. There are services every day of the week except Monday and, to judge from their website, a range of parish activities.

The neighborhood

Despite its name, Southgate is actually in the northern part of London. This area of Southgate is relatively prosperous and typified by two-storey houses of the early 20th century. It has an established Greek Cypriot community and growing Jewish community. To judge by the number of cars on local roads this Sunday (and the notable absence of pedestrians, in spite of glorious sunshine), the people of Southgate prefer to travel by car; so a good setting for an Eco-church!

The cast

The vicar and curate officiated, assisted by a choir of four women and a server.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?

About 75 people, which made it comfortably populated. I guess more than two-thirds of the congregation were women and most of the crowd were, like me, 55+.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A smiling first welcomer opened the inner door for me. Inside, a second smiling welcomer gave me the service sheet and hymnbook. A welcome well done.

Was your pew comfortable?

A traditional Victorian pew, comfortable in every respect.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quite a lot of chat in a subdued way, while the organist played quietly what I took to be an improvisation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning. We are following the advice of the Diocese of London ...’ There then followed recommended precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 virus: no intinction for communion, please, and at the peace no obligation to shake hands. We were assured that the priests and chalice assistants would be using hand sanitiser. If we did not wish to take the chalice, we could leave the altar after receiving the bread.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

New English Hymnal and service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ, built by JW Walker and Sons in 1870, and enlarged and restored by the same firm several times since.

Did anything distract you?

The first reading was given by a lady with a pronounced Edinburgh accent. As Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden, she made the serpent (SAIR-pentt) sound so much more sly and enticing!

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

We used Common Worship words, and much of the service was sung to a folk mass tune. There was a gospel procession but no incense. The choir sang the Agnus Dei and an anthem on their own. There were four hymns selected from the better known numbers in the New English Hymnal. In the prayers of the people, we prayed for the nearby synagogue and their rabbi as well as more usual intercessions.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

7 — The priest managed to tie creation and temptation in with the Eco-church scheme.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Old Testament reading (Adam and Eve fall to temptation) and the gospel (Christ's temptation in the wilderness) led to the thought that creation was not one event; God's voice is continuing in creation. On this, the first Sunday in Lent, we might reflect on the gift of the planet and tie this to the efforts of Christ Church Southgate as an Eco-church. Do ‘little things’ with consciousness and devotion through Lent.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The bright winter sun was streaming through the stained glass windows.

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

A sound that I thought at first was the organ wind system turned out to be a tea urn that periodically sighed into action to heat the water. This is far from hellish and more of a minor distraction.

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

Two ladies nearby asked me if I was a visitor, and one of them asked if I was staying for coffee. I think most people assumed I was listening to the post-service organ music (yes, even in Lent!), which was Bach.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

In disposable cups with biscuits on the side. Given how seriously they take that sort of thing, my guess is that the disposables were not plastic.

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

7 — This is not my part of town, but it is a friendly congregation where I would feel welcome again should I be in Southgate.

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


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

Praying for the nearby synagogue and their rabbi.

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