Mystery Worshipper: Jacobsen
Church: St Alban's
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 August 2009, 10:30am
This is a smallish spired church, very attractive both outside and in. The entrance leads to a very narrow corridor, which with visitors and incoming congregation gets easily congested. Inside, the church is half tiled to a height of about five feet, and red brick from then up. There are some lovely old stained glass windows; I was sitting under the one dedicated by the British residents of Copenhagen in celebration of 60 glorious years of Queen Victoria's reign!
St Alban's is known as "the English church" but ministers to mixed Danish/English families and those non-Danish who speak English but whose own church may not be represented in Copenhagen. There is also a large floating population (like myself this week) who come as visitors. It is a real community, sporting all the features of a typical Anglican church: prayer groups, children's groups, etc. During the last week of August each year they put on their summer fete, featuring food, music, crafts, morris dancers, bagpipes, and an organ recital; I was sorry to be missing that!
The church is set in Churchills Parken, a green and watery corner of Copenhagen within walking distance of the Little Mermaid statue. At first sight it's not a particularly residential area, until one realises that most of the shops also include apartments on the floors above. The immediate impression on a sunny August Sunday morning was of tourists and bicycles.
The Revd Jonathan Lloyd, chaplain, assisted by a lady and a gentleman who read the lessons. The chaplain had only been in post for a week and was heard to murmur that people kept coming with questions he didn't know the answer to.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist with Baptism (1662 Prayer Book).
How full was the building?
Very full from the back, with bodies rather more spaced out toward the front. There were many children attached to the baptismal party.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
This was interesting. As a matter of policy, tourists are asked to leave by 10.00am unless they are staying for the service. A lady was warning people that they only had five minutes to leave. There was something of a rugby scrum of tourists going in and out, and members of the congregation going in. The tiny entrance hall was crammed with helpers, the chaplain, the books, and various items destined eventually for the following week's fete. The lady told me to ask the gentleman (which one?) inside for a hymn book. The first person actually to talk to me was my neighbour in the pew – but not until the end of the service. The exchange of peace was somewhat subdued as a result of the swine flu scare.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were standard wood, and both they and the kneelers had a green felt padding. They were reasonably comfortable, but so close to the pew in front that I didn't risk kneeling in case I got stuck!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very chatty at the back of the church. There were children crammed into the pews at the font and they were obviously excited about the event. It was quieter and more reflective in atmosphere further down the church. About five minutes before the beginning of the service, the organist struck up a prelude.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Welcome to all parishioners and visitors." We were then told the name of the baptismal candidate, and it was mentioned that communion was open to all.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal, a welcome sheet, and a specially printed service sheet for the day, with arrows pointing up, down and sideways to indicate standing, sitting and kneeling positions, and a bell icon showing which items were to be sung. There was also a separate sheet with the order of baptism for children, and another with guidelines for the reception of holy communion in light of the swine flu pandemic.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. There was a small efficient choir, and the mass setting was a familiar one (Merbecke, I think), so the music was inclusive for those who wanted to take part.
Did anything distract you?
Well, I suppose it would be unreasonable to mention a crying baby! But I will say that the pew was very narrow, causing me to sit at an angle rather than straight on.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a traditional but relaxed 1662 service with vestments, candles, and a procession into the church. The chaplain gave an explanation of the placing of the font by the church door - it's always nice to learn something new. He also invited all the children to the front of the church, and taught them and us a short song of praise. In this he was helped by the adult members of the congregation, who picked it up rather quickly. The children's part of the service was neatly slotted into the more traditional material. And there were a lot of hymns, mostly to standard melodies.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The chaplain was clear and direct.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Churches imprison holy things, but God will escape, as Jesus escaped from the tomb. Mary is portrayed using two images: the Madonna with child, and the grieving mother of the Pieta. She gives space rather than answers, both at the beginning and the end of life.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing, which we could all take part in.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I couldn't always see everything that was happening on the altar, and neither could the children. The sight lines were not always ideal.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My neighbour spoke to me – it was her first time too. At coffee it was easy to chat with the next person in the queue, who was very friendly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, cake, shortcake, juice and fruit were served outside by the lake. Whatever do they do when it rains?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I felt very much at home here. The combination of structure and relaxed approach suited me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This is a community.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The setting of the church in that green corner, by the lake.