Mystery Worshipper: Penfold
Church: St Antony with St Silas
Location: Nunhead, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 October 2007, 10:30am
The present building dates from 2003 and replaces an earlier structure that in turn replaced one gutted by incendiaries during the German blitz of World War II. The main church is part of a complex including a community centre, vicarage and garden. The interior is quite modern, all in white, with a stark, simple altar on a platform bathed in natural light from skylights. There is full provision for the disabled with specially built ramps, wide doors and toilets, and an amplification system for those with hearing aids.
St Antony's parish was united with St Silas when the latter church was demolished in 2001.
Nunhead seems like a suburb split between the contrasting areas of rich Dulwich and challenged Peckham. Nunhead mainly consists of semi detached and terraced houses rather than estates.
The Revd Anthony Braddick-Southgate, vicar.
What was the name of the service?Harvest Festival and Parish Gift Day.
How full was the building?
The church has a capacity of about 150 people. I guess there were about 80 adults and 15 children present. So it was pretty compact. The congregation seemed drawn mainly from the locality. There was a good ethnic mixture, and it was refreshing to see some young couples and singletons in their 20s and 30s. However, it would have been nicer still to see a bigger proportion of 16-24 year olds.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I approached the entrance, I noticed that the door was closed. I much prefer an open church door with perhaps a welcome sign nearby. But when I opened the door, I was greeted by two welcomers who said hello and handed me a service sheet. There were hymnbooks available on shelves, but as I was not given one - I assumed we wouldn't need it (we didn't). As I settled into my seat, a few people smiled.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden pew, bench style. But it was actually rather comfortable and in good condition, probably because the building is so new. I was disappointed that there were no kneelers. People sat or stood during those parts of the service where we would ordinarily kneel.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Morning prayer had preceded the service, and the church was still about a quarter full from that crowd. The service sheet asked for a time of silence and reflection before the mass, but a few people exchanged some conversation with neighbours they knew. Most people arrived on time and only a few were late.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"My brothers and sisters, let us confess our forgetfulness of the needs of the poor, and repent of the ways in which we waste the resources of the world."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The whole service was easily followed in one service booklet that included all the hymns, prayers, readings and the psalm. Biblical references were given for each reading, and at the end of the bulletin the references for the following Sunday's readings were included as well.
What musical instruments were played?
One of those computerised organs that have all the hymns stored in memory and can be remote controlled.
Did anything distract you?
There was no air conditioning, and the air became rather stuffy as the service progressed. The incense was a bit strong as well. Better ventilation is needed.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Anglo-Catholic, with a single celebrant and three altar servers. Incense, bells and chimes. The peace ceremony was friendly but not overdone, although one or two people managed to greet everyone else in the church.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I always have lots of respect for a preacher who doesn't need notes, especially when the sermon flows as well as this one did. It was very thought provoking and I like sermons that challenge. Vicar Braddick-Southgate stood in front of the congregation, not in the pulpit, and paced back and forth a bit to make sure his gaze was directed evenly. It stopped my neck from getting stiff at least.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Harvest and giving thanks. God blesses all of us all the time, and we should acknowledge this. People who act out of charity and goodness are worthy of our thanks and praise. We should remember the poor, correct our own selfish behaviour, and be mindful of the earth's resources. When things are hard and we are challenged and find life difficult, we can rely on each other for support and prayer to praise God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I always enjoy the communion the most, and this mass was no exception. We all stood around the altar in orderly turn. It was good to see all the children from junior church come back in to receive communion or a blessing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I love incense, but if there is a lot of it and ventilation is poor, it can be overwhelming. I found myself coughing more than enjoying it. The lack of air conditioning didn't help things either.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We stood for the final hymn and then sat down again for a moment of private prayer or reflection, after which everyone left in a very orderly fashion. Most went over to the hall to browse the fair trade stall or have some refreshment. The vicar was standing in the back shaking hands.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As there was a fair trade stall, I assume the coffee was fair trade. It was served in a proper cup and saucer. A few people said hello but no one actually engaged me in conversation. Everyone seemed rather nice but somewhat cliquish. Several people collected up all the harvest donations and carried them out to a car. The vicar announced that there would be a Bible study based on the readings for the following Sunday, and a small bunch left to go to that. Others lingered over their coffee. I finished mine and left.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I enjoy traditional services like this one. I would have to go a few more times, though, to see if people approached me more. However, it would be a good place to visit when I could.
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 traditional style of worship.