St George's, Bloomsbury, London

St George's, Bloomsbury, London


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper: Adeodatus
Church: St George's
Location: Bloomsbury, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 June 2010, 10:30am

The building

Consecrated in 1731, St George's is the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor, clerk to Christopher Wren and designer of the west towers of Westminster Abbey. Charles Dickens used St George's as the setting for "The Bloomsbury Christening" in Sketches by Boz. Although a large building, it is easy to miss, as it is somewhat tucked away and swamped by taller surrounding buildings. It has been recently restored thanks to gifts from the Paul Mellon Estate and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The interior has a quiet beauty and, unusually, a north-south axis. A magnificent brass chandelier hangs over the centre aisle. As for the exterior, it doesn't seem particularly welcoming. There were a couple of tired notices attached to the railings. On the right hand side of the great steps was an area containing bits of newspaper, empty drink cartons, and the like. Depressing. I thought some colour was needed: a flower bed or at least a decent notice board, perhaps in the colours of St George.

The church

Apart from the Sunday eucharist, there are two communion services during the week. The church building is frequently used for musical events. I imagine that outreach to the neighbourhood would be difficult. I'm not sure how I would go about it, but maybe the new vicar will have some good ideas! I wondered how many parishioners actually live in the vicinity. I noticed an appeal for volunteers to keep the church open during the week, so maybe not many.

The neighborhood

Bloomsbury is an area of London noted for its parks and squares. The British Museum is a few minutes walk away from St George's, and the surrounding streets contain many hotels and offices. In years gone by, such notables as Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, William Butler Yeats, Virginia Woolf, and John Maynard Keynes, to name only a few, all lived in Bloomsbury at one time or another.

The cast

The parish is awaiting the arrival of a new vicar and is relying on supply priests in the meantime. Today the celebrant and preacher was the Revd Canon Ronald Coppin. Another unnamed clergy person was part of the procession, plus a crucifer.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Eucharist

How full was the building?

Approximately 30 people, about one-quarter full, including the choir of four.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I entered, a young woman smiled and handed me an order of service.

Was your pew comfortable?

Wooden benches without cushions. I was quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

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

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books. The hymns, readings and responses were printed on the pew sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ. It sounded beautiful. I wondered if it too had been part of the restoration.

Did anything distract you?

I was aware of the words used: "thee", "thy", "Holy Ghost", etc. As I am of a very mature age, this didn't bother me, though I wondered if the under 40 crowd would find this language out of harmony with our present age.

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

Anglo-Catholic, though not extreme, with bells but no smells. The celebrant wore a chasuble, and other members of the altar party wore simple white surplices.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

8 – Canon Coppin spoke from the lectern, not the pulpit. His delivery was clear, except that I had to concentrate as his voice seemed to disappear toward the end of a sentence.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He compared the calls of Peter and Paul, and spoke of Peter's later reluctance to embrace the gentiles as equal members of the Church until he had his vision, and Paul's frustration with the Jewish Christians who wanted gentile Christians to adhere to Jewish custom. We are all called in various ways. The gospel "bites" us differently. We are to live our faith in response to our individual call.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The small choir in the balcony was a delight. I enjoyed singing the Lord's Prayer, which I am not used to. I knew two of the three hymns well, so I was able to have a good sing.

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

I think my difficulty in hearing all the preacher had to say was in part due to the sound system. He was carrying around a rather old-fashioned microphone, so maybe the regular system had broken down. Not sure why one has to call the Lord's Prayer "the Paternoster" in this day and age. I did Latin in school many moons ago but it's pretty rare these days.

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

Canon Coppin shook my hand at the door and we exchanged some friendly words.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I had a plane to catch so wasn't able to stay.

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

8 – If I were a local, probably yes.

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

Definitely, yes.

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

The beautiful interior and reverent service.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools