Mystery Worshipper: Andy the Albanian
Church: St George's
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 March 2016, 11:30am
The present St George's was consecrated in 1889, replacing a church destroyed by fire shortly after the introduction of gas lighting. It is a fine example of a Victorian Anglican church, designed by the English firm of Medland and Powell in a neo-Romanesque style. Inside, a long, bright nave, furnished with traditional pews, is lit from large round-arched stained-glass windows. The chancel has choir stalls on both sides, with what sounded like a pretty good organ, the church's original. The apse is intricately decorated, with a freestanding altar in front of the original east-facing altar above, which is a carved Last Supper under a baldacchino. Outside, the pink-painted walls, with a rose window in the west front, support a pitched roof.
An Anglican chaplaincy has served the British community in Lisbon since the mid-17th century, although the first church was not consecrated until 1822. Now St George's welcomes English speaking Christians from around the world, particularly from the global Anglican communion. The chaplaincy has a second church St Paul's in the beach town of Estoril, about 25km west of Lisbon, where the chaplain celebrates mass at 9.30 before coming to St George's for 11.30.
The church is in the middle of the walled English cemetery, established in 1717 under the terms of a 1654 treaty between Cromwell and King João IV, and which houses the grave of novelist Henry Fielding, of Tom Jones fame, among others. The cemetery is now in the prosperous Estrela neighbourhood, next to the green oasis of the Jardim de Estrela, and a few hundred yards from the spectacular Estrela Basilica. It's entered through a door in the wall on a quiet side street, marked only by a small metal plate. Passers-by would probably never think to look inside, so thank goodness for the Internet.
The Revd Canon Keith Hugo, locum chaplain, presided, assisted by João Soares, reader in training.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Eucharist
How full was the building?
There were about 50 of us in a church that could seat 300 or more.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Canon Keith welcomed us as we arrived, and we had a friendly welcome from other parishioners as we joined them around the portable gas heaters.
Was your pew comfortable?
A comfortable wooden pew with a pronounced backward slope on the seat.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly chat around the heaters it was a beautiful spring day by English standards, but the heat hadn't yet penetrated the building. At length we were invited to take our seats for the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and welcome to our service on this, the fifth Sunday of our season of Lent."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient & Modern Revised, an A4 order of service (Common Worship order 1 in traditional language), and a lectionary insert with notices.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, an opus of Henry Fincham of London, modified slightly over the years from its original state.
Did anything distract you?
The two gas patio heaters that were trying (along with a few other portable heaters) to warm this huge space were a rather incongruous sight.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional middle of the road C of E, really "'thee" and "thou" liturgy, traditional hymns, robed president and servers. But a long, very sociable peace in the middle.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Canon Keith had a bad cold, which meant he couldn't speak more than a couple of sentences without coughing – so it doesn't seem fair to comment on his style as I don't think we really saw it.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He preached on Philippians 3 (lose all for Christ), and the need not to seek out suffering, but to try to embrace it when it comes, as bringing us closer to Christ. We fear suffering should not technology have conquered it by now? But there are some Christian sects that actively seek suffering in the name of seeking Christ. This is unsound. Suffering is not an end in itself. Yes, we must put up with suffering, but when it comes, it can be a sharing in Jesus' experience.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It's rather un-Anglican to say so, but the peace was lovely, as pretty much everyone in church exchanged the peace with everyone else. As strangers in town, we felt really welcomed into the community at this point.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When we arrived and found a handful of people huddled around portable gas heaters it did feel a bit forlorn but that's what you get for turning up early in Iberia.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Our pew neighbours were very friendly, so we didn't really have a chance to hang around and look lost.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good filter coffee served in the hall at the back of the church.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If I visit Lisbon again, I won't hesitate to go back to such a friendly church, but if I were living there I might look for somewhere a bit more anchored and active in its neighbourhood. But as St George's is in interregnum, it's possibly unfair at the moment to expect it to feel thoroughly engaged with the community.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did. There was a real sense of being part of the world-wide body of Christ.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I'm afraid it's those heaters again the metal mushrooms were just so incongruous. That and the wonderful peace.