Mystery Worshipper: Friar Tuck
Church: St George's
Location: Madrid, Spain
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 November 2008, 11:30am
St George's, designed by the Spanish architect Teodoro de Anasagasti, was consecrated in 1925. It is built in a Spanish Romanesque style, complete with bell tower and tiled roof, but in a very Anglican shape. The building is light and homely, with a children's chapel under the tower skillfully introducing light into the space. One quick look around and you would know that you were in an Anglican church. Of special note are the stained glass windows representing St George, patron of England; St David of Wales; St Andrew, patron of Scotland; St Patrick, patron of Ireland; and St Francis of Assisi; as well as St James the Great, patron of Spain; and Sts John, Peter and Paul. The window in the north choir depicts St Cecilia.
They minister to a mixture of British, American and other English speaking nationalities living in or visiting Madrid. They sponsor a mothers' and toddlers' group and offer both singing lessons and violin lessons. They also host a chapter of Weight Watchers. They are especially committed to ecumenism among the various Spanish churches under the Anglican umbrella, with outreaches to the Spanish Episcopal Reformed Church, The American Episcopal Church's Convocation of American Churches in Europe, and the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church of Portugal. There are three masses each Sunday, with evening prayer on Wednesdays and holy communion on Fridays.
Madrid, the capital of Spain, in modern times has consolidated its position as an important economic, cultural, financial, industrial, educational, and technological centre. While Madrid possesses a modern infrastructure, it has preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighbourhoods and streets. The church is near the Parque del Buen Retiro ("Park of the Pleasant Retreat"), a magnificent expanse of greenery and horticulture surrounding an artificial lake, in a well heeled residential area that also has a number of classy shops and restaurants.
The Revd Canon Ian Hutchinson Cervantes, chaplain, led the service and presided at holy communion. The Revd Jack Childs, who was visiting Madrid from the United States, preached. Members of the congregation read the Old Testament lesson and the epistle; another member led the prayers of intercession.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist.
How full was the building?
The church was about half full by the time we got to the sermon; quite a number of people came late. I guess that the building would seat just under 200 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was welcomed at the door, handed the weekly notice sheet, and shown into the church. At the end of the service the person next to me introduced herself.
Was your pew comfortable?
The first ten rows are pews with the usual carpet type covering. They looked to be as comfortable as pews can be and there seemed to be sufficient leg room. I sat behind the pews in one of a half dozen rows of comfortable chairs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived shortly after the end of the previous mass, a family service, and there was plenty going on, as the screen that had been used in that service was being removed. There was a buzz of activity as people arrived and greeted one another, but it was not distracting. However, what was distracting was the arrival of a number of latecomers during the first half hour of the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to St George's Church. We spend a few moments in quietness as we become aware of the presence of God."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service was from Common Worship. The hymn book was Hymns Ancient and Modern and the English Standard Version of the Bible was available in the pews.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The arrival of latecomers was particularly irritating as I was sitting near to the door. But even more distracting was the constant flashing and flickering of two illuminated exit signs. I'm sure it is necessary to have the signs but I am equally sure that any electrician could sort out the flashing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A very traditional middle of the road Anglican style. The small adult choir and the organist gave an excellent lead to the singing of the hymns and the sung sections of the liturgy. Not being Anglican myself, I was not familiar with the setting, but clearly the congregation were and it was easy to follow the confident lead given by the choir and organist.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Jack began by sharing an anecdote about long winded preachers from the USA, and in sharing this story he made good eye contact with the congregation. But from then on his head was in his notes and the style became theological lecture rather than preaching. It isn't possible to include everything in a single sermon, but I would like to have seen him connect up his points better to our experiences in the 21st century.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was a good theological expounding of Matthew 24:1-14 (Jesus tells of warfare, false prophets and trials for the faithful heralding the end times). Jesus talks to the disciples (and through the pages of the New Testament to us as well) about the signs of the end of the age. He speaks of the destruction of the temple and it is clear that he, rather than a building, is at the centre of God's plan for humanity. Father Jack ended his sermon as Jesus ended the set passage by calling us to live in hope, because at the end of all things we will be vindicated by God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The enthusiastic singing of the final hymn, Charles Wesley's "Love divine," with a descant from the choir in the final verse. In fact it wasn't just I who felt moved by the singing, as Father Ian commented on it during the notices after the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the risk of repetition, I do wish people would arrive on time. We had an appointment at 11.30am with each other and with God!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people spoke to me and I was shown the way to the refreshments. On warm days, they serve refreshments in a lovely courtyard between the church and the hall in the shade of a large and obviously very old fig tree. But the day of my visit was cold, so refreshments were served in the hall.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Red and white wine in plastic cups, plus cans of beer and soft drinks. It didn't appear that coffee or tea were provided. There were bowls of crisps on the serving table.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I lived in Madrid I would certainly worship here unless my Spanish improved to the point where I could fully participate in a Spanish speaking church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Singing "Love divine" with an enthusiastic congregation in a lovely building in Madrid, my favourite European city.