Mystery Worshipper: Aileen
Church: St James
Location: Paddington, London
Date of visit: Wednesday, 4 July 2012, 10:00am
The present building, replacing an earlier one, dates from 1882 and is the work of George Edmund Street, noted for his many churches as well as the courts of justice in London. Damaged by bombing during World War II, it was repaired and rededicated in 1958 by Her Royal Highness Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. It's a very grand building, quite tall, with lots of arches. The sanctuary area with altar is rather squarish in appearance. The windows are beautiful but don't let in much light, so artificial lighting is a necessity.
From their website: "We see ourselves as a community of forgiven sinners still constantly in need of forgiveness and the grace of God. We believe that since the love of God is universal, all in the world are held in its embrace and constantly called to recognise this and to act upon it." They are an inclusive church each year, in conjunction with the Oscar Wilde Society, they commemorate the wedding of Oscar Wilde and Constance Lloyd.
St James is very close to Hyde Park, one of the largest parks in central London, where many people go regularly. There are many homes close to the church, with lots of big trees by the roads. Also, there are many hotels along the road opposite the church.
The Rt Revd Richard Chartres, Lord Bishop of London.
What was the name of the service?Service of Thanksgiving for the 150th Anniversary of St James and St Michael's Church of England School
How full was the building?
The church seemed very full, about 150 school children and hundreds of parents, teachers, the Lord Mayor of London, etc.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we entered, someone helped us get our baby buggy up the steps. School children and adults welcomed us and gave us a paper with the service in it. We were smiled at by others sitting close to us.
Was your pew comfortable?
We were on one of the extra seats that had been set up comfortable black seats.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of chatting and smiling.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Peace be with you. Let us rejoice and be glad!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were given a paper with the hymns, prayers and readings.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, a detailed description of which can be found on the church's website.
Did anything distract you?
I was really pleased to notice my friend's child singing in the choir, and I was tempted to take a picture of that, but I couldn't.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The children were dressed in their red school jumpers, and the bishop wore red too! All the adults and children stood and sang hymns, and sat down and stayed silent for prayers. The babies and toddlers were kept quiet. The bishop presented a cross to the school, with a blessing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Bishop of London has a good clear voice and we could all hear what he said. His style was simple and designed to teach us. And at the beginning of his sermon he praised the singers!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This is the 150th anniversary of the school, which has always served the whole community in Paddington. The school has always taught the children reading, writing, singing and art, but it has also taught them to know right from wrong. To know happiness, we must be spiritually aware.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was lovely to see how the children sang hymns and acted well in the church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A couple of times a toddler near me dropped what she was holding and drinking. Each time, her mum picked it up and gave it back to her so she would stop crying. I felt worried!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were all told to follow all the children. Many people chatted to us about their children and said they hoped the food would be good.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The food we all had was nice, and we had juice and wine with it.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If I was near, I'd have to see what a normal service would be like.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I was glad to hear good things about God and good things taught about God to the children. I'm glad I'm a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Seeing the bishop dressed in red and the children wearing red for their school! It looked good on them all.