xSt Leonard, Shoreditch (Exterior)

St Leonard's, Shoreditch, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Leonard's
Location: Shoreditch, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 March 2016, 10:30am

The building

The current building dates back to 1740 and was designed by George Dance the Elder, a pupil of Christopher Wren. Sat on a busy junction, St Leonard's is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Shoreditch, in spite of more modern buildings being erected in recent years. The outside screams "church" while the inside screams "fix me" as the interior has definitely seen better days. There's some building work going on (a sign on the door designates it "Development Hell") but it was clear that the inside could do with some replastering and painting. Two great features strike you very quickly as you walk in. The first is a great stained glass window on the east side, and if you turn around you can see the pipes of the church organ.

The church

St Leonard's is immortalised in British folk history through the song "Oranges and Lemons," where the bells of Shoreditch ask, "When will I get rich?" In more recent years, St Leonard's has become familiar to fans of the sitcom Rev, as it doubled up as St Saviour's in the Marshes. Though the current building only dates back to the 18th century, there has been a Christian presence here since Roman times, with the church gaining its first vicar in the 12th century. The church is dedicated to St Leonard, the patron saint of prisoners and the mentally ill.

The neighborhood

Shoreditch is a place with multiple personalities, many of which were visible within a few yards of the church. On the one hand, it is one of London's trendiest neighbourhoods, the spiritual home of the hipsters. Beards, skinny jeans and the word "artisan" are endemic to the area. On the other hand, it is also a run-down area with great social problems; on the way there I passed a young lady who was slouched in a doorway injecting something into her arm.

The cast

The whole service was led by the vicar, the Revd Paul Turp.

What was the name of the service?

Shoreditch Church Easter Celebration 2016

How full was the building?

Let's say that there was plenty of room. There were about 40 people present, but the church could comfortable accommodate that number a few times over.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I came in, someone said "Good morning" to me and handed me a couple of books with a service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

No. In spite of having some reasonable cushions, these pews seemed to be designed such that the angle between the seat and the back was a little less than a right angle, forcing the worshipper either to perch on the edge or to sit with a slight stoop.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A few friends whispered amongst themselves, but there was neither great commotion nor a sombre silence. Some choral music was piped in through the PA system.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, everyone. Congratulations on remembering the clocks went forward."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Some hymns were taken from Complete Anglican Hymns Old & New while others were printed in the service sheet. Readings were given from the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, a copy of which was given to everyone as they came in.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, violin and double bass, plus a couple of singers who were very close to being in tune.

Did anything distract you?

During the institution of the eucharist, one little boy decided to walk up and down a row, stomping his feet as he went. I also couldn't help but notice the giant crack in the plaster above the stained glass window and wonder what chance there was of the ceiling collapsing on us all.

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

For an Anglican church, it was fairly middle of the road. The vicar was dressed head to toe in white robes, but no one else wore any liturgical vestments. Unusually for an Easter service, there were no flowers on display. There was a bare cross behind the altar,which had four candles on top of it. The vicar said he had taken the opportunity to play around with the liturgy, so the declaration of "Christ is risen" wasn't included and "Alleluia" was left until the very end of the service, whereas the sermon was brought very near the start.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

9 – The vicar was a great speaker but without being an orator. He spoke plainly but was utterly captivating.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Easter narratives in the gospels are largely poetic and we cannot know for sure what happened that weekend. Easter isn't about Jesus, it is about you as an individual. Easter offers us a light into dark places, and if you continue to live in darkness, then you're an idiot (his word, not mine).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I loved the way they did communion here. It was well explained what was happening, why we did it. Then the whole congregation came and stood in the area immediately in front of the altar, gathering in a circle. After partaking of the bread and wine, we were told that we were part of an ancient church that held to ancient, holy traditions, and that in that spirit we would go on a procession. This procession didn't go terribly far, as we just went behind a screen where every member of the congregation was given a large Easter egg. Most generous.

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

The opening hymn of "Thine Be The Glory" was possibly the most dour, half-hearted version I've ever come across. On an Easter Sunday morning, it is supposed to be a song of triumph, but the whole church seemed to be suffering from the loss of an hour's sleep after the clock change.

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

Someone mentioned there were tea and coffee in the church hall but didn't indicate precisely where this was. I found a few doors where it might have been, but I saw no exodus of people to follow. Considering there was building work going on, I didn't risk venturing somewhere where I ought not to be. Instead, I walked around, reading the notice boards and looking at the plaques on the wall, but no one else came to speak to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Never found it.

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

7 – If I lived in the area, I'd strongly consider it.

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 curious (possibly heretical) notion that the resurrection isn't about Jesus.

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