St Matthew, Bayswater, London

St Matthew’s, Bayswater, London


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Mystery Worshipper: Newman's Own
Church: St Matthew’s
Location: Bayswater, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 14 May 2006, 11:00am

The building

The building is an interesting blend of Gothic revival and classic low church simplicity. There are beautiful, though not overpowering, stained glass windows, the loveliest being one of Christ the King directly over the chancel. The communion table is a very striking example of carved wood, and an inset of the Last Supper behind the table (flanked by the classic display of the Commandments and words from Exodus) was quite effective.

The church

I unfortunately was not able to learn very much about the church's activities. However, the references in the petitions and vicar's comments gave the impression of a community deeply involved in social justice issues and ministries to those with HIV.

The neighborhood

Bayswater is a lively, pleasant area, dominated by ethnic restaurants, crowded internet cafés, and a range of shops offering everything from cheap souvenirs to designer clothing. The immediate neighbourhood, obviously once filled with posh town houses, now is home to various hostels and hotels into which the former have been converted. Presumably the proximity to Paddington Station makes the area popular for short stays.

The cast

Names were not provided.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Matins

How full was the building?

About 20 people were in attendance – roughly a fifth of capacity.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The vicar greeted worshippers outside before the service, and he and I had a brief conversation. Upon entering the church, I was met by two parishioners who provided me with service books, one of whom offered to help me if I needed assistance with following the Prayer Book.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, it was quite standard.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I found it to be a pleasant combination of recollected and friendly. There was much chat as people arrived, but many people were quietly praying in the pews as well. I was about half an hour early, and, at first, lovely recorded choral music was played in the background. There was a well performed organ prelude about ten minutes before the service began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome to the service of Matins in this awesome season of Christ's resurrection."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

1662 Book of Common Prayer and the New English Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The organist was very accomplished, and the choir (a quartet) was excellent.

Did anything distract you?

Though the quality of music was high, I was surprised that most of the congregation did not join in the psalms and hymns – or, at any rate, did not participate other than in sotto voce fashion.

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

It was a dignified, unembellished Prayer Book service, seeming to me to capture the sheer elegance which is the best heritage of our English church. Although the atmosphere was very comfortable and people were casually dressed and clearly at ease in their Father's house, there was the pleasure one finds when the liturgy is allowed "just to be."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

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

5 – It was not so much a sermon as a short talk related to the beginning of Christian Aid Week and such concerns as the campaign addresses, hence my neutral rating. The vicar had a marvellous voice, though, reminiscent of dramatic actors.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The underlying reference was to living in simplicity. The vicar read several excerpts from poetic works, and amplified the concerns which are central to the Christian Aid Week ahead. It was an exhortation to caring for the plight of those in refugee camps, rank poverty, and the like.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The entire service was rather heavenly, but the carefully composed petitions were especially impressive. There was mention of much of the suffering of the world in a candid and specific manner. For example, the ostracisation those with HIV may face, and a petition that pharmaceutical companies not seek profit before human welfare, were set forth. Interestingly, it did not have a trendy or politically correct flavour – the dignity and reserve with which the petitions were presented was very effective.

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

A shrieking alarm from a nearby building nearly made me fall from the seventh mansion into the spot which Dante's Inferno reserved for Judas.

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

One of the parishioners (a lady in gorgeous Nigerian garb, as were several others) offered assistance, inviting me to attend a later eucharist and showing me the way to the loo.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Several people stopped at an urn in the rear of the church, but I did not join them. I was unable to stay for the eucharistic service that was immediately to follow, and so thought it best not to socialise.

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

10 – Naturally, it is difficult to say on the basis of one visit – but the liturgy was peaceful and dignified to a point which I found irresistible.

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

Very much indeed. Classic Prayer Book services, with no aspect of the trendy or ostentatious, always remind me that, whatever the hell this world contains (and, in this case, the petitions recalled), and however divided camps within the C of E may remain, the liturgy will always unite us in the presence of the Risen Lord.

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

That such a small church, with a choir of only four elderly people, had such smashingly fine music.

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