Mystery Worshipper: Andy the Albanian
Church: St Nicholas with St Mary Magdalene
Location: Chiswick, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 9 February 2014, 10:30am
Documentary evidence of a church on this site dates back to 1181. The present building is mostly late-Victorian Gothic, having been rebuilt in 1884 to a design by the 19th century Gothic Revivalist John Loughborough Pearson that preserved the 15th century tower. Quite traditional inside, with original pews, choir stalls and chancel screen. Rather square in shape, with side aisles not much narrower than the nave presumably dictated by the site.
Nothing particularly visible to an outsider. However, I did glean from their website that they are an inclusive community who worship in the tradition of Catholic revival in the Church of England; that they sponsor bell ringers, a book group, a playgroup for pre-school children, and English classes; and that they also have ties to a church in Angola.
The church is tucked away between the A4 dual carriageway and the Thames, next to Fuller's brewery, with which they have a longstanding relationship Mr Smith of Fuller Smith and Turner provided much of the funding for the 1884 rebuilding. Walking away from the Hogarth Roundabout toward the church, one seems to go back in time about a year per yard. Chiswick Mall is lined with multi-million pound properties, but on the other side of the roundabout is a large council estate. As so often in London, affluence lives cheek by jowl with deprivation.
The Revd Jackie Cameron, associate priest, presided, assisted by the Revd Andrew Downes, curate, in the liturgical role of deacon. Malcolm Smith, churchwarden, preached. Members of the congregation read scripture, led intercessions and ministered at the eucharist.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Eucharist (Parish Mass)
How full was the building?
A congregation of around 80 in a space that could have sat perhaps four or five times that number.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smile and greeting as I was handed the hymnbook and service sheet.
Was your pew comfortable?
A comfy pew, yes.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Low-scale conversations going on between pew neighbours, many people sitting quietly. It felt more like "waiting for it to start" than "reverently preparing ourselves."
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St Nicholas."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Again from their website: "We use the contemporary English services from Common Worship." We were, however, given just the Celebration Hymnal and a service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, replacing the one that was destroyed in a fire set by vandals in 1979.
Did anything distract you?
Outside noise from aeroplanes. There was also a gentleman who left his pew and walked around several times using his iPad as a video camera.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Once again from their website: "We use modern services and readings with traditional music and ceremonial." I'd describe it as moderate smells and bells, processions and robes.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Churchwarden Malcolm Smith sounded rather like a columnist from a national newspaper: self-aware, slightly humorous, urbane. A very literate style, well structured.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke on the gospel reading, in particular Matthew 5:13 ("You are the salt of the earth"). Salt improves the taste of other things by disappearing, by spending itself. It preserves things by keeping them fresh. We, not someone else, are the salt. We are called now, not later when we've had time to get better at it.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Coming forward at the distribution of the eucharist and being in the sanctuary with a ministry team that modelled every visible type of diversity: lay and clergy, skin-colour, gender, age, able-bodied and disabled. Absolutely wonderful sense of a fully inclusive community.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The intercessions: the words were super, but there were too many of them, delivered with no real space between them, and they sounded "read" rather than "led."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nobody talked to me. The clergy and laity who had taken part in the service were all engaged in conversation with someone; those who stayed for coffee were clustered in many groups, all talking animatedly. They seemed a very friendly bunch, but they didnt notice me. (Actually I got more eye-contact and "good mornings" from passers-by in the high street afterwards.)
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Decent coffee in a china mug, along with a nice biscuit. I didnt see whether it was fair-trade.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The good preaching and the overall sense of a really inclusive community would certainly draw me back another couple of times, but if nobody talked to me then, Id go elsewhere.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. You dont see a group like this gathered and sharing together very often.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?