Mystery Worshipper: Mrs Alighieri
Church: St Pancras
Location: Euston, London, England
Date of visit: Friday, 7 July 2006, 12:30pm
Impressive building with a gallery, apse and very similar to a Roman temple. There were 52 small candles on the altar to remember the 52 people were killed in the four bombs that exploded in London on 7 July 2005.
It's close to the site of the bus-bombing (Number 30) on 7th July 2005, and became the focus for a lot of the faith interest at the time of the attack.
The area is being gentrified prior to the arrival of Eurostar in 2008-09. St Pancras has the British Library, the British Medical Association, various hospitals and the University of London nearby.
In order of appearance: The Revd Paul Hawkins, vicar of St Pancras; Rabbi James Baaden, South London Synagogue; Shaam, a Muslim music group from Birmingham; Rabbi Janet Burden, West London Synagogue; the Revd Elaine Dando, curate of St Pancras; Imam Joynal Uddin, Regent's Park Mosque; St Mary & St Pancras School Choir; the Revd Cathy Bird, King's Cross Methodist; the Quakers; Raj Academy, a Sikh music group; the Revd Dermot Morrin, OP, St Pancras Choir; the Rt Revd Peter Wheatley (Anglican bishop) and the Rt Revd Bernard Longley (Roman Catholic bishop).
What was the name of the service?"Remember" – the multifaith service of remembrance for those who died in the London tube trains and the bus on 7th July 2005.
How full was the building?
Full, including the gallery, but not packed. This was impressive, because the service had not been advertised; instead, people found out about it by word of mouth through the faith communities.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A number of stewards were at the door handing out leaflets, candles. and free bottles of water. I got chatting to the people around me: two Italian Catholic nuns, a Sikh woman, a Lutheran chaplain, an Anglican man, a Muslim businesswoman, and two people of no faith who "felt they needed to be here." One woman made a point of welcoming people to St Pancras because it was her church.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not very. They were pews with doors only into the middle aisle, and caused a nuisance. After the 90 minutes of worship, my back was killing me.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Strange. London stopped for a two minute silence at noon, and people drifted from Kings Cross to St Pancras over that time. People at the service weren't chatty, but I was picked out by friends old and new. Everyone was very polite, far friendlier than normal in London.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to this service of remembrance."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially produced book, with Remember printed in 12 languages on the cover.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, various ethnic instruments I don't know the name of, including drums and stringed instruments. One of the pieces sung was Herbert Howells' "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem," which seemed beautifully appropriate and was very well sung. We were asked to pray for our own cities during it, but I couldn't help reaching out to the Middle East and all the recent bloodshed.
Did anything distract you?
At least 16 mobile phones which people hadn't turned off. I didn't count them all because after a while I was drawn into the worship.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal, without being stiff. Each section was consciously of its faith, unapologetically so, and it was wonderful.We used a lot of psalms, and had readings from the Hindu and Muslim scriptures, and from the Quaker tradition. I felt able to recognise the God I know and love running through the building in songs of joy, pain and sorrow at what had happened. It was like tingling on my skin. Since the attack of last year, there has been a massive interfaith effort a statement of common public values was signed by 250 faith representatives last year and this was the fruit of it. I've been to anodyne interfaith stuff, and this was nothing like that. There was a deep pride in being people of faith, and being people of different faiths.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 — Brief but to the point.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jacob wrestling with God. If we wrestle with the things that get in our way and cause us pain, we will also wrestle with what is good, pure, lovely and strengthening. It will bless us and we will find ourselves.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
All of it, but particularly the feeling of being among people of faith and integrity. The music was exceptionally good, and the Sikh group took me to another place. The children sang and were not applauded I was pleased people remembered that we were here for God and for memory. But afterwards the children couldn't get away, because so many people went and spoke to them and said thank you. The chanting by the two Rabbis was eerie and beautiful. Hearing Psalm 23 in Hebrew chilled and thrilled in equal measure.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The mobile phones. I found it difficult to engage with the Shaam group, but I believe that was more cultural than anything else.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I talked briefly to those around me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It didn't happen. However, pre-service water (in still or sparkling) was given out for free and was deliciously cold.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – I pray that this service will be held each year, because it showcased that which was good and shared from all traditions without any feeling of being watered down. I felt able to draw from the wonderful heritage of all the major faiths in so many ways, and the non-attached people near me got a great deal from the service. That, above all, made it worthwhile; that those of no faith could feel at home and find something to comfort them. I wouldn't want this to be every week, though, because I think each faith tradition needs to nurture its individuality and its special gift for seeing God, but this worship encapsulated so much of what it means to be a Londoner.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. I was glad to be a person of faith among so many other people of faith. I felt proud of my faith and that my home church and others had engaged with this service and made the bits that were Christian very Christian – but it wasn't a time to be proud of my specific beliefs, if you see the difference. I felt proud to belong and to remember.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Saying "Peace be with you", and hearing Shalom, Salaam, Paci, back.