St Paul's, Covent Garden, London

St Paul's, Covent Garden, London


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Mystery Worshipper: TooManyChurchCommittees
Church: St Paul's
Location: Covent Garden, London
Date of visit: Friday, 26 May 2006, 6:00pm

The building

Making up one side of the Covent Garden Piazza, the building is quite imposing, but the atual entrance is around the other side through the gardens, or down by the side of Clinton Cards.

The church

This church is known as the Actors' Church because of its location in the heart of London's West End and theatre district. There appear to be very many memorial services that happen there each month for departed actors, writers, stage crew, etc.

The neighborhood

It really is slap bang in the middle of Covent Garden - and, in fact, the East wall and window are the backdrop for one of the most popular pitches for the street entertainers. The Royal Opera House, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the newly revamped Novello Theatre are all within spitting distance.

The cast

The Revd Simon Grigg.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

There were eight of us, including the celebrant, but a couple of intrepid tourists joined us for the last five minutes. Bizarrely, one of the comedians in the UK TV comedy Peep Show also arrived with them. Gives them a definite tick in the box for "celebrities worship here."

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes – I was greeted with a "hello" and a service book. As there were so few of us, we shared the peace with everyone, which was nice.

Was your pew comfortable?

Long wooden pews in a lovely dark stain. I couldn't work out when the standing up and sitting down bits were (and I have been a practising Anglican all my life!). There appeared to be no rhyme or reason – we sat for the gospel and stood for the intercessions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was another tourist who decided that she would have a good look around the church in the two minutes prior to the service, and it was a little bizarre to be sitting there as if you were an exhibit in a contemporary performance art piece, while she meandered around and peered closely at the numerous plaques to the great and the good of the theatrical world.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Eucharist at Eastertide service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The hum of the tourists and assembled visitors outside in Covent Garden Piazza was quite distracting at the opening of the service, but I stopped noticing it after a while. However, I couldn't help my wandering eyes from perusing the wonderful assortment of plaques – I was sitting next to the one for Noel Coward. I am unsure if this meant they worshipped here, had a memorial service here, or if it was just to mark the death of a significant person in the theatrical world.

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

Quite high tradition, but with a definite sense of showmanship. And good use of bells. As the service was to begin, the celebrant walked in and rang a little hand bell, which set off the man at the back ringing the very big bell in the tower. The celebrant then did an amazing little routine, where he walked (at a clip) up to the altar, bowed straight ahead, bowed to the right, then began walking around the altar from the left, stopped to kneel and kiss it, and continued back around to the front where he bowed in front of it again. He then moved with speed to the lectern, the bells stopped ringing perfectly on time, and he began the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

3 minutes.

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

7 – The celebrant had the most wonderful voice. He sounded like he was reading one of the Shakespearian tragic roles, with beautiful diction, probably most akin to Patrick Stewart in tone and style. I could have listened to him all day; however, he didn't seem to want to go on for very long.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

At the feast of the Ascension we are reminded of the humanity of the godhead. Jesus doesn't go up to heaven literally (because we all know that there are satellites above us now), but his ascension is like going up a class at school, and he takes the whole world into heaven with him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The intercessions were truly beautiful and moved me to the core – I will be borrowing ideas for when I am next on the rota. We were invited to remember everyone "in this great city of London" and then to remember the prayers of all those who had been in this church today, and the thoughts and worries of their hearts. Being that it is located in a touristy place that obviously gets many visitors from all over the world who stop by to say a quick prayer each day, I found this to be a particularly beautiful way of connecting with them, and it made me think about what had moved them to stop, come in and pray.

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

Being the subject of a tourist photograph rather than preparing for worship.

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

There was a definite ushering out of the church to shake hands and be away. "Can I take your service book?" was the only conversation offered, along with the celebrant's "Good-bye, thank you for coming." This was a sparsely attended evening eucharist, though.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

6 – The theatre of the whole service was totally appropriate for the setting of the church, though I'm not entirely sure that it's my personal style.

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

Yes, if only for such beautiful prayers that remembered the whole community rather than just ailing church members and the generality of world conflicts. It reminded me that at our best we are an outward looking church.

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

Seeing the man from Peep Show there.

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