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518: St George's, Lisbon, Portugal
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St George's, Lisbon, Portugal
Mystery Worshipper: Chapelhead.
The church: St George's, Lisbon, Portugal.
Denomination: Anglican.
The building: An exterior of pink and cream stone in a neo-classical style. The interior is a nave that is close to being a double cube with a pitched, oak roof. The chancel end is apsidal. The stonework is decorated in pale pink and apricot with muted green detailing – a pleasant, colourful but pastel combination.
The church: This is the Anglican church for Lisbon in the Diocese in Europe, and the priest here also serves the Church of St Paul's at Estoril.
The neighbourhood: Like many cities, especially southern European ones, Lisbon can be hot and dusty with very little greenery, and trees a rare sight. In complete contrast, this building is enclosed by the English cemetery of Lisbon: a profusion of hedges, bushes and trees. A splendidly refreshing spot, cool and shady. The church building, although quite large, is almost hidden among the vegetative abundance.
The cast: Fr. Michael Bullock, assisted by a server who was not named in the order of service.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion (Easter 3).

How full was the building?
20-25 people in a building that could hold 10 times as many before starting to be full. Consequently, the singing tended to get lost in the large space around us. A pity, especially as a later visit for a concert demonstrated that the building has very good acoustics. The mix of people was much greater than my expectation (which was for a few elderly ex-pats). There was a couple with two young children, one or two other couples, a mix of ethnic backgrounds and about even numbers of men and women.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Walking up the path to the building, I passed two ladies deep in conversation. As I walked on, one of them apologized for not having wished me good morning. She then asked if I was coming to the service and said that she would see me later, but she had to go to sort out the coffee things first. In the building itself there was simply a table with the books and orders of service. No particular person was handing them out.

Was your pew comfortable?
The seat of the pew sloped down front-to-back, which was a little odd, but the shape of the pew gave excellent support to the back.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with an air of expectancy.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
After the first hymn (which, like the others, was not announced) – "In the name of the Father..." etc.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The order of service, Hymns Ancient and Modern, and Common Worship. The "full" Common Worship book was used, rather than an abridged booklet, but full details of the page numbers were provided in the order of service, so there was no danger of getting lost.

What musical instruments were played?
A fine organ. I am no expert on these things, but it sounded splendid, and the organist informed me later that the coming of the warmer spring weather meant that it was on good form.

Did anything distract you?
The unusual (to me) classical building, or the incongruity of an Anglican service in a very non-Anglican country... but generally, nothing was very distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a Church of England "said" communion, straight from Common Worship (traditional language, eucharistic prayer A); hymns that were mainly (but not entirely) familiar; priest in alb, stole, and chasuble. No bells or smells . An entirely familiar low-to-middle Anglican experience, even down to the notice about the electoral roll, which was exactly as I would have heard back in England.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God is a God of surprises and we think we have "the answers" at our peril. The sermon was pleasantly leavened with humour and was well delivered.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
An Anglican church service in a warm climate may well actually be heaven. Also, during the last hymn (The Lord is Risen Indeed), when singing, "Then take your golden lyres and strike each cheerful chord; join, all ye bright celestial choirs, to sing our risen Lord," it seemed that we might have been joined by a celestial choir and the singing, for once, filled the space around us.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being very picky (especially as it was my own fault), half way through the service I began to feel cold. I had dressed for warm-weather sightseeing, not a church service, and I had got quite hot on the walk over to the church, a feeling that quickly wore off once I was seated. But definitely a self-inflicted situation. On a hot summer's day, with the building shaded by the trees, this may be the best place in Lisbon to be.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people chatted to me, asked whether I was a visitor to Lisbon and invited me to coffee in the surprisingly well-appointed little church hall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea, coffee or wine, with some rather nice biscuits. If your taste is not for very strong, black coffee (this is Lisbon, after all), then my recommendation would be for the wine, which comes in generous measures.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in Lisbon, I would certainly make this my first regular stop. A very pleasant place and a friendly congregation. The upkeep of such a large building by a small group must be daunting, however.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was good to join a faithful group of people in worship and to be warmly welcomed, despite being unknown to any of them.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
In a strange way, one of the striking things about the service was its very familiarity, in somewhat unfamiliar circumstances. The most memorable part of the morning, however, was walking the few yards to the church hall for coffee and passing the part of the graveyard that is a Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery. I was deeply touched by the sight of these 25-30 neat graves with their simple headstones. What brought these young men to a graveyard in Lisbon I do not know, but most of them were members of the Royal Air Force. Many were groups of three to five who died on the same day, presumably aircrew whose flights did not return – may they rest in peace and rise in glory.
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