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755: All Saints, Rome, Italy
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All Saints, Rome, Italy
Mystery Worshipper: Egeria.
The church: All Saints, Rome, Italy.
Denomination: Anglican.
The building: All Saints is in a busy shopping street, right on the pavement, constructed of brown Roman brick. Despite its not very Roman Gothic windows and a discreet sign outside, you could walk straight past it (well, I could, and I have at least once in the past). Inside, it's not unlike a late 19th century London church (it was built in the 1880s). Unusually, the chairs are arranged in diagonal rows, rather than parallel with the front of the church, so one sits at a slight angle to the altar. On the day we were there, there seemed to be very little natural light in the church; I'm not sure if that was because of the very Anglican stained glass or the fact that it was a dark, rainy day.
The church: Not easy to tell what the church community was like on this particular occasion, as the congregation was obviously full of people who wouldn't be there on an ordinary Sunday. I get the impression that like a lot of Anglican churches overseas its members are drawn from all parts of the world. During the notices, the chaplain described it as somewhere that tries to be "an ordinary parish church in extraordinary circumstances".
The neighbourhood: The church is in Via del Babuino, a city centre street that runs from the bottom of the Spanish Steps to the Piazza del Popolo. It's a busy main street lined with expensive shops.
The cast: The Most Revd. and Rt Hon Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England, presiding and preaching; the Rt Revd. Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltr in Europe; the Revd. Jonathan Boardman, Chaplain of All Saints' Church.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Packed – I don't think there was an empty chair in the place.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were all handed the service booklet as we came in, amid "good mornings". But as there were about 20 of us (we were on a parish pilgrimage) and were all busy being amazed at the fact that the service was going to be taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the opportunities for us to be greeted individually were somewhat limited!

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a rather traditional wooden chair, which might have been more comfortable if the church hadn't been so full – one of my neighbours was quite large and I felt a bit squashed. And there was nowhere to put the service booklet at the peace, or at communion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and buzzing. The organist started playing more than half an hour before the service began, and people talked quietly under cover of the music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Good morning and welcome to All Saints on this, the 16th Sunday after Trinity."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A booklet containing the entire service, including the readings and hymns.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ (and a good choir).

Did anything distract you?
It was warm in the crowded church and a woman in the row in front of me fanned herself almost non-stop with a piece of white paper, which kept catching my eye.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dignified (but not stiff and starchy), traditional Anglican.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Fourteen minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – No, I'm not just saying that because he's the Archbishop of Canterbury! He has a style that's at once humorous and relaxed and deeply intellectually serious. My mind wanders all too easily during sermons; it didn't this time.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began with angels, and how we are a little lower than them (the epistle was Hebrews 2). How puzzled these glorious creatures must be by the interest God takes in mere human beings! But we aren't meant to be angels; our value lies in our humanity and the way in which God has designed us to be interdependent, to grow together in love and co-operation into what he means us to be.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being on the receiving end of one of God's glorious surprises. Who'd go to Rome and expect to find the Archbishop of Canterbury?

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Thinking about the divisions in the Christian church – the Archbishop was in Rome because he'd come to pay a visit to the Pope. Here are two bodies of Christians who share one Lord, one faith and one baptism, and know it perfectly well – but all sorts of human traditions still keep us worshipping separately.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of standing around – we were swept in a tidal wave of people down to the crypt, where a reception was being held. It was very sociable and friendly, especially after the first glass of wine!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was wine (and lots of it – I tried to put my glass back and had it firmly refilled) and an endless procession of delicious little things on trays, brought round by members of the church who had a hard time making their way through the crowds.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If I were lucky enough to live in Rome, it's obviously the place an Anglican like me would head for! Of course I've no idea what it's like on an ordinary Sunday, or during the week, but it's a beautiful church and the website makes it sound a good place to be.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I've thought a lot about this one – I think the answer has to be, rather boringly, everything.
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