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2674: St James's, Sussex Gardens, London
St James, London (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Maggie.
The church: St James's, Sussex Gardens, London.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of London.
The building: It is a big beautiful building, dating from 1841 but redesigned in the 1880s by GE Street, architect of the law courts in the Strand. There is lots of stained glass, often with Jesus teaching others. A crucifix hangs from a pillar near the pulpit. A statue features the Blessed Mother holding the infant Jesus praying the Rosary (an anachronism, as the Rosary as a devotion dates from the early 13th century). Another has Jesus as an adult, on the tree to be killed. There are lots of places to sit during the service. At the front there are places for musicians and singers and for communion. Just beside it and below is a bit of the church for younger children.
The church: They are known for their catholic worship style. There is a parish school and Sunday school. They have an active music program, sponsoring recitals and concerts.
The neighbourhood: A residential area, with many, many homes all along and around the area. There is also a hotel close by.
The cast: The Revd Paul Thomas, vicar.
The date & time: Passion Sunday, 5 April 2014, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Choral Evensong.

How full was the building?
The church seats about 400 but there were only about 20 people present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two women and also a man welcomed me and gave me a copy of the newsletter and a brochure outlining the Holy Week and Easter services.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable, wooden, with soft red cushions to kneel on.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very quiet before the service, with just a few people chatting. I think everyone got there on time!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal and a paper entitled Choral Evensong: Order of Service.

What musical instruments were played?
There was a really nice organ at the front on the left. The choir, men and women, sang wonderfully – and so did the vicar!

Did anything distract you?
We had Lamentations and St Matthew read to us, and read well, but I missed having a Bible to follow along with.

St James, London (Statue)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
We stood up mostly, often, and also knelt down. We also clasped each others' hands and welcomed one another as a sign of peace.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About an hour, although it seemed like two. He sang a hymn at the end of it.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The vicar reminded us again how God loves us and, of course, that it is getting near to the time when it is Easter.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The message of the Cross is salvation. There is much suffering in the world, but God has the power to release us. Jesus was willing to suffer for us – he never sinned, but he suffered nonetheless. The Cross now gives us joy, forgiveness of our sins. Jesus was crucified for us all.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A service as lovely as this one is a clear reminder of the love of Jesus and the assurance of heaven. Loving Jesus and feeling he has got us to heaven is kind and true.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But it also served as a reminder (and an embarrassment) of the times when we have done some bad things, not being like Jesus, who loves and cares for us and was always at his best behaviour.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The vicar shook my hand and blessed me, and another person clasped my hand.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was on offer.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I loved being in this church. If I lived nearby, I would enjoy belonging to it.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt glad to be a Christian as I felt good about God loving me and saving me.

St James, London (Crucifix)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The crucifix on the wall and other reminders of the Crucifixion message at this time of the year.
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