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2925: St George’s, Venice, Italy
St George, Venice (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Teean.
The church: St George’s, Venice, Italy.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese in Europe.
The building: The small white edifice is the former warehouse of the Venezia-Murano Glass and Mosaic Company. It was acquired by the Church in 1889 upon the company's dissolution, and dedicated in 1892. Above its bronze doors (much damaged by corrosion; a restoration project is underway) is a white statue of St George and a tablet depicting a dragon. The airy interior is painted white and light grey, and the high windows are a mixture of plain and stained glass. Stations of the Cross, sculpted in a rather modern fashion, are placed around the church on walls that are also hung with many memorials and plaques. At the side is a war memorial with British and American flags placed by a memorial book. Six candles adorn the altar, where a painting of St George, surrounded by a golden reredos, lies above the communion table.
The church: Anglican services have been held here for the benefit of English speaking residents and visitors ever since the church's dedication, except for the World War II years. A year-round Sunday service was established in 1967, which continues to this day. The church also hosts concerts from time to time.
The neighbourhood: Venice is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Situated in a shallow lagoon, it is built on an archipelago of 118 islands, which are formed by approximately 150 canals and connected by approximately 400 bridges. Buildings and sights of incredible beauty surround the church. On one side is the Galleria dell’Accademia (Venice’s art gallery) and on the other is the Penny Guggenheim Modern Art collection. Only a little further on is the stunning Basilica Santa Maria della Salute that faces, across the Canal Grande, the Piazza San Marco – wherein lie the exquisite buildings of the Basilica San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale. What a location! The small white church overlooks Campo San Vio, just off the Canal Grande.
The cast: The Ven. Howard Levett, chaplain and priest in charge. He was appropriately vested in alb and chasuble. I feel sure that if the chaplain had the people available, there would have been a procession of servers and choir led by thurifer and crucifer. But he didn’t have any such help.
The date & time: Sunday, 20 September 2015, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
It was quite full with around 50 – 60 worshippers, mostly middle aged or elderly. A lady informed me that most of the congregation were visitors and that only a handful were residents.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was welcomed by several lovely ladies who told me things about the church and enquired where I came from.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden pew and was about as comfortable as one could expect.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was the usual greeting and whispering, but I was struck by the ringing and bonging of bells that I could hear from outside. Venice seemed to be working itself up into a frenzy of worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The sung opening words were “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Common Praise hymnbook, the Book of Common Prayer and a dedicated St George’s Venice service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?
It sounded like a traditional organ, but I couldn’t see it because it was at the back of the church.

Did anything distract you?
Based on the angle that sunlight streamed through the windows, I decided the liturgical east was in fact geographical north. I also wondered how the church was financed if there were only a few actual residents in the congregation. It made me decide to put a generous donation in the collection.

St George, Venice (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It seemed to be a slightly modernised Book of Common Prayer service with beautiful traditional language that also included the peace. I felt very much at home with it. I wasn’t familiar with any of the melodies used for the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, but the music was printed in the service booklet – which was helpful to those who can sight-sing. I was also helped along by a gentleman behind me who sang confidently with a pleasing baritone voice.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – The chaplain didn’t use any notes and spoke very clearly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about wisdom, as written about in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. God wants to share wisdom, manifested by the Holy Spirit, with all people.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The chaplain mentioned that all churches in Venice as well as all Anglican and Roman Catholic churches everywhere would be listening to the same gospel reading that morning. That, together with the joyful singing, the sunlight pouring through the windows, and the wonderful sound of bells from other Venetian churches made me realise that so many people would be praising God at the same time.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The kneeler was a wooden plank, thinly covered in material, and I soon realised that it was the most uncomfortable and pain-producing kneeler I have ever encountered! There was a lot of kneeling throughout the service and I had serious worries that my knees would never be the same again – and whether I would still be able to cross the Venetian bridges without any pain. Luckily the kneeler at the communion rail was deeply cushioned and was divinely comfortable in comparison. I could have stayed there for the rest of the service!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most people were visitors so they tended to talk amongst themselves. I managed to have a lovely conversation with the chaplain, who knew my church at home.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn’t see any drinks, but a lady had baked some cakes – and they were delicious.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If I lived in this wonderful place I would definitely worship here. But if they haven’t refurbished those kneelers I would have to bring a cushion to give myself a modicum of comfort.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Undoubtedly. I really enjoyed the lovely traditional service.

St George, Venice (Lectern)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The unforgettable sounds of Venetian bells, all singing and sending worshipful sounds to God.
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