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3083: St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Vagrant Congregant.
The church: St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of London.
The building: Unremarkable from the outside. It was designed by Ernest Charles Shearman, who designed several churches in the London area. The foundation stone was laid in 1911 by Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein. The interior is lofty and spacious, replete with shrines and a variety of appointments. From just about any point in the nave, one has an unobstructed view of the sanctuary, pulpit and high altar, with the altar being the focus of attention. Stained glass windows depict the Madonna and Child, St Cecilia and St Michael.
The church: Called by one commentator "the highest of the high," St Silas is known for its high church worship and schedule of services. Over his tenure the present vicar, who has held the post since 1992, has built it into one of, if not the, most significant Anglo-Catholic (and Anglo-Papal) churches in London. They have a chapter of the Society of Mary. There are two morning masses each Sunday with crèche and Sunday school, plus an evening mass followed by benediction, and a mass each day during the week. Confessions are heard on Fridays and Saturdays or by appointment.
The neighbourhood: The neighbourhood itself is unremarkable. When the church was built, the area was a slum, but it seems to have improved in a century! The church is surrounded by apartments.
The cast: The Revd Graeme Rowland, vicar.
The date & time: Sunday, 23 October 2016, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Parish Mass Commemorating the 104th Anniversary of the Dedication of St Silas' Church.

How full was the building?
There were 45 people present who filled about three-quarters of the seats.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted by several people who showed me to the service leaflets. The church is English so no prying questions!

Was your pew comfortable?
Not particularly. Seating is in chairs that are linked together with wood. Kneelers are made out of leather and (what I can assume was) foam.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Before mass there was a flurry of activity. The vicar hurried about the church lighting candles and setting up the altar.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything was contained in the leaflets: one with chants and one with the mass for the dedication of a church.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ was played to accompany a well-trained professional choir. The organ is a digital instrument by Copeman Hart Church Organ Builders of Shaw, Lancashire, installed in 1994. The pipework of the original JC Bishop and Son instrument remains in the west gallery and conceals the speakers of the Copeman organ.

St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town (Organ)

Did anything distract you?
I was distracted by the signs of wear in the church. It wasn't in disrepair but there were cobwebs here and there, rain damage, stained walls, etc.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Incredibly solemn. The novus ordo mass was celebrated ad orientem with Latin chant and incense.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Father Graeme was exceptional. I wasn't sure if this was going to be a pious Anglo-Catholic sermon. Instead, he focused on the young members of the congregation. He quizzed them at one point and called several up. The three girls he called up were given props to illustrate his points. He also used a photo of Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein to discuss her role in founding the church.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He briefly described the history of the church, including the laying of the cornerstone and the consecration ceremony (it rained that day). He then wove that theme into how we are the church of God as people and not just a building, and that we use sacred objects as the church to worship.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir was absolutely stunning. The chants were well rehearsed and beautiful. The service was among one of the most dignified I have ever attended, both because of Father Graeme's obvious devotion as well as the beautiful setting.

St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town (Interior)

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At communion we received under both species. However, the priest first ministered the bread, and then returned to the altar to fetch the chalice for ministering. This constant back and forth to the altar made communion last quite a while and seemed cumbersome. A deacon may be helpful in the parish.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had a meeting immediately after service so I had to dash off. Mass lasted about an hour and 30 minutes, which was longer than I expected!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The handout said that coffee and tea would be served "as usual" in the church hall, but as I did not stay, I cannot comment on how it went.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – The setting and devotion of Father and the congregation were exemplary. That, combined with the choir, made it a truly special occasion.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Father rushing around lighting the candles and setting up.
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