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3261: St Helena's, Larnaca, Cyprus
St Helena's, Larnaca, Cyprus (exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Sheshe.
The church: St Helena's, Larnaca, Cyprus.
Denomination: Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf. Although the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East is part of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1976 relinquished his metropolitan authority to a central synod and presiding bishop who is elected on a rotating basis from among the four member dioceses.
The building: A modern building occupying the ground floor of an apartment block. The interior is nicely decorated and appears well looked after.
The church: They are an English speaking congregation drawn from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They run a charity shop and have various activities: Bible study groups, prayer time, ladies' coffee afternoons, social and fundraising events. Weddings are a major source of income for many churches on Cyprus, and the priests can officiate in hotels, etc., not just in church. I understand, however, that St Helena's is not as popular as some for this purpose. Pity; it's a very attractive little church. As far as services go, there is holy communion each Sunday, with evensong on some Sundays and a "quiet service" on Thursdays.
The neighbourhood: Larnaca, on the southern coast of Cyprus, hosts the island's primary airport and is a popular tourist destination. A geological feature of interest is a large salt lake that remains dry most of the year but fills with water in winter, attracting flocks of flamingoes. The salt was once mined but is now considered unsuitable for consumption. The church is located just off a busy dual carriageway, opposite what used to be the main hospital. The road is one-way and is also something of a bus station, with stops for both local and inter-city buses. Also nearby are a school, the municipal theatre, the municipal park, and other churches.
The cast: The Ven. Dr John Holdsworth, parish priest, was the preacher. The celebrant was the Revd Geoff Graham.
The date & time: Christ the King Sunday, 26 November 2017, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion (although it was actually a Sung Eucharist).

How full was the building?
About 75 per cent full – around 50 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had stopped by a couple of days before, attracted by their notice board, and at that time a nice lady named Sue said hello and welcome. But she was not there today. Even so, the verger welcomed me and said I could sit where I liked. The two priests walked down the aisle prior to the service and welcomed people, including me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Plastic chairs with cushions. Comfortable enough but nowhere to put books.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were chatting among themselves in groups. No notice was taken of visitors. Well, one lady did ask if I was a visitor and ignored me when I said I was. A lady was playing what I thought at first was an electronic keyboard, but it turned out to be some recorded music selected from a computer screen.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let us pray," said from the door prior to the procession and entrance hymn. After that: "Please be seated."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New; a holy communion booklet; a weekly service sheet. No Bibles were offered to the congregation.

What musical instruments were played?
All music was selected from the computer.

Did anything distract you?
At the start of the service and after communion, the music was just switched off rather than being faded out, which felt rather abrupt and off-putting. Both priests wore liturgical green when they should have been wearing the colour prescribed for Christ the King Sunday.

St Helena's, Larnaca, Cyprus (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal; definitely Anglican. Personally I found it a bit pretentious for such a small church. The clergy processed in and out behind a crucifer, who didn't look happy carrying the cross, as it appeared to be too heavy for her. The Gloria and responses were sung. I'm fairly certain that the eucharistic prayer was taken from Common Worship, although the rest of the service seemed to come from a variety of other sources. When the celebrant broke the bread he didn't hold it up, but as we received communion, he made the Sign of the Cross with the bread. We remained seated for the final blessing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – It was a scholarly sermon, more like a theological essay or Bible study, but it was very good and I found myself making notes to take home. I would have given the preacher a higher rating had I thought that his style was more engaging.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about kingship. There had been three Bible readings but the main focus of the sermon was a passage from Solomon, which was not one of them. The preacher did mention a few topical, cultural and political examples. His point was that our needs are gathered up in the human Jesus, our Saviour King, and we must allow Christ the King to rule our hearts.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The verger's smile when handing out the service books. Her quiet Christian witness and joy were the best thing about this church. I would return just to meet her again. She was an angel.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
All the digital music. And I sensed a lack of joy, although that may have been due to the fact that a beloved member of the congregation had recently passed away, as was mentioned in the notices and in the intercessory prayers.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As we left, the two priests (and some woman who had not actually featured in the service) lined up to shake our hands. Father Graham asked me where I was from (I hail from a Northern town), and when I told him he said, "Oh dear, I went there once!" If he meant that as a joke, I didn't take it that way. Coffee was served in the courtyard. Those serving the coffee were quite chatty, but after that I was ignored, so I finished my coffee and left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and tea were offered using china cups and saucers. There were also some fairly plain biscuits. I did not see any notice that anything was fairly traded, but I may have missed it. At any rate, I didn't see labels announcing the brands used, although again I may simply not have been looking carefully.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I would attend only if I was desperate. Shorter sermons and an organist to play the hymns would be an improvement.

St Helena's, Larnaca, Cyprus (Notice board)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really. I got the impression that the attitude was "Take it or leave it as we are the only Anglican church in Larnaca." Indeed, the next nearest is many miles away. I was embarrassed and ashamed for the congregation.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Having where I come from be made the butt of a joke.
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