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  1016: St John the Evangelist, Waterloo, London

St John the Evangelist, Waterloo, London

Mystery Worshipper: Bishop's Finger.
The church: St John the Evangelist, Waterloo, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Built in 1824 as one of the "Waterloo" churches in thanksgiving for the end of the Napoleonic Wars, this is a plain rectangular edifice with an impressive pillared portico surmounted by an elegant tower and spire. Bombed in 1940, it was rebuilt (minus north and south galleries) in time for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Further restoration was carried out in 1998. The interior is light and spacious, with some fine wall paintings at the east end (including a Hans Feibusch mural of the Crucifixion).
The church community: The church is actively involved both in its local community and with wider issues of social justice. The crypt was converted into a day centre for the homeless about 20 years ago, and the parish was also instrumental in the construction of the Coin Street housing development nearby, in an area that was originally to be developed with yet more office buildings.
The neighbourhood: The parish includes the bustling South Bank arts complex, the Shell Centre, the London Eye and Waterloo Station, as well as a number of quiet and pleasant streets of terraced houses and flats. There are quite a few shops and pubs in the vicinity, together with the Old Vic Theatre and "The Cut" street market.
The cast: The Rev. Canon Richard Truss, vicar, was the celebrant, assisted by the Rev. Alison Warner, deacon, and the Rev. David Pape, gospeller and preacher. In addition, a man and two small girls served as crucifer and acolytes, albeit in civvies rather than vestments.

What was the name of the service?
10.30am Parish Communion for the fifth Sunday of Easter.

How full was the building?
About 60-70 people all told. The nave is nearly as wide as it is long, so the effect was of a fairly full church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one was on hand to give out books or anything. However, one of the clergy greeted us, asked if we were staying for the service, gave us our leaflets, and left us to find our own seats.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews – instead, we had modern padded seats (very comfortable, too) with plenty of space in front in which to kneel. Individual hassocks were provided for that purpose – also very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet – most people seemed to arrive in the last few minutes before the service began, but even then the conversation was not loud or intrusive. The organist played a short meditative prelude.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St. John's!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A holy communion booklet for Eastertide (complete with alleluias) based on Common Worship Order 1, together with neatly printed separate notice sheets and a hymn sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ only, except for the final hymn (We are marching in the light of God) for which the kiddies were provided with tambourines.

Did anything distract you?
Despite the light and spacious interior, the church was rather cluttered with notice boards and children's drawings from all the churches of the diocese. I noticed a peculiar object on the north side of the sanctuary step – some modern sculpture, perhaps? – resembling a tall, bottle-shaped wire cage that had been burst open. It made me think of the empty tomb of the resurrection, so maybe it works.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A straightforward middle-of-the-road Anglican eucharist, with a mixture of traditional and modern hymns and (in the absence of a choir) reasonably good congregational singing. The clergy were vested although crucifer, acolytes and servers were not, and there was very little pomp and circumstance (e.g. no gospel procession).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – This was more of an informal chat than a sermon, delivered from a small portable lectern rather than the pulpit. It was none the worse for that, and the preacher's style went over well with the congregation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Pape took as his theme a verse from the gospel of the day: "Do not let your hearts be troubled." These words of Jesus might sound like a party political broadcast [and here Father repeated the text in the style of the three main party leaders, apologising for not being as good at this as Rory Bremner]. But Jesus was trying to encourage his disciples to look forward, beyond his forthcoming ascension, rather than back. Although politicians sometimes campaign negatively by playing on people's fears of terrorists, immigrants or dirty hospitals, Jesus campaigns positively by encouraging us in our Christian life. Some Christians may take a slightly negative view of Jesus's words "No one comes to the Father except by me," but Jesus did not come to set up a rigid structure. Instead, he came to set us an example. Through him, his words and deeds, we can see and know God despite all our faults and failings.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This must be one of the most mixed and inclusive congregations I've ever been in, both in terms of the age range and the different ethnic groups – a real foretaste of Heaven. It was a great joy to see how people of such varying backgrounds can be united in the Body of Christ. It was also moving to see how well some disabled folk in the congregation were looked after, both during the service and afterward.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing particularly hellish . . . but I do wish we could have had access to the music for the sung parts of the liturgy. The setting used slightly different words from those in the service leaflet, causing confusion to self and Auntie. Oh, and what's wrong with the good old traditional words for the Lord's Prayer?

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The prayers were brief and formal, but included petitions for those seeking election to Parliament and also to the church's parish council. No mention was made of the new Pope.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Oh, dear, here we go again. I really must change my deodorant. In fairness, folk seemed to be preoccupied with rounding up their kiddies (all very well-behaved, by the way) or preparing for the annual parochial church meeting, which was held after the service. But both myself and Auntie (quite presentable people, not hideous in any way) seemed for a time to be invisible. Eventually we made our way to the coffee table and after a while were greeted by the vicar. No one else spoke to us. I felt this was a shame, as at first they seemed like a friendly bunch.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Excellent fair trade coffee in proper large china cups, with some tasty biccies. No charge, but donations invited (which I think is fair enough given the price of coffee in London cafes).

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I enjoyed worshipping with such a diverse group, although the liturgy was not quite as "high up the candle" as my usual church. Overlooking the congregation's preoccupation with their annual meeting, I might well go again and hope to be more visible next time!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes, without a doubt.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Singing Happy Birthday at the end of the service to a member of the congregation confined to a wheelchair – it obviously meant a great deal to her.
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