t Andrew Bethune Road (Exterior)

St Andrew's, Bethune Road, London


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Andrew's
Location: Bethune Road, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 December 2015, 10:30am

The building

A lofty Gothic Revival church consecrated in 1884. It is the work of Sir Arthur Blomfield, who designed or restored dozens of churches throughout England, as well as the Royal College of Music and the war memorial known as the Cross of Sacrifice, copies or imitations of which are found in hundreds of cemeteries throughout the world. A correct but slightly dull architect, in my opinion. The stone with which the church was built is ragstone, that crumbly white stuff that just doesnt last very well in the London weather. However, the main attraction of the building is the interior, where much of the wall surface is covered by frescoes and most of the windows have good stained glass from a variety of studios. It gives the atmosphere of an early Italian Gothic. There are few modern intrusions in this Gothic Revival vision.

The church

The congregation is small and has been without a full-time priest for the past ten years. Their current priest, the Revd Evan Jones, recently came out of retirement to help the congregation rescue their church from impending closure, and there are signs that things are beginning to turn around.

The neighborhood

Bethune Road is in the leafy and once quite smart suburban hinterland between Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington. Large-ish houses on wide-ish streets. Today it is notable for the high number of ultra-orthodox Jews living in the area. As I walked to church, I passed a couple of dozen Hasidic men in long black coats and a splendid variety of black wide-brimmed hats, all walking briskly as though late for an important appointment (though they were going in different directions so I dont think were).

The cast

The Revd Evan Jones, chaplain, and two servers. The guest preacher was the Revd Doug Hiza, a former Hackney Hospital chaplain.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Mass

How full was the building?

About two dozen in a lofty church that could seat 200. In spite of the low numbers, it felt welcoming and comfortable and the nave altar meant we were engaged with the liturgy.The congregation at St Andrew's are multicultural, as you would hope in Hackney, and had a range of ages too.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

One of the servers greeted me with a smile and handed me what I needed.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pine pews passed muster.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Peaceful and reflective.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"We will sing the Advent litany in procession."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Anglican Hymns Old and New and three service sheets quite a handful to juggle.

What musical instruments were played?

Two electric keyboards in the south aisle. The organist wore a natty yellow tie.

Did anything distract you?

The huge east window was damaged in WWII and replaced with 1954 Whitefriars glass. But why, I found myself wondering, did the central Christ figure hold a St George pennant while St Andrew, to whom the church is dedicated, and his flag were nowhere to be seen?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Modern catholic: incense, a procession for the Advent litany and gospel, but nothing was more elaborate than needed. It all felt right. We processed behind crucifer, priest and thurifer around the spacious church as we sang an Advent litany at the beginning of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – The Revd Doug Hiza wore a brightly coloured hand-knitted stole a friendly touch. He was preaching in a week when Parliament had approved bombing in Syria and within a month of the Paris bombing by ISIS.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Middle East, Iraq and Syria are a mirror to the truth that you reap what you sow.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The small band of worshippers took possession of the very spacious church. It might otherwise have seemed intimidatingly large.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Some distant but deep bass music from somewhere behind the altar spoiled the post communion peace.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

No opportunity to look – or feel – lost. The chaplain spotted me as a newcomer and greeted me. We chatted about the church and its parish. One or two other members of the congregation also freely chatted.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was coffee – instant in real cups. However, I had already imbibed enough caffeine for the day.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – The welcome and warmth were notable.

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


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The attentiveness during the service.

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