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Heart, Battersea, England
Heart, Battersea, England.
A large, red brick building. It has a wide nave and two side
aisles, with attractive Romanesque columns separating the two.
The high altar and tabernacle were elevated at the east end
of the round apse, but the mass was celebrated nearer the congregation
on a modern table. Parts of the building are crumbling somewhat,
but fundraising has been taking place and a new annexe has just
been built as well as some internal refurbishments.
I noticed a strong sense of community, with the deacon walking
up and down the aisle laughing with parishioners before mass.
Unfortunately their website does not give details of the parish
organisations and activities, and I was not able to find out
much on my own. The church is administered by priests of the
of Don Bosco, said to be the second largest Catholic religious
order in the world.
Battersea is an inner city district in South London, in the
borough of Wandsworth. There are areas of affluence but also
some of the bleakest council estates anywhere to be found. The
church sits between the chic cafes of Battersea Square and some
council estates, and the make-up of the congregation reflected
both of these.
The Revd Christopher Heaps, SDB, parish priest, was the celebrant,
assisted by the Revd Mr Michael Kennedy, deacon, who also preached.
There were two other priests who concelebrated with Father Heaps,
but their names were not given. Also assisting were a small
army of servers (see later) and a lady who read the lessons
and led the prayers of the faithful.
The date & time:
Feast of the Epiphany, Sunday, 8 January 2012, 11.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
When I arrived, a full seven minutes before the service, it
seemed the church would be almost entirely empty, but almost
out of nowhere it filled up in the last minutes. Most seats
were filled Ė I reckon at least 200. The congregation were very
diverse and included a lot of children of different ages.
Did anyone welcome you
No Ė the person charged with welcoming was rather involved in
conversation with the priest, so I helped myself to a hymn book
and sat down.
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pew was fine, but the fixed kneeler didnít leave
enough space to stand comfortably when required. I eventually
resorted to standing on the kneeler, which was probably a faux
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite noisy and busy, as everyone arrived at the last minute.
The priest and deacon were rushing around trying to collar parishioners
to read lessons, do the collection, etc.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
A bell rang, and the organist struck up with "The First
Nowell." After this, the priest began with the standard
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
Holy Spirit" followed by an informal welcome.
What books did the congregation use during the
The Laudate hymn book and a mass card (although I had
taken my shiny new missal along).
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ played from the gallery above the porch. A touch slow, but generally competent.
Did anything distract
The ancient Chinese art of feng shui (balance of energies)
can churches have feng shui? of the sanctuary
was badly disrupted by a hideous floor-to-ceiling banner with
a very crude depiction of the star and stable at Bethlehem,
in lurid yellow and white. It was right in my line of view and
didnít fit in at all.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It was a relaxed yet dignified mass, with clergy in gold vestments
and servers in pint-sized purple cassocks with surplices. Although
there was a good aroma of incense in the church, none was used
at this service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Deacon Michael delivered his sermon very well and illustrated
it clearly, but I occasionally lost the thread of his argument.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The deacon picked up on some of the lines from the hit Christmas
single Military Wives, by the British choirmaster and
television personality Gareth Malone, and linked these to the
Epiphany. Over the centuries, generations of Christians have
woven varying identities around the three Magi. But the fact
remains that they were foreigners, and this reminds us that
Christ came to earth for all people. The star that guided the
Magi is the light of faith. Keep the faith and the light strong
through prayer. Be a guiding light for all.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Mass began and ended with an enormous procession of child servers
I counted at least 17. They were of all ages, boys and
girls, and from every racial background imaginable. I found
it inspiring both that so many children should want to participate
actively in the mass, and that such a diverse group could be
united in a common faith. One of the servers was given a medal
at the end a rather fitting reward, I thought.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The bizarre "knees-bent" standing position that one
had to adopt to fit into the pews was hardly comfortable, and
the alternative (gaining six inches in height by standing on
the kneelers) was rather conspicuous.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Sadly I couldnít hang around afterwards, as a text message that
arrived during the last hymn informed me I was late for a roller-blading
date. So I had to get my skates on, quite literally.
How would you describe the after-service
Iím not sure if there was any, but I was skating into the distance by the time it would have been served.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 I found the atmosphere friendly and the leadership very impressive. This was my first visit, but Iíll be tempted to return.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Very much so: the congregation reminded me of the faith Christians share, whatever shape or size.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The phalanx of purple-clad altar servers.
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