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3018: All Souls, Langham Place, London
All Souls, Langham Place, London (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Hector the Lector.
The church: All Souls, Langham Place, London.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of London.
The building: Designed by the late 18th-early 19th century architect John Nash, who was responsible for much of the layout of Regency London. It is Nash's last surviving church and is built of Bath stone. Its most prominent aspect is the circular vestibule with a spire, which one reviewer has called "one of the most miserable structures in the metropolis." It is certainly idiosyncratic, with a circle of Corinthian columns topped by a multi-sided peaked structure. In 1940 the church was badly damaged by a land mine; restoration took ten years to complete. The interior was reordered in the 1970s.
The church: The rector of All Souls is appointed by the Crown Appointments Commission at 10 Downing Street, a tradition that dates back to George IV. It is one of the most prominent evangelical Anglican churches in London. The 20th century Anglican cleric John Stott, one of the most influential leaders in the worldwide evangelical movement, was a previous rector. They have a number of small groups and sponsor programs of all sorts – see their website for a complete listing. There are two Sunday morning services plus an afternoon student ministry and evening service.
The neighbourhood: All Souls is in the heart of London, next door to BBC Broadcasting House and close to bustling Oxford Street and Regent Street.
The cast: The eucharist was celebrated in the presence of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, by the Most Revd and Rt Hon. Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York. The Rt Revd Robert Paterson, Bishop of Sodor and Man and Chair of the Central Readers' Council, was the preacher. An assortment of clergy, Readers and lay ministers assisted.
The date & time: Ascension Day, 5 May 2016, 2.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Festival Eucharist celebrating 150 years of Reader ministry in the presence of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, Patron of the Central Readers' Council.

How full was the building?
Full to the rafters.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Due to the high profile Royal guest, security was very tight. This was a ticket-only event. As well as showing our tickets at the door, we also had to provide ID such as a passport or driving licence. Once through security, we were ushered to our seats.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not particularly. I was upstairs in the gallery. As I suffer from vertigo, I felt rather queasy every time I stood up.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was quite a buzz. People were chatting excitedly. As people entered, the organist played several pieces, including one of the chorales from the Bach St John Passion (which I though was an unusual choice for Ascension Day).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"God has gone up with a shout," spoken by the archbishop, to which we all responded, "The Lord with the sound of the trumpet."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service booklet specially printed for the occasion.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and the All Souls Brass Ensemble consisting of two trumpets, trombone, tuba, French horn and timpani. The original organ, an opus of the 19th century English firm Bishop and Starr, was replaced in 1913 by an opus of Alfred Hunter, which was rebuilt and enlarged by Henry Willis in 1951 and by Harrison & Harrison in 1976. It was completely cleaned and overhauled in 1998.

Did anything distract you?
It was a warm day and the building was full, so the windows were open. This is a very busy part of London, so the sound of traffic and loud chattering from outside was a constant distraction.

All Souls, Langham Place, London (Duke and Archbishop)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly formal. The archbishop and bishop both wore rochet, cope and mitre. Neither of them carried a crozier. There was a wide selection of hymns, all of which were sung with great gusto. I noticed that the Duke of Edinburgh didn't appear to be joining in with any of the hymns. At the end we sang the National Anthem; he joined in with that. (He'd probably have been in trouble if he hadn't!)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – The Rt Revd Robert Paterson spoke with clarity and humour. He held my attention throughout.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Readers (also known as Licensed Lay Ministers) are an accredited ministry in the Anglican Church, authorised to preach, teach and lead non-sacramental worship (including funerals). Many Readers are also involved in pastoral work. The modern Reader ministry was founded on Ascension Day in 1866. How appropriate it is that the celebration of Our Lord returning to his Father should be associated with a new ministry. Lay ministry is an important institution of the Church. Readers are definitely not "clergy lite" but a distinct ministry in its own right.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Sharing the joy of the Ascension with my fellow Readers. Also, the New Testament reading from Ephesians was read out in Welsh with great passion. Although I didn't understand what was being said, I still found it incredibly exciting.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As mentioned above, it was a warm day – the warmest day of the year so far. Unusually for me, I was wearing a jacket and tie for the occasion. By the end of the service I felt as though I'd spent the entire afternoon in a sauna.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
That didn't happen. There was lots of milling about. Other Readers from my own diocese gathered for a group photograph, but organising this was like herding cats!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
N/A – Not really an option. This was a one-off event for a special occasion.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. Not just that, but it also made me very glad to be a Reader.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The amazing "buzz" of the entire service.
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