Sumptuous Wren-date and Wren-style building in the centre of Northampton. Charles II, who subscribed generously to rebuild it after a fire, stands on the centre of the portico. Inside plasterwork, woodwork and brass chandeliers are all glorious. The chancel was altered in the 19th century, but not beyond recognition.
Quoting from their website: ‘At All Saints we reflect the traditional values that have held the Church of England in good stead for many centuries … The church hosts a number of civic services throughout the year. These include the High Court Service and the Remembrance Service.’ They have three choirs: girls, boys, and teenagers/adults, all of whom sing in varying combinations at various services each week. The choirs have also appeared on tour around the UK as well as in European countries and the United States. High mass is their principal Sunday service; they also celebrate an earlier Prayer Book said service on Sundays. Daily mass is said in the Lady chapel. Choral evensong is sung on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Northampton has been a Norman castle; medieval university; market town; Victorian centre of a thriving boot and shoe trade, with rows of artisan housing and small factories on every corner; overspill town from London. Now there are car dealerships and traffic, and flats and supermarkets, and more traffic. The river Nene is still there – once busy with trade and transport, it now supports a little (very little) tourism. The National Health Service has redeveloped the huge grounds of the County Asylum, where the 19th century poet John Clare was once an inmate. The market place is immediately next door to the church's central open space. By day it looks thriving. After dark, there is a lively community of homeless. Most of the business of Northampton still appears to happen here.
The organ accompanied the procession of choir and rector. The service was sung by the boy choristers (girls on Mondays and Wednesdays, choral scholars on Fridays) and led by the rector, who read the second lesson. A chorister read the first – but see below.
What was the name of the service?Choral Evensong.
How full was the building?
Four in the congregation; twelve in the chancel.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No welcome, which I hugely welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Organ prelude, during which the congregation were asked (on the service sheet) to be quiet. The four of us had no trouble complying.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘O Lord, open thou our lips’ (sung by cantor).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service sheet only. I couldn't find a Prayer Book for the psalm but I'm sure they are there somewhere.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Slight worry that we would not get through the first lesson (see below).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Absolutely traditional. If Charles II had looked in, he would have followed every word.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Tallis (Canon) anthem, sung like a round. At last I see what Tallis was doing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The first lesson. The boy chorister chosen to read it seemed (and sounded) barely old enough to have learned to read.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Silence (wonderful) in the church – but when I stepped out under the portico, there was a street party going on. The homeless of Northampton (perhaps 40-50 of them) gather for hot drinks and sausage rolls provided by Emmaus, the charity that does such wonderful work with them. I gave them my money, as there hadn't been a collection inside.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Excellent tea. I could have had soup or hot chocolate with marshmallows, or indeed coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 — If I lived in Northampton, I'd go every day.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Delighted to be there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The beauty of building and liturgy.