St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary Redcliffe
Location: Bristol, England
Date of visit: Wednesday, 26 February 2020, 7:30pm

The building

A Gothic masterpiece, as described by me in an earlier report. The inside has many wonders, including superb 18th century metalwork: wrought-iron screens, brass chandeliers. The 18th century baluster font has a dove hanging above it. The recent and fascinating chaotic pendulum, which is powered by water dripped randomly, has a bench (not modern) in front so you can sit and take time to work out if it really is random. The stone vaulting is throughout. The ambulatory gets you eventually to the Lady chapel behind the high altar. Down the centuries, there have been many additions and renovations, but the mediaeval plan of the church is still relevant today and still used.

The church

From their literature (and also on a mid-week winter evening), they seem very active, inclusive and friendly. All sorts of outreach takes place as well as services that the founders of the church would recognise.

The neighborhood

Roaring roads are the main feature, making the church difficult to reach. On the other side of the roads are council flats, offices, hotels, posh flats, and car parks.

The cast

There were three priests.

What was the name of the service?

Solemn Eucharist.

How full was the building?

Forty or fifty in the congregation, with another twenty or thirty round the altar.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. The friendly churchwarden does a brilliant job.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Meticulous rehearsal. They really do think of everything.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘In the days of King David, when a public confession was made, people would wear sackcloth and mark their heads with ashes.’ The priest went on to say that today our Palm Sunday crosses, a symbol of earthly kingship, are burned along with our pride. He then lit a fire, which burned spectacularly on the chancel steps.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

Early on – hoping there would be enough people. There were.

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

Traditional, and beautifully carried out with scrupulous attention to detail. After a short introduction over the (excellent) sound system, the choir processed from the back of the church singing the Tallis Litany. This was beautifully choreographed as well as sung, as was the whole service. Last year's palm crosses were burned (with a huge and dramatic flame) at the chancel steps. Then followed a choral mass by Byrd, which included three readings, a sermon, and the imposition of the ashes, which cool quite quickly. There was incense.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes.

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

2 — This is a personal opinion. I assume the preacher knew his congregation and was talking to them. Maybe everyone except me knows the works of Stephen Spielberg, so I am in no position to judge.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The preacher’s text was the gospel reading for the day: John 8:1-11 (‘Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone’). He said that he didn’t know how Stephen Spielberg would have staged the scene. The early part would have been easy – panning in on the faces of the scribes and Pharisees. But he wasn’t sure about the part where Jesus started writing on the ground. The preacher used the word ‘naked’ five times and reached the conclusion that the gospel was an invitation to us to come face to face with who we truly are. ‘Can we love ourselves so much that we let the evil go?’

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Thr ritual, the singing, the architecture.

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

The sermon.

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

We exchanged greeting at the door with the priest.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

10 — The office of compline is sung on Tuesday evenings during Lent – I’ll be back for that.

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

My companion said that it was the most interesting Anglican service he had ever been to. It was interesting – and also very well done. The burning of the palm crosses (new to me too) was exciting and dramatic.

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

The great flames at the chancel steps.

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