St Mary the Virgin, Olveston

St Mary the Virgin, Olveston, Gloucestershire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary the Virgin
Location: Olveston, Gloucestershire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 September 2017, 6:00pm

The building

A large village church, mostly 14th century, with a low central tower and some 12th century work inside. A lightning strike in 1605 destroyed the bells, spire, and much of the original chancel. Rebuilding was accomplished in record time, but although the tower was restored, the spire was not. A rihg of five bells was restored to the tower and expanded to eight in 1907. The inside of the church was re-ordered in 1990, with the organ removed to the back. There are some fine tomb recesses and brasses and tablets to the great and good of the village – mostly 18th century. I spent some time in the churchyard looking at the 18th century tombs – some really quite sad, as dedicated to children aged two and another of three months.

The church

They have a Monday movie night and children's movie club. They also sponsor a Thursday morning get-together at a local coffee shop, with drinks and baked goods provided by parishioners and the proceeds going to upgrading the church's coffee-making equipment. They have a bell ringers group and a handbell chorus ("The Bells of St Mary's," don't you know). There is also an informal chat group as well as home groups and a support group. St Mary's is unusual in that it attracts a large congregation in the morning – one wonders if this is due to its location. The late Revd Roly Bain, better known as Holy Roly, the "clown priest," who presented the gospel message through jokes and pratfalls, was an associate vicar here.

The neighborhood

Olveston is a small village in south Gloucestershire. The area was once covered by salt marshes that were drained in Roman times. It was once a hub for Quakers but only a small Methodist church remains. The church is next to the White Heart pub and the village is full of 18th century houses. It's not far from the Severn Bridge. The area is quite rural in character.

The cast

Trevor Cook, lay minister, was the reader.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

For a large building 12 people rattled around – mostly elderly in their 80s, with one or two younger people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The reader welcomed me, as did the organist, who was interested to hear that I play.

Was your pew comfortable?

A standard no-frills Victorian pew – nothing exciting.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was calm and reflective, with the organ playing quietly in the background.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good evening and welcome to evensong."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymns Old and New, a psalter, and service book.

What musical instruments were played?

A large organ. The current instrument, dating from 1990, was a gift from the JM Britton Charitable Foundation.

Did anything distract you?

The huge chandelier above my head and the beautiful colours of the east window by the venerable Victorian glassmaking firm of Alexander Gibbs. Also, the couple behind me appeared to be a bit hard of hearing, as they talked rather loudly several times.

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

Relaxed evensong without frills, but nice hymns, including "Breathe on me Breath of God." The organist played an extra verse of one hymn and apologised.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

20 minutes.

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

8 – The lay minister appeared calm and relaxed.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The difficulties Christians face elsewhere and the struggle of our church in an age of indifference. His main point was that it was the journey that is important, not the destination.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Without a doubt, the traditional hymns and organ playing. Also the light was beginning to fade as we said the words "Light in our darkness, we beseech thee O Lord" and "Deliver us from all perils and dangers of the night." I often wonder what these words mean, but to those of previous generations the night would have been a worry.

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

The interior ceilings. These were put in at the 1841 restoration and are plain plaster vaults throughout. One wonders if there is a wagon roof underneath or something a little more interesting! Also the new words of the service, not the 1662.

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

The elderly couple behind had a chat with me. Also the organist played 'François Couperin's Fugue on the Kyrie.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

9 – A relaxed traditional expression of worship – just what I like.

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 lovely hymns and quiet reverence of the service.

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