St Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze, Wiltshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary's
Location: Lydiard Tregoze, Wiltshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 December 2019, 10:00am

The building

Mediaeval church with lots to interest one. For me, the outstanding features are Jacobean. Sir John St John (pronounced Sinjn), who lived in the house that is almost attached, spent much time and money turning it into a St John shrine. His tomb and those of his sons and parents, a triptych painting tracing his ancestry, a stained glass window by the 17th century craftsman Abraham van Linge elaborating the St John theme, a screen with grinning unicorn, galaxies of stars painted on the ceiling, gorgeous ironwork – all pile on the excitement (and to me, beauty). The later pews and earlier wall paintings are wonderful too.

The church

As well as being a mausoleum, the church is also lively and welcoming now. They sing carols in the park and care about refugees.

The neighborhood

Lydiard Tregoze, in Wiltshire in the southwest of England, is not so much a village as a house. Since it was built, it has been engulfed by Swindon, which is a large railway town, engulfed in its turn by an overspill town. It is still there (with the church behind) and run as a museum. It is well worth seeing. On the whole the people of Swindon don't go to church, but St Mary's is still active and cheerful.

The cast

The minister led the service, explaining at the beginning that it was a split church this week, as the children (with their parents) were rehearsing their nativity play to be performed that afternoon in another church.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Thirty to forty, spread out. The church seemed fairly full towards the back.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes – with leaflet and carol sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. Delightful box pew, but with no provision for kneeling.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very friendly with chat and handshakes.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning and welcome on Split Sunday.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Common Worship. Good News Bible in each pew in a special rack.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The service was advertised as ‘said’ but there were carols and recorded background music.

Did anything distract you?

Trying to work out why Van Linge (a favourite of mine) portrayed John the Baptist in shorts, holding a model of a lamb on a stand.

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

Original – based on Common Worship but with lengthy additions – the minister added frequent bits of his own. He is genial and obviously well-liked, so when he wanders down the aisle in search of ‘the remote,’ or announces coffee in the place where you usually get the blessing, everyone feels more at home.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

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

3 — The minister did not see himself as a preacher. It was more of a conversation with his congregation and an interlude of recorded, and very tinkly, background music. Although he used the charming Jacobean pulpit, he tried not to preach, but rather to include everyone. He succeeded.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Sermon on the Mount. If you're not ready for Christmas, you're in good company – but while you're dealing with the decorations, think of people who are persecuted.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The setting. Owing to a recent restoration programme and imminent closure to fit a new heating system, this church is hard to get into but well worth the effort.

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

I find that the two Victorian panels of stained glass ruin the east end. Two discreet curtains are needed.

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

No chance. I was welcomed to take photos and given coffee in the church stable.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Nothing fancy but OK.

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

9 — I can always see more of the building but probably one service is enough, much as I liked them all.

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

Glad to be there certainly, though I do find carols embarrassing.

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

The super-abundance of Jacobean art.

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