St Sampson, Cricklade, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Sampson
Location: Cricklade, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 November 2020, 6:30pm

The building

Saxon foundation, with architecture from every period since. The central tower built in the 1530s, dominates the Upper Thames valley, known otherwise for fritillaries and suburban development.

The church

They are part of the Upper Thames Group of Churches. They sponsor small groups that meet during the week for Bible study, fellowship and discussion. Quoting from their website: ‘We have good links with our local primary school and have a group for children and young people.’ They also support a food bank.

The neighborhood

The Upper Thames valley is flat and frequently flooded. It is increasingly colonised by the towns on its edges and the roads between them. The town of Cricklade feels a bit abandoned in favour of nearby Swindon and guards its separate identity.

The cast

Three clergy and choir sat in the choir stalls and alternated music and speech in a modernised version of evensong leading up to the candle ceremony.

What was the name of the service?

All Souls Service.

How full was the building?

Family groups filled the available space.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

They were generous, letting me take photos while they were preparing for the service, which is clearly a well-loved tradition.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Subdued, with some anticipatory bussle from the front.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good evening.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Special booklet, well-worn. Hymn book.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and piano.

Did anything distract you?

The central tower, under which most of the action took place. Its walls are encrusted with heraldry, most it unknown to me, though it is obviously Tudor.

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

The names of people of Cricklade who had died were read out and a candle was lit for each one. This was a variation on their traditional All Saints service in which a member of the dead person's family used to bring up a candle to the central display. The choir sang the hymns and the congregation hummed along behind their masks. This produced an interesting effect (especially if you have some powerful hummers) and is definitely worth developing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

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

5 — The preacher did what was required and clearly hit the right note.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Bereavement is like an amputation. You learn to live with it at your own pace.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The opportunity to hum.

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

The feeling that death is a poor deal.

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

Forbidden nowadays.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

And definitely no coffee.

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

4 — I felt the team were performing a needed service and doing it efficiently.

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

I was glad to get into the church (always a problem nowadays) and interested to see how they cope with current and universal problems

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


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